Given the iconic status of the 1994 animated classic The Lion King, there may be some panic over whether the new CGI remake will pale in comparison. Well, to that, I say “Hakuna Matata” because it’s not badly underwhelming. However, that’s only because it’s the exact same movie. It’s a complete replication of the original, beat for beat and shot for shot, but with photorealistic animals. While the remake does result in being an admirable visual-effects experiment, it still plays things too safe in terms of story structure.
Anyone who’s seen the original knows the story. A lion named Simba (Donald Glover) must claim his title as the ruler of Pride Rock, his home land, and retrieve it from his villainous uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who murdered his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), when Simba was a cub. Again, same story but with three-dimensional animals that lack in facial expressions.
Therein lies another issue this film has. The key to animals being successful characters in animated films is for them to have expressive and animated personalities. One reason the famous scene in the original Lion King where Scar kills Mufasa is so effective is because of the way Scar gazes at Mufasa before having him fall to his death. As Scar’s eyes widen while he’s saying “Long…live..the king,” we’re paralyzed with fear the way Mufasa is. When that scene takes place in the remake, it doesn’t have the same effect because of Scar’s inability to emote.
It also doesn’t help that most of the voice actors seem to be going through the motions. The few exceptions are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively. Similar to how their characters stole the show in the original, Eichner and Rogen are a comedic force of nature. In addition, Florence Kasumba is a standout as Shenzi, the female leader of the antagonistic hyena pack. Kasumba does a complete reinvention of the character who was originally voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. As opposed to Goldberg’s comedic stylings, Kasumba voices Shenzi as someone far more sinister.
That being said, Florence Kasumba’s voice work is one of the few distinctions between the remake and its original counterpart. As previously mentioned, this is literally the same movie but with CGI animals instead of animated ones and a new song for the soundtrack from Beyonce. It’s a good film to watch with the family, serving its entertainment purpose and even its financial purposes. Yet, if parents want to introduce their children to this classic story, why not just show them the original?