Swapping emotion for technology (The Lion King review)

Widely regarded as the jewel in Disney’s animated crown, 1994’s The Lion King is the latest film to be remade while Disney suffer a creative dry patch. Swapping colourful animation for characterless photo-realism, it also sacrifices all charm and emotion. What remains, while visually stunning, is a cold and soulless film.

It cannot be denied that, technically, the film is an absolute win. The level of realism and detail, while still not overcoming the uncanny valley, is remarkable. Dust, hair, water and movement all look incredibly real, despite all being painstakingly created in a computer.

However, the film’s biggest achievement is also its biggest downfall. The realism means that emotion has been sacrificed. Most crucially, Lions can’t emote. They haven’t the facial muscles or eyebrows to do so, and therefore their expressionless faces fail to stir any kind of emotional reaction during even the saddest of scenes. The iconic Stampede scene, for example, left me emotionless, while the powerful animated version still hits me like a ton of bricks.

The voice cast are all fairly well chosen, with the obvious best cast member is James Earl Jones, reprising his role as Mufasa. But he’s only the best because he’s doing exactly what made his role so great the first time. Other cast members include Donald Glover as adult Simba, Beyonce as adult Nala, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as Pumba and Timone, and John Oliver as Zazu. The cast all do perfectly fine with the script (an almost carbon copy of the original) and only Rogen and Eichner inject any new spark at all. Surprisingly, despite being annoying, they are still the best part of the film. However….


I was not a fan of Beyonce’s involvement in the film. I found her voice to be distracting, unrealistic, and she has an annoying habit of riffing with every single line of song. Her new song, ‘Spirit’, is the only one in the film not written by Elton John and Tim Rice, and therefore it does not blend at all with the rest of the soundtrack. It felt like a commercial inclusion rather than a creative inclusion, and this sums up the entire film.

The rest of the songs are equally lackluster. It felt like a cover band performing the greatest hits of The Lion King, and everything was musically scaled up but emotionally dropped down. Other key issues include the fact that Seth Rogan can’t sing, and John Oliver is not natural while delivering any of his lines during “Just Can’t Wait to Be King’. The iconic opening to “Circle of Life” has literally been copied from the original, which proves again how superior it is, and most bizarrely, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was performed during the middle of the day, thus making the song totally void.

Naturally the musical score by Hans Zimmer is phenomenal, but why wouldn’t it be? He won the Oscar for his score in 1994, so it’s basically the same. The instrumentation is slightly more fleshed out, but it’s honestly basically the same thing.

Overall, The Lion King is completely inessential viewing and a total waste of time. Forty extra minutes of run time add absolutely nothing new to the story, and all the charm, soul and emotion from the original are totally lost on the visuals. Technically proficient but bitterly cold, I recommend you watch the endlessly superior animated classic instead.

5 stars 2

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