1994’s animated The Lion King remains one of Disney’s most treasured movies, loved by generations of children and adults for its terrific story, adorable characters and memorable songs. It’s one of the studio’s most perfect films, so seems something of a strange choice for a 21stcentury update, especially as it has already been adapted into an award-winning stage musical and spun off into a TV series and straight-to-DVD sequels. Surely Disney has made enough money from the tale of a cuddly lion cub already?
Apparently not, as now the story has been updated – as Dumbo, Cinderella, Aladdin and various other classics have before – into a ‘live action’ movie. Except it’s not really live action at all – although the lions, giraffes, hyenas and other beasts look real scampering through the African plains, both the animals and the locations were actually created by computer, making this (technically) just as animated as the original.
The photo-realistic VFX does look stunning, however, as director Jon Favreau (who also made the superior update of The Jungle Book) stays faithful to the original story of lion cub Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and, as an adult, by Glover), who runs away from his pride when he believes he has caused the death of his lion king father Mufasa (Jones, reprising his memorable role from the original).
It remains a terrific tale of betrayal (thanks to Simba’s evil uncle Scar, voiced by Ejiofor) peppered with impressive set pieces and Elton John and Tim Rice’s acclaimed songs. You’ll still catch your breath as – spoiler alert – Mufasa is killed in a stampede (note to parents, both this and the visit to the elephant graveyard are perhaps too scarily realistic for very little children – see Parents Notes below), and a tear may appear at the corner of your eye during the opening ‘Circle Of Life’ song when baby cub Simba (awwww) is introduced to the animals of the savannah.
But one of the problems of making these animals look so lifelike – and they do, just check out how Mufasa’s mane moves in the breeze as it is mesmerising – is that it also means they look odd when their mouths move to ‘speak’ and ‘sing’. We’re used to cartoon animals bursting into song but it’s decidedly odd when an animal that looks like it could have you for its dinner starts singing ‘Hakuna Matata’.
It’s difficult to have ‘real’ animals convey emotion, too, and as fans of the original movie will remember, there are plenty of scenes that should tug at your heart as Simba leaves the pride and tries to survive on his own, wracked with guilt at the death of his dad. Here, they don’t have quite as much impact, simply because the ‘real’ cub’s face can’t be expressive enough, and it’s actually only in the humorous moments featuring meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa (brilliantly voiced by Eichner and Rogen) that you feel any warm connection to the animals at all.
While Favreau’s The Jungle Book expanded on the original and became something enjoyably different, this version of The Lion King only serves to underline what a superb and timeless classic the 1994 movie really is.
Is The Lion King 2019 suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Please note – as mentioned above, the animals look very lifelike in this movie so the scariest scenes from the animated movie now seems even more frightening as they are realistic.
There are some intense scenes that may upset younger children, especially as the animals look so lifelike, including:
Young viewers may be scared by the hyenas, especially when they surround Simba and Nala, and also be frightened by the cubs’ visit to the elephant graveyard.
The fierce battle between Simba and Scar near the end of the movie, where much of the area is on fire, may be too intense for very young viewers.
The stampede is also intense and the result (the death of Mufasa) may be very upsetting for children.
Children who do not like insects may not enjoy the scenes where Simba learns to eat various grubs and creepy crawlies.
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