The Edition, in partnership with Schwack Cinema, brings readers a monthly review of movies on offer, serving as encouragement or warning (as the case may be), for moviegoers in Male' City, and movie-lovers, everywhere.
Twenty-five years after Disney’s original ‘The Lion King’ came roaring into cinemas and the hearts of children and adults alike, the iconic Zulu chant in the opening song - (“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” as the more obsessed fans know to sing along) - of the 2019 remake still evokes the same feelings of awe, wonder and dawning realisation that you’re in for an enchanting ride.
The Lion King (2019) is the latest “live-action” - a term loosely applied here for all the characters are, of course, CGI - film in the endless string of classic remakes that Disney has been generously rolling out over the past few years. As someone who, much like millions of others, has pawprints of the original cartoon imbedded all over my childhood, the news of this remake was cause for both excitement and apprehension.
However, with Jon Favreau at the wheel, the visionary director who delivered the successful 2016 live-action of ‘The Jungle Book’ - another feat involving beloved characters brought forth as realistic CGI animals - this timeless Disney classic was in safe hands.
With breathtaking cinematography and animation that can lead one to suspend their disbelief that the majestic animals on the screen are not, in fact, real, The Lion King is a visual treat. The film stays true to the original, not only for the overall plot but certain scenes as well, that almost appear to have been lifted shot-by-shot from the 1994 cartoon and upgraded to look like they always took place in the vast plains and savannahs of the African subcontinent.
The journey of the young lion prince Simba, portrayed by JD McCrary as a cub and Donald Glover as an adult, follows the Hamlet-inspired story of the original cartoon. As cute and lovable as his 2D-animated version, we join Simba on his path to self-discovery and the true meaning of responsibility after the loss of his father, the king Mufasa. The return of James Earl Jones to reprise the short-lived but dearly beloved role makes Mufasa’s tragic death as haunting and impactful as it first did, a quarter of a century ago.
Making another remarkable impact is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who portrays Simba’s uncle, Scar, often regarded as one of the worst - that is, best - Disney villains. While some fans, myself included, were initially disappointed to hear that Jeremy Irons, whose rich gravelly voice came to define Scar, did not reprise the role, Ejiofor brought his own sinister twist to the rancorous character, delivering a cold-blooded performance.
The rest of the star-studded ensemble added to the delight, with Shahadi Write Joseph and singer extraordinaire Beyonce as the young and adult Nala respectively, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the hilarious duo of Timon and Pumbaa, and John Oliver and John Kani as the pompous Zazu and wise Rafiki. The film sheds a new light on the villainous trio of hyenas, voiced by Florence Kasumba as Shenzi, and Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre as the new characters Kamari and Azizi. While the hyenas in the 1994 cartoon were used equally for scary and comic effect, the 2019 remake features hyenas of a more heinous ilk - though Key and Andre’s characters are on hand to give you a laugh.
The film does fall short in a few aspects. While the reimagining of some profound scenes, which I will refrain from naming, were stunning and creative, I found that the emotional reach set by the original was somewhat lacking in certain moments, due to rushed pacing or line delivery.
However, the few negative peeves do not offset the overall achievement of The Lion King, and perhaps its greatest success is the return of the Academy Award-winning German composer, Hans Zimmer. He brings back the raw, impassioned, moving score of the 1994 original that won him an Oscar for Best Original Score, with a revamped touch alongside equally beautiful new pieces, weaving nostalgia and emotion seamlessly into the storytelling. He is joined by Lebo M., the South African composer who worked with Zimmer on the original cartoon. Lebo M. lends his genius again into arranging and performing the Africa-inspired music for the newest film, evoking the old magic that captured imaginations around the world and remains evergreen.
Although not a perfect iteration of the 1994 The Lion King, whose claws maintain a near unbreakable hold on its pedestal, the 2019 remake is nevertheless a success in its own right, a proud accomplishment and respectful nod to, arguably, the king of Disney cartoons.