I was in high school when the animated “Lion King” made it to the big screen in India. I bought its audio cassette which featured music by Elton John and Hans Zimmer and some of its tracks still stay with me. I had almost memorized its “Hakuna Matata” song which till date is a reference point to a lot of viewers who loved family films. Remember this was the almost Pre-Pixar era of Disney and “Lion King” broke all major box office records at that time grossing over $450 Million. Although I firmly believe that animation classics are very tough to replicate in live action format, the new “Lion King” and its technological leap can bridge this gap to a certain extent.
The new “Lion King” features a brand new cast and a very innovative one as well. The story is largely similar in my mind. The film stars James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Beyonce Knowles as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Jon Oliver as Zazu, Chweitel Ejofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Puumba and a host of international talent including leading African star John Kani as Rafiki.
The film is directed by Jon Faverau ( Iron Man films, The Jungle Book) and is produced by Walt Disney Studios.
THE STORY OF THE LION KING
Somewhere in the African subcontinent, The Pride Lands encompasses the vast kingdom of the legendary Lion King known as Mufasa. He and his wife Sarabi have a son named Simba who is very young and is being groomed to be the next ruler of Pride Lands. Mufasa’s brother Scar is very jealous as he wants to be the next king. There is also the extended family and friends which include Nala, a lioness with whom Simba is destined to be married as per the wishes of Mufasa. Unfortunately, in a tragic incident, Mufasa passes away and Simba is thrown out of the kingdom. Scar, who has conspired and engineered this coup becomes the new King of the Pride Lands. Simba reaches a barren land where he is recovered by Puumba a warthog and Timon who is a Meerkat. Years go by and Simba remembers his father considers himself to be the reason for his death and lives in a reformed and carefree environment with Timon and Puumba. Then one day Nala reaches the same forest where Simba lives. The rest of the story is about how Simba reclaims his lost glory and restores order to the Pride Lands.
WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE “NEW” LION KING?
It will be fair to say that the canvas for the new live action version is far bigger than the animated story. The realism of the African landscape brings a sense of adventure to the viewer. Each character looks larger than life in the movie. Practically, each and every scene, of the original animation film has been skillfully pasted in the live action version. The film also features a whole new cast with a few exceptions. James Earl Jones as Mufasa returns. He is as revered as his very own Darth Vader voice over. No one else can play Mufasa better than him. But inspired castings include American TV host John Oliver as Zazu, Beyonce Knowles as Nala and Seth Rogen as Puumba. One can feel a little more punch in the humor as compared to the original in 1994. The technology team behind “The Jungle Book” which was a marvel in its own right, has worked on this film as well. But somehow I prefer the animated version over this purely from the perspective of storytelling. In the live version, Scar does not look charming or appealing. However, in the animated version he looks funny, cunning and yet evil. Here the choice of Chwietel Edjofor was not living upto the casting of Jeremy Irons. I feel that now “Lion King” hinges on a more evolved look and feel which can be good as well as bad in some ways. Eg. The Hyenas in the live action film look far more sinister to the level that they are more threatening than needed.
The film also features a top rate soundtrack. The original one featured Tim Rice, Elton John and the music of Zimmer. Here Beyonce’s song “Spirit” sounds superb. In fact, it plays out with Simba running across the Pride Lands. The original hits like “Circle of Life”, and “Be prepared” look as dazzling as they did in 1994.
THE ETHOS OF LION KING
At the heart of it, “Lion King” is the story of a father and son. It’s how a son finds his own space and yet becomes the torchbearer of his father’s legacy. This is the reason that this struck a chord with a global audience. Think of it, Its an American film about a conflict in an African jungle featuring a range of international actors. In my opinion, “Lion King” is more like a traditional 1990’s Bollywood movie which talks of this connection. A powerful patriarch, a conniving Uncle and an entitled inheritor, a big empire at stake, sounds familiar? The scene in which Mufasa is pushed into the gorge stampede will move you emotionally. The Indian dubbed version of the film features Shah Rukh Khan as Mufasa and his son as Simba.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The films final climax to me was a kind of a downer. I expected more as it was a high pitched battle and I also had issues with Simba’s re-initiation into saving the Pride Lands. I think as technology and bigger budgets were issues, the makers could have fleshed out these story points further.
I would give this movie a 7 out of 10 purely for its brilliant live action technology and amazing spectacle, but my heart still lies with the original 1994 version.