The Lion King

It seems recently that the Disney vault has exploded with the release of several of their classic animated films being remade. Unfortunately, the classics that have inspired these remakes have been redone with mixed results. The original The Lion King was released back in 1994 and it’s hard to believe that I was a junior in college when I saw it. Since that time, we’ve seen various iterations of the classic story, a few direct to VCR sequels and the awe-inspiring Broadway stage production (which if you are a serious fan of the movie I encourage you to see). It seems odd to discuss the plot of a movie that I’m certain everyone reading this has seen at least once (or a dozen times over). To the uninformed however, The Lion King is about a young cub named Simba (JD McCrary as the young voice and Donald Glover as the adult) who suffers the tragic loss of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the paws of his evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Scar convinces Simba that he is responsible for his father’s death and that he must leave the pride and never return. With the help of his faithful friends Timon (Billy Eichner), the lovable warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), the ever wise Zazu (John Oliver) and his budding queen Nala (Beyoncé’) he learns that true courage comes from within and realizes he must face Scar if he is ever to bring peace back to the Pride Lands.

Given the recent track record, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a retelling of the story as I remembered it, or a re-imagining of the story as a whole (and yes there is a difference). Thankfully, I can say that The Lion King draws practically all of its inspiration directly from the animated classic. Director Jon Favreau (who had already wowed audiences when he directed The Jungle Book) brings the same heart-warming, tear jerk moments that we all know and love. While he certainly didn’t take any risks with The Lion King, that’s exactly what made it such a pleasure to behold. He understood that there was no need to change the story into something new or try to make it something it shouldn’t be. True, for those who have seen the animated film it will feel incredibly familiar, but I think that’s exactly what fans are looking for. Changes and risks don’t always make a movie better, and The Lion King is a prime example of not breaking something that works.

The real star of the show however isn’t the actors, nor it’s incredible director, but the technology that went behind bringing our favorite felines to life. Disney refers to this as a “photo real movie”. The technology behind it merges both new and old together to bring the animals to life, indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts. Utilizing VR, animation and mixed with live action film-making it is practically impossible to distinguish what is live and what is animated. The character models have come a far way from the original Jumanji, which was heralded back in 1995 for it’s use of computer animated animals that supposedly looked and felt like the real thing. While Disney has always made great strides to make their computer-generated animals look and feel real (much like the absolutely stunning Jungle Book) The Lion King takes this to an entirely different level altogether.

Disney has done what has seemed practically impossible lately, bringing a classic back to the screen without changing what made the original such a classic. Unlike some of their more recent attempts, The Lion King holds true to the source material which has delighted fans for over 25 years. While the story doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, the photo realistic lions and their supporting cast feel as fresh as they ever have. If you aren’t a fan of the classic animated movie, The Lion King won’t necessarily change that, however the imagery alone may be reason enough to see it. I hope Disney takes note of this movie in particular, that fans don’t need a re-imagining of the stories that captivated our youths to bring the magic back. The Lion King is a testament to how the Disney classic still holds up today, and how to make something old feel new again.

5 out of 5 stars