While it might sound stupid to give a spoiler warning for what is essentially a movie from 1994, I will still do it. I wrote this assuming that the reader already knows either the Original Movie and / or the Musical adaptation of it.
I know, it seems weird to stay silent for a while only to return with a off-topic post. But hey, life happens and I just didn’t find the time to be invested into this site lately. Anyway, the remake of my absolute favorite movie of all time just released in cinemas and I just had to watch it day one. I had little to no expectations going into the movie, and as it turns out there isn’t too much to complain about here. It isn’t a exact shot-for-shot remake, many things where changed, extended or both, and that is a really good thing.
First off: The remake is the far better written version of the two movies. Both the dialogues and characters feel better and more natural, the setups for many scenes where changed to iron out minor issues in the original script or make more sense now. Sometimes it’s just little details like Scar adding a “Again” at the end of his “I would never challenge you” line at the beginning of the movie, sometimes the way a character acts was changed entirely. I.e. Nala now tries to get Simba to leave the Elephant Graveyard pretty much the moment they arrive there which gives her a different personality during this scene. I’m not trying to say that the original was written badly, it’s just that they really looked at the original script and tried to improve it where they saw issues. And they succeeded with that.
Comic Relief Characters like Zazu, the Hyeenas, Timon and Pumbaa are toned down in this new version and less “in your face”, considering the overall darker look and atmosphere of the movie this a welcome change as well. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely like them in the Original, but it simply wouldn’t have fit the direction the remake is going for.
The new voice cast also does, for the most part, a really great job. Funny enough, the only character I somehow didn’t like is the only one that has the same voice actor in both movies: Mufasa, spoken by Sir Earl Jones. There is nothing wrong with his work, it just feels weaker. Both Scar and adult Nala are a bit hit and miss for me. Both have strong parts, especially Scar, but at the same time both have weaker moments as well.
Since the Soundtrack stayed pretty much the same, or at least feels the same, there isn’t much room to complain. It really comes down to whether you like the new versions of the songs better or not. Personally I never cared too much about “I can’t wait to be King” and the movie version of “Can you feel the Love tonight”, Scar’s “Be Prepared” I prefer in it’s old version, mainly because the underlying Soviet Propaganda theme the original had going is missing in the new version making it feel a bit incomplete to me. Both “Hakuna Matata” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” I do prefer in the new versions. This is because they are better integrated into the movie and in the case of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” we get to hear much more of it and in a better arranged version before it gets interrupted by Nala’s attack. The only thing I absolutely hate about the Soundtrack is the completely out of place feeling song by Byoncé that plays during the Sequence when Simba travels back to the Prideland. The original piece of music felt much better.
So far this might not sound so bad for the Remake, however there is a very big but about it that might ruin the experience for some people, and it is how the movie looks. While the animation quality is on insane levels of perfection, you sometimes really forget that all you are watching are “just” animated animals, they went just a bit too perfect with it. The big issue are the facial animations, or the lack of them. While they might be accurate to how the animals faces behave in the real world, the issue for the movie is that they don’t show emotions at all. It is really weird to hear Simba being sad and devastated when his father dies while at the same time he doesn’t look anywhere close to those emotions. And this is an issue that goes through the entire movie, all animals and each and every emotion the voice actors try to deliver.
In addition it is sometimes really hard to tell if the the character that is currently speaking is actually moving his mouth or not. The entire movie really has that look and feel as if they took footage of animals and added some dialogue over it after the fact. This is the one area where the original movie has a true and real benefit over the remake, it wasn’t restricted by a realistic look and it could take many liberties with the character designs and how they are animated. And I really wish they did the same with the remake. The voices feel really disconnected to what you are seeing.
Overall I do like and recommend the new version of The Lion King, mainly because it is written better. I can look past the issue with the animations, but I can understand if someone else can’t do that. In the end I still prefer the original classic, however that could be down to both nostalgia, me knowing the original like the back of my hand and at the time of writing this I have seen the Remake only once. My opinion might change over the years, but in the end both movies are great versions and you can’t go wrong with either of them.