Title: ‘The Lion King’
Director: Jon Favreau
Featuring the Voices of: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Keegan-Michael Key, John Oliver, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, John Kani and James Earl Jones as Mufasa
Engaging people’s sentimentality in a powerful journey back in time is an enthralling and gripping process that’s both endearing and emotional. Walt Disney Pictures has proven that its destiny this year is to thrive on audiences’ nostalgia with its live-action remakes of several of its classic animated films, including ‘Dumbo‘ and ‘Aladdin.’ The latest animated movie to receive the live-action re-imagining is the 1994 Academy Award-winning adventure film, ‘The Lion King,’ which Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures will release in theaters this Friday, July 19.
The upcoming remake was directed and produced by Jon Favreau, who previously collaborated with Disney behind the camera when he helmed the 2016 live-action remake of ‘The Jungle Book.’ He also worked with the studio in front of the camera when he reprised his role of Happy Hogan in this spring’s ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ Working off a script that was written by Jeff Nathanson, Favreau stunningly demonstrated that he and his fellow filmakers could be respectful of the source material, while also bringing the emotional story to life once again through captivating techniques and technologies, from the actors’ realistic motion-capture performances to the dazzling production design and the enchanting score.
The new reimaging of ‘The Lion King’ follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, and is set in the Pride Lands of Africa, where a pride of lions rule over the animal kingdom. After the newborn cub Simba (JD McCrary) is presented to the animals of the kingdom on the lion’s home of Pride Rock by Rafiki (John Kani), the Pride Lands’ shaman and advisor, the young lion grows up to idolize his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones, who reprised the role from the original film). Simba longs to one day succeed Mufasa as the title king of their home savanna.
However, Mufasa’s brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), feels betrayed by his family for being overlooked for the role of king. Fueled by jealousy, Scar tricks Simba and his best friend, Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph), into exploring a forbidden elephants’ graveyard, where they are almost attacked by a pack of hyenas. Using his nephew’s defiance to his advantage, Scar initiates a coup with the help of the hyenas, which results in Mufasa’s death and Simba’s exile.
Feeling responsible for his father’s death, and not being able to face his mother, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), Simba ventures out on his own into the desert, and is rescued by Timon and Pumbaa (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen), a meerkat and warthog, who are fellow outcasts. Simba decides to stay with his two new friends and grow up in the jungle, where he lives a carefree life.
Later as a young adult, Simba (Donald Glover) rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala (Beyoncé), who ventured into the jungle to find help to save the Pride Lands from Scar. She and Simba reunite and fall in love, and she urges him to return home, as she informs him that it has become a drought-stricken wasteland under his uncle’s reign. Feeling guilty over his father’s death, Simba initially refuses and storms off. But he then encounters Rafiki, who tells him that Mufasa’s spirit lives on in him. Simba then realizes that he can no longer run from his past, and decides that he must take his rightful place as king, once and for all.
While much of the story of the new reiteration of the family film remains true to its source material, the rich diversity in the casting of the upcoming adventure drama brings a dimension to the long beloved characters. The voice performances from the new cast, from Glover to Beyoncé, Rogen, Eichner, Ejiofor and beyond, add a richly layered, provocative and poignant feeling to Simba’s emotional life journey, and the way he interacts with his friends and family.
Glover and McCrary both effortlessly showcase how Simba was an overconfident cub who can’t wait to be king, while also learning from his parents to respect the Circle of Life. But after facing discouragement from his uncle, the young cub grows up contending with feelings of inadequacy. Once he reunites with Nala and Rafiki when they’re older, however, the rightful king’s feelings of insufficiency quickly fade away, as he finally realizes his true potential.
In addition to the striking performances from the voice cast, which effortlessly brought both humor and passionate emotions to the screen, the live-action ‘Lion King’ also thrives on the design of its digital sets. The filmmakers committed to doing extensive research to ensure the authenticity and believability of the animals and habitats that would ultimately be created for the movie. The filmmakers thoroughly studied the movements, migration and overall lifestyles of lions and their fellow animals in Africa, by watching documentaries and visiting both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Kenya, which clearly shines through on screen.
The extensive research gorgeously capture the majesty and beauty, as well as the rugged and sometimes ruthless reality, of the landscape that Simba and his family, friends and fellow animals live in. ‘The Lion King’s story required the creation of several varied environments, including the Pride Lands that Mufasa reigns over, the elephant graveyards that Simba and Nala explore, the desert and Cloud Forest where Simba escapes to, and Pride Rock.
Production designer James Chinlund and his fellow filmmakers effortlessly ground the remake’s settings and geography in a breathtaking reality. Every detail in each setting, from the authentic African vegetation, termite mounds, boulders and dirt, both powerfully supports and respects the storytelling. The alluring locations also introduce the photoreal look that stunningly separate Favreau’s live-action film from the original 1994 animated feature.
In addition to the powerful performances from the cast, which mix enthralling new interpretations with the original spirit and personality of the classic characters, as well as the captivating visual effects, the new adaptation also thrives on its captivating sound and score, which both updates, and remains true to, the animated ‘Lion King.’ Baby Simba’s plot-shifting roar, for instance, was also powerfully brought to life on screen when the sound crew traveled to Germany’s Magdeburg Zoo to record the audio of lion cubs.
While the realism of the sounds of the animals that are featured in Favreau’s version of the feature is vital, the director also knew that the music in his version of the film would have to live up to the presence and power of the songs that are so well-known from the original movie. Hearing the new reiterations of the songs, from the opening number of ‘Circle of Life,’ which is performed by Lindiwe Mkhize and emphasizes the importance of Simba’s birth to the Pride Lands, to McCrary, Joseph and Oliver’s version of ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,’ which highlight’s the male cub’s anticipation of gaining the freedom that comes from being the next ruler, will surely bring a sentimental feeling to many viewers. Composer Hans Zimmer, who also worked on the animated drama, crafted an overall new score that once again infuses the story with a spiritual strength in it, which will surely bring back memories and emotions that audiences have from their own past experience with ‘The Lion King.’
Engaging people’s sentimentality in a dynamic journey back in time is an engrossing process that’s both endearing and emotional. Walt Disney Pictures has proven that its destiny this year is to thrive on audiences’ nostalgia with its live-action remakes of several of its classic animated films, notably with its latest endeavor, the charming ‘Lion King.’
Favreau remarkably demonstrated that he and his fellow filmakers could be respectful of the source material, while also bringing the emotional story back to life through fascinating techniques and technologies. The end result will sure to satisfy the sentimental nostalgia of the generation who grew up with the original animated film, but the new generation that’s discovering the story for the first time.