By John Hanlon
In the past few years, Disney has remade some of its most classic films. From Beauty and the Beast to Cinderella, the studio has found a way to build on its iconic legacy and introduce younger audiences to classic tales. Remaking The Lion King — the beloved 1994 animated film about a young cub becoming a leader after his father’s murder — was an inevitable but ineviable task.
That assignment was given to Jon Favreau, the talented actor-turned-director who previously brought a energetic spirit to The Jungle Book remake. Unfortunately though, he’s unable to bring that same joy into this latest film.
When films like this are rebooted, the question that’s often asked is “Does it bring anything new to the story?” This new feature film does offer some new content. While the original feature was only 88 minutes long, this reboot clocks in at one hour and 58 minutes. There are a lot of extra moments here but none of them really adds much to the story itself.
The well-known story is a simple one. A young cub named Simba grows up under the tutelage of Mufasa, a great and noble king who rules over the land. Simba’s evil uncle Scar murders Mufasa and then manipulates Simba, who ultimately believes he’s responsible for the death. Simba goes into exile, grows up and then ultimately returns home to seek his rightful place on the throne.
It’s a Shakespearean story about royalty, power, and vengeance.
The reboot tries to capture that same spirit but never manages to. The key elements of the story are there but it’s hard to view this story as a standalone one, when so many of its key components pale in comparison to the original.
James Earl Jones returns as the voice of Mufasa so his casting shows a great appreciation of the original. Other selections feel like a letdown. From John Oliver taking on a role once held by Rowan Atkinson to Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen taking on the roles of comic relief Timon and Pumba, the selections never add anything great to the roles. Eichner and Rogen are great comedic talents but their exaggerated work here detracts from the story itself. A reference to Beauty and the Beast, for one, feels unnecessarily cute and cheesy. It doesn't help that the feature oftentimes relies on potty humor for a few laugh lines.
In terms of the production itself, the look of the feature is magnificent. The computer animation helps bring the settings to life but the characters and dialogue never feel as genuine as it once did. Even though the images are more realistic, everything else feels less so. This is a reboot that can't escape from the shadow of its far superior predecessor.
While other recently remakes (including Aladdin, Cinderella and the underrated Pete's Dragon) richly added new layers to their well-known stories, this version of The Lion King sadly never does.