The Lion King (2019): A Photorealistic Disney Epic

With Disney in the midst of a live-action renaissance, it seems only just that one of its greatest animated films of the ’90s comes roaring back to the big screen. Entering the frame is the epic tale of The Lion King. Director John Favreau places his own spin on this cinematic masterpiece as every shot of the Pridelands is displayed in full CGI photo realism that helps to emphasize the realism behind such an adult plotline. Everything about this remake, from the voice acting to camera work is spot on, and the director never misses a beat from the original source material. Out of all the Disney remakes engulfing theaters these past few years, The Lion King by far hits the mark and is definitely a cut above the rest when compared to its predecessors.  For those seeking a grandiose meditation on life and death, albeit with humor and childish charm, Favreau’s retelling exceeds expectations and delivers on every note. 

The Pros

By far, one of this film’s greatest assets is its terrific voice acting and visual style. Thespian James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, king of the Pridelands and father of Simba (Donald Glover). Having Jones return to this stoic role is a brilliant move by the director since it gives the remake a sense of gravitas while also paying homage to its origins. Glover also, in particular, deserves credit for his role as the transitional heir to the throne. His transformation from naive cub to the vengeful monarch is stunning to behold within the space of the third act.  British actor Chiwetel Umeadi is utterly mesmerizing as the misanthropic Shakespearean figure of Scar. His portrayal as a cunning and manipulative fraternal counterpoint to the stoicism of Mufasa is second to none. In many scenes, Scar’s scene presence dominates the space of the frame as he sets up the pieces for his own ascendancy to the kingdom. 

The camerawork is top-notch, and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel presents a series of long and wide-angle shots that give the setting of the film a sense of naturalism in scope. The world of the Pridelands is as overwhelming as the diversity of its inhabitants. Each shot counterpoints brilliantly with each character’s placement within this lush terrain of the African landscape. Hans Zimmer’s score is ambient and vivacious, matching the earthly domain of the film’s protagonists. The director sticks mainly to original score material, however, and this is where Beyoncé shines with her rendition of a new track entitled Spirit. Her portrayal as Nala is both innocent and purposeful, as she anchors most of Simba’s actions in the final act. Not a drop of screen time is wasted by the voice cast, and one can easily spend all day discussing the quality of their performances. 

The Cons

One minute gripe a viewer can have with this film is that it sticks a little too close to the source material. Favreau literally gives a shot by shot retelling of the original tale that at times feels uninspired. For the budget, this remake has the director could have emphasized his own touch on this classic. Timon and Pumba’s (Billy Eichner and Seth Rohan) screen time is limited to a series of one-liners and mindless banters that could have been easily updated with some novel dialogue. Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson does little to impose his touch on this mirror of a remake and over two decades later from the original, this film at times feels dated. 

The Verdict

In the end, The Lion King is a great remake of a classic Disney film. From the beginning, one is easily brought back to their childhood with a soundtrack that rarely misses a beat. Definitely a film that lives up to its source material, Favreau and his team deliver a top-notch photorealistic masterwork in CGI animation. Surely nuance would have elevated this film to even greater heights, but no art form is perfect. As a final product and addition to Disney’s new line of live-action works, it sums up everything the company is trying to achieve in the modern era. Definitely worth watching in 2019. 

About Anthony Frisina 83 Articles
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.

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