How precisely are we going to discuss the Lion King going forward? You can’t really call this the live action one. It’s not the hottest take I know I know. I could poke fun if you say the 94 one is the original and pull out the receipts about Kimba the White Lion. That wouldn’t be entirely fair, no one consciously ripped off of a thirty year old animated TV series when they made the Lion King, but it’s disingenuous to say that the animators, writers, or even actors weren’t taking some childhood inspiration from it. Writers today might incidentally crib from Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Carpenter, some random episode of Silverhawks, He-Man, or Thundercats. The things we watch as children carry on and inspire creatives today. I couldn’t escape some of the dialogue from The Last Unicorn if I tried and I wouldn’t want to. Wanna bet me that “That’s what heroes are for” is going to make it into one of my stories or more than one? All of that said we have a Lion King twenty five years later.
Should it have stayed in the shadows?
Let’s sit down and chat about the writing. We have of course the “characters” credit you may see. This is just giving credit to the original writers, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The story credit on 2019 goes to Brenda Chapman, who was one of 27 (!!!!) writers credited on the original, but ultimately she also gets the Story Supervisor thus making it hers for this one, while the three previous names were the “screenplay” credits. Wow that’s convoluted. There is however a new credit for Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2, Rush Hour 2, Pirates 4); who apparently is a script doctor that gets a lot of uncredited work on movies like Twister and the original Rush Hour. If this man is a script doctor please take away his license to practice. Mister Nathanson, you literally took the script from the original word for word and ….did nothing with it. Wait, you did. You changed the dialogue on a handful of scenes that are iconic and changed them for the…lesser. You did nothing. Nothing else.
Jon Favreau the director who brought us Iron Man and the Jungle Book, but also Cowboys & Aliens does not escape my ire. Much like Nathanson you did…nothing. You were a glorified parking lot attendant telling people to go to the place they already knew to go. Your storyboard was the original movie and you didn’t deviate from it. Except, when you did. In those decisions you took a tight 88 minute movie and made it 118 minutes with nothing new to show for it of any measure. Except I don’t think you got a say in it, hence the traffic attendant with some producer at Disney saying “Do this exactly as we tell you and we will fund your next movie”. As the director, you are responsible for the look of the shots and the performances of your actors, but add a musical and now you are responsible for how those songs play out. To borrow from a greater movie, when you are called before your maker and asked why you did something, “I Was told thusly” is not sufficient. Mr Favreau, Jon…Jon you ruined one of the great Disney villain songs. (Side note comment on the post here on FB if you want me top 10 disney villain list). How do you ruin one of the easiest songs? I mean Aladdin didn’t include theirs, but you actually…ruined yours. Then your ballad,…I want you to look at the lyrics, Now look at your shots. Look at the lyrics again. Write on the chalkboard 1,000 times why you were wrong.
Actors! On stage. Ok…you did fine. No, that’s it. You were fine. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave), you nailed Scar. While you lacked Iron’s ham, you had your own gravitas and made it work. Clearly the best in the lot. Mr Jones, good to have you back sir. Why did they auto tune you though? You still have it. Yes, you sound different, but you are still epic. Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Star Trek: First Contact) you exude class as Sarabi. Who else who else, oh yes, Florence Kasumba. You made the Hyena matriarch Shenzi flipping intimidating and even a bit scary at times. Well done. Like seriously well done. The rest of the performances are just average, yes including Beyonce. It’s just meh.
There is also a lot of critique on the expressionless animations going around since the trailers dropped. I have news for you, its intentional. I understand what the animators were going for. This is Disney showing off just how good they are at generating photo realistic animals and terrain. That is almost literally all this movie is. They went for a naturalistic animal expression, motions, and body language. Even animalistic ticks as they are even just standing around are present. Due to that the more human facial expressions we are used to from animation never make it across. 90% of the time the animations are amazing and beautiful, if emotionless, but its the other 10% that concern me. How, how in an entirely computer generated movie do you create shots that look like they are on green screen or against a matte painting? Follow up question – why would you?
There are going to be a lot of people who like this movie. There were people in my showing who clapped for it. Myself and my Dark Court were not among them. With the Court it rated a meh at best, and to be fair that is all it is at best. I can forgive a bad movie that is a meh because it tried. I can forgive an original movie or even the odd remake that is a meh because they tried something original and appreciate it for what it does. Disney doesn’t get that slack.
Disney is a studio who has made $2.1 billion this year in the America alone. That’s with a B and only on 9 movies. The next closest studio is at $894 million with 23 movies released. Disney also has Maleficent 2, Frozen 2, and Star Wars coming this year. You don’t get a pass on Meh anymore, especially with tentpole productions. I actively dislike this movie.
Wow, ok should I see it?
No. Look just put the animated in. Share it with your kids and be happy.
Would you see it again?
No. I will see Aladdin again over this.
I am guessing…
I won’t buy it. You are correct.
Parting thoughts then?
I wasn’t hopeful for this movie to begin with. It met my expectations. I go back to what I said in the Aladdin review, Disney is at its best on these when it deviates from the original in new and inventive ways. The writing is bad enough I want to shake the writer and remind them of the Rule of three. I want to flog the editors for some of the weirdest pacing and cutting decisions that take away from many scenes which should have had emotional weight to them but just looked confused or rushed.
Also – how, how in Turings name did you make a stampede with no energy? A fight between lions and hyenas that just was…ok? That is unacceptable when you have no limitations on its capabilities.
I cannot recommend the Lion King to anyone – but alas I know it will make a few hundred million.
If nothing else we have a potentially good Mulan movie next spring?