I’m not sure who the intended audience is for The Lion King, but I’d surmise that it’s primarily nostalgic adults who watched the original animated movie ad nauseam as children 25 years ago. Plot-wise, the remake is indistinguishable from the original; shot-by-shot, it’s also uncreatively nearly identical. As was the case for Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book (2016), the director’s second retread is clearly a way for Disney to flex its CGI muscles to the extent that viewers could do a side-by-side comparison with the 1994 original to see how far technology has come.
The most exceptional special effects authentically stimulate more senses than just sight, and with The Lion King, Disney has jumped right into the tactile realm. Most notably, the fur and hair are realistic enough to practically reach out and touch, especially in 3D. From Simba’s fuzzy lion-cub face to Pumbaa’s wiry warthog bristles, this has to be the most realistic and advanced CGI that currently exists.
Visually, the new Lion King is more akin to watching a nature documentary than a whimsical Disney animated movie. Some of the thematic lightness and fantasy are missing this go-round, replaced by more realistic, dull and drab surroundings. The brighter colors and cartoony elements of the original telling are similarly absent, and the stark realism makes the musical numbers feel awkward and far more forced.
Favreau’s version is also slightly more frightening. The goofy visual comedy of the hyenas is gone, for instance, replaced by the gnashing teeth and snarls of scavenger predators. Other darker elements likewise feel more sinister and murderous. Death and danger feel more real and ominous, and, unlike a nature documentary, there are premeditated, evil motives behind The Lion King‘s “circle of life.”
While the main reason to catch this remake is to revel in Disney’s most recent spectacle of CGI prowess, the delightful reimagining of Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) is just as valid a reason to partake. The dynamic duo wisely gets an update to fit contemporary comedic stylings, and Eichner and Rogen must have been given creative license to riff off each other rather than closely follow the script as the rest of the vocal cast had to do. Otherwise, much like the major case of déjà vu that James Earl Jones likely experienced while rehashing his role as Mufasa, the film is familiar to a fault.