In Field of Dreams, Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones, who voices Mufasa in The Lion King, gave a passionate speech about the power of nostalgia when Ray was about to sell his farm. Mann said, “Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They will turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. ‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say. ‘It’s only twenty dollars per person.’ They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.”
Nostalgia is a powerful concept. Channel it correctly and people will react without even thinking. As Mann said, “They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it.” That is exactly how I feel about the live-action version of The Lion King. There could have been zero well-known actors in the new remake and yet people would still rush to the theaters to see Simba become King.
The summer box office may be down from 2018, but the studio that continues to make money at an alarming place is Disney. The Disney machine keeps on churning out box office success after box office success. This year, Disney has the four highest-grossing films domestically (Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, and Aladdin). It’s safe to say that The Lion King will join those films in a short amount of time.
The Lion King is the latest Disney animated film to receive the live-action* treatment. Directed by Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, Iron Man), it’s the first Disney live-action film to have no human characters. That being said, the visuals are absolutely stunning. The visual effects are groundbreaking and so lifelike that it’s a masterclass in technical precision. Watching animals speak didn’t always work. At times, the sound did not match with the animal’s facial movements. However, sometimes you don’t have to critically analyze the jaws and mouths of computer-generated animals. At the end of the day, animals talking is pretty cool to witness onscreen. Five-year-old me and twenty-six-year-old me were very entertained.
*There is an argument to be made that this version of The Lion King is not live-action because of its lack of human characters. Every character was built on a computer so, therefore, it’s still an animated film.
Once the sun rises and the first note of “The Circle of Life” is heard, the nostalgia strings are violently pulled inside anyone who has ever seen the film. The main plot in 2019 remains the same as it did in 1994. Simba, who after the murder of his father, Mufasa, by his uncle, Scar, must return to the Pride Lands and claim his role as King. The 2019 version of The Lion King stays almost exactly to script as 1994 original, which is not always a good thing. Most viewers are going to be satisfied with the plot remaining the same (which is where I fall), but there was a missed chance to develop a few more characters besides Nala.
Although The Lion King lacked some originality, the star power of the cast was extraordinary. Highlighted by Donald Glover as Adult Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Adult Nala, and James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa, the cast was an eclectic collection of stars across all mediums.
For the most part, every actor did an acceptable to a slightly above average job, but the two standouts were Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. The comedic duo had the most chemistry between characters in the film and perfectly played off of each other. It can’t be understated how charming they were especially Eichner. Following up Nathan Lane, who voiced Timon in the 1994 version, was no easy task, but Eichner gave an admirable new twist to the character. Who knew he had a great voice?
Speaking of voices, what can’t be denied is the music of Elton John and Tim Rice still holds up 25 years later. “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared (most underrated song of the film),” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” all still draw huge reactions from the crowd. Plus, having accomplished singers and performers like Donald Glover and Beyoncé to sing familiar anthems is a cheat code.
Despite the similar plot, The Lion King‘s visuals and music carry this live-action film that will win over audiences and become an immediate box office triumph.
What are your thoughts on The Lion King? Leave them in the comments or tweet at us, @Unafraidshow.