By Juan Calvillo
Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Lion King” inspires fits of nostalgia and amazes with visuals but doesn’t stir the same emotional connection as the original. Using cutting edge technology, director Jon Favreau, who directed the recent live action “The Jungle Book,” created a photo realistic world that one might see on the Discovery Channel. Despite having this realistic look, or because of it, it is hard to see the same level of emotion on the faces of the animals that inhabit the animated version. This causes a disconnect when it comes to caring for the characters that are involved in the story.
The original 1994 animated “The Lion King” was researched very much like the current live-action movie. The teams involved went to Africa to see the animals and the lush lands, full of tall grass and watering holes, that would make up the animated world that is called home by the animals of “The Pride Lands.” The movies differ in Favreau used a newly created technique to not only make the shooting of the movie more intuitive, but to also give it the live-action feel.
Combining a video game engine called Unity and virtual reality, the creators of the movie were able to not only see their creation first hand, they were also able to put cameras in the places where they needed to shoot scenes. This gives the movie the life-like feel. This production technique gave the creators free reign in how they shot the movie. It also allowed for the animals involved in the movie to be placed where they needed, and using this technology, it created some of the most realistic animals.
These realistic looking animals may have been a double-edged sword. Having the actual animal on screen draws the audience into the real world the creators were making. Unfortunately, it sacrifices the animated facial features that are given to characters in animated movies.
These simple features can speak volumes for the characters and allow voice actors to focus entirely on their speaking rolls. In the original film, the characters could show a range of emotions on their faces and allow for the audience to truly connect with them. The live-action version today doesn’t have that luxury, making the voice acting paramount. And “The Lion King” benefits from some great voice acting, with each character handled deftly by their voice actors. James Earl Jones returns in spectacular fashion as Mufasa. Chiwetel Ejiofor takes the voicing duty of the scheming Scar, while Donald Glover voices the adult Simba. The real standouts are Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon. Rogen and Eichner sound like they are having way too much fun ad-libbing some of their lines. The only stumble was Beyoncé Knowles as Nala. Despite trying, some of the lines came out a bit reserved. Luckily Knowles is famous for her singing and as always with Disney films, the music was spectacular.
All of the classic songs have been given a true brilliant finish. Every song from the intro song “Circle of Life” to the hilarious “Hakuna Matata” is amazingly sung and played. This is where the Disney nostalgia train goes into full speed. The music in the movie is powerful and moving, taking advantage of the contributions of producers Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams and writer Elton John. The most powerful among the songs is Glover’s and Knowles’ version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” It is the perfect showcase for the talented duo and even lets Eichner and Rogen in on the fun.
There are some added benefits of remaking the movie in the current environment. In the original, the Nala character was used as a plot device toward the end. The new take of “The Lion King” gives Nala scenes that show her importance. Not only was Nala’s role made more impactful, but the group of hyenas were made more relevant and not simply comic relief. The main hyena was much more cunning, almost as cunning as the nefarious Scar.
“The Lion King” is a technological marvel that has nostalgia on its side. It stumbles a bit in certain areas, but it still manages to tell the story of a young adult deciding who they truly are meant to be. “The Lion King” releases on July 19 and is rated PG.