Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Review: 'The Lion King' gives us more of a miaow than a roar

Jon Favreau's carbon copy leaves you wondering why he did it in the first place

Disney are going in hard with regurgitating their existing animated content in live action, rebooted or simply remade form. This year alone we’ve already had Dumbo, Aladdin and now The Lion King. We also have Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid, Ice Cube in Oliver Twist, and countless more remakes from Pinocchio to Lady and the Tramp to Snow White to look forward to. The abiding question remains: Why?

Are we so creatively barren that there is simply nothing new to say? Or are we simply so inured to the all-pervading tentacles of capitalist theory that we just accept and pay for ever-decreasing returns in the form of photocopies of existing films?

There is nothing overtly wrong with Jon Favreau’s reinterpretation of The Lion King. It's a visual and technological masterpiece. There are truly stunning shots as pelicans, giraffes, zebras and elephants navigate the vast plains, savanna and rocky outcrops of Africa. But, what Favreau gives us is a virtual shot-by-shot photorealistic reconstruction of Disney’s 1994 animation. The technology may have improved, but the film remains the same. And we’ve all seen it.

The music and the story we all know too, thanks to the original and the long-running stage musical. Lion cub is deprived of his rightful role as king by his scheming uncle, flees his pride and is brought up somewhat unconventionally by a meerkat and a warthog.

However, visuals do not make a great movie alone. For all the technological wizardry of giving us what looks, at first glance, to be a remake of the film featuring actual animals, Favreau gives us a film with what are almost moving photographs of animals. His commitment to realism is admirable, but no photograph of an animal can convey emotion and humour as effectively as its intricately drawn cartoon counterpart in the same way. That's probably why a photo-realistic horse has never played Hamlet.

The wicked and Machiavellian Scar is a featureless caricature of a baddie; chief administrator Zazu loses the inherent comic undertones of his classic British butler role by simply being a bird whose beak moves up and down. There’s simply no emotion.

If you can imagine a film made by casting actual lions, hyenas and birds as the central characters, and discount wildlife documentaries with either David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman narrating, then rigidly structure it around an existing Disney animation, you get The Lion King.

I had a professor at university who was apparently one of the world’s leading authorities on cultural historiography. He’d had books published, so it must have been true. His life revolved around reconstructing, scene-by-scene, exact replicas of 18th-century stagings of Shakespeare and co. It always seemed like a lot of effort to me, but you could see his point. He was preserving history and cultural heritage. The history and cultural heritage of The Lion King is right there on the shelf of your local Carrefour in Blu-Ray glory. I return to the question of: Why?

The Lion King comes in UAE cinemas from July 18

Updated: July 17, 2019 04:20 PM

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