I finally had the chance to watch the new Lion King! This movie came out sometime this summer when I was too busy running around doing wedding preparations.
(Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead.)
I had loved the original 1994 version when I was a kid. It was the movie that I had recorded on VHS and would watch every time I was sick and stayed home from school (which wasn’t very often but which was a very fond memory for me. I guess it was like a comfort movie to watch). I loved the songs in the movie and had watched the original so many times that I was familiar with all the dialogue and scenes.
When I knew that the new movie was coming out with it being completely computer-animated effects, I was a bit doubtful about how good it would be. I mean the original was already amazing and you’re talking about a plot which features animals here. How can CGI portray real life like animals with the facial expressions that only animation can do? Both my SO and I pretty much assumed the movie to be a dud. I still wanted to watch it anyway because it’s such a childhood favourite movie.
Thus, when I watched it last night on the plane, I was actually in awe of how alike the movie was to the original. It was pretty much an exact replica of the 1994 version but just filmed as a “photorealistic remake”. The scene of Pride Rock was exactly the same. All the scenes were exactly the same. They recreated the first couple of scenes to be exactly how the original was like. It was like walking down memory lane again.
And as I expected, it was definitely hard to see any facial expressions on the animals.
What surprised me about the film was how emotional it made me. There were actually a lot of scenes which made me tear up. I think it was because this film was so close to me as a child that watching it again now in another version just made me emotional… and this rarely happens. It was so nice to watch Simba grow up and how they recreated all the scenes to look like a real action movie in real life.
(The “I just can’t wait to be king” and “Hakuna Matata” songs transported me immediately back to grade 3 when I was enrolled in a fairly sophisticated summer camp program which featured lots of arts — music, dance, drama, and visual arts. I remember how we had to, as a class, rehearse and practice for an end-of-program performance to the parents where we featured these two songs. The nostalgia was real and where I teared up the most when watching these two acts.)
I would say they stuck 98% close to the original movie. Since Beyonce was cast as the grown-up Nala, they gave her an extra singing part with a new song to the movie. This was not surprising.
The vocal talent in this movie was greater than that of the original. I could really tell how they tried to do some rifts on the original songs, which is kind of cool but the classic songs will always remain singable classics that you cannot touch.
It was interesting to see how the tuft of Simba’s fur ended up in Rafiki’s hands through the literal “circle of life” process (being blown down a stream, taken in by a bird who was building his nest, thrown out by the mother bird, taken up by a giraffe who ate it with her leaves, as a ball of dung rolled up by a dung beetle, which was then carried away by a line of ants, and spotted by the old monkey). I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this literal in the original movie, and it was kind of funny to watch this part (or does my memory fail me?). In the original movie, I remember Simba sighing dramatically and how the wind blew his tuft of hair with the sands into Rafiki’s “bowl” which he swished around in order to make the prophecy that Simba was still alive.
Rafiki looked like an actual baboon here and didn’t appear as “crazy” or “animated” as in the original version. However, the way the CGI made his eyes look was so realistic and neat.
Speaking of actual monkeys, the CGI versions of Timon and Pumbaa were a bit too realistic to the point that Timon looked rather ugly lol. I mean he is a warthog pig and so warthogs are not usually that colourful or aesthetically pleasing to the eye in real life anyway. Timon looked like an actual meerkat, which is something that might not be that obvious in the original animated version. It was cute to see him stand up tall like the meerkats which travel in mobs.
(Same thing with Zazu the hornbill; he didn’t look as appealing here in the computer-animated version.)
During the “Can you feel the love tonight” scene, because the lions are realistic, you actually can’t see any “love” or feel any emotion from their lion faces. This was sad because I’ll never forget the way that Nala looked at Simba in the original movie and how she licked him and he blushed. These are such unforgettable movie scenes that the real-life version just failed to capture.
In real life, when it is dark out, it is really dark. During animated movies though, even when the sun is down, the screen usually shows enough light for it to look okay. Not sure if I’m describing this clearly, but during the scenes where there was no sunlight, this real life movie version was so dim and hard to see. I remember the scene when Simba is chasing after Rafiki how dramatic and memorable that was. In this new version though, the darkness of the forests just clouds everything and makes for a less impactful scene.
They actually had the original 1994 version on the plane too but I didn’t want to watch it as it might have been overkill. Maybe on the flight back, I’ll watch that one but who knows…
I feel like the producers and crew did as best of a job they could on this real life version. It just can’t beat the original though because animals are meant to be portrayed in an animated state to see their facial expressions, which are crucial to the storytelling of the movie and something that real life animals just don’t have. It just isn’t as dramatic or fun to watch. In a sense, it’s like you’re watching the discovery channel because all of it are just animals. They did do a really good job to create all the animals from scratch though, I have to say, since no real animals were actually used in the filming of this.
All in all, while the movie lacks any facial emotions on the characters, the nostalgia and fandom of the previous Lion King movie more than makes up for it. I just checked the reception of the movie and these are the stats from Wikipedia: “The Lion King is the highest-grossing animated film of all time, the highest-grossing musical film of all time, the highest-grossing remake of all time, the highest-grossing Walt Disney Pictures film of all time, the highest-grossing film of Favreau’s career, the second highest-grossing film of 2019, and the 7th highest-grossing film of all-time,” which is super impressive for a remake. But when you are remaking one of the best family friendly Disney movies of all time, it’s no wonder that the reception is so good.