Movie Review: The Lion King

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“You must take your place in the Circle of Life!”

boomed the astral form of Mufasa in James Earl Jones’ splendid baritone way back in 2001, as I sat there transfixed watching the film with bated breath! The feeling of Deja Vu took nothing away from the sequel which went the extra mile to ensured the all the of fans returned and made a whole new generation ardent fans of the film.

The Lion King was probably one of the first films I ever watched and one of my all-time favourites and that gave an extra dimension to my watching the film. The moment the first trailer was dropped it was quite evident that unlike the Live-Action adaptations of Jungle Book or Beauty and the Beast, this film would probably follow the same formula of it’s animated predecessor instead of just ticking the important boxes. Multiple YouTube videos of the trailer’s side by side comparisons to the film’s clips that had the same or similar frames repeating did nothing to help its cause.

In all fairness, it wouldn’t have harmed the film to have a frame to frame reproduction, but Jon Favreau took it another way. While most of the dialogues of the film are almost exactly the same, there is an increased sense of danger and realism to this. It is very interesting how the same lines narrated by Scar in a comically sarcastic manner in the original appear again but the depth with which Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers those lines bring a whole new side to the character which was but an undertone in the previous films. The trope of the cunning brother being shunned by the lady who chooses his brave and headstrong sibling over him is played out in a wider retrospect which fits in snugly all things considered. James Earl Jones returns as King Mufasa reprising his role from the original and Alfre Woodard brings life to Sarabi nicely fitting with good chemistry alongside Jones and Ejiofor. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are fantastic as the Dynamic Duo – Pumbaa, and Timon and John Kaki does a fairly good job as the Shaman Rafiki. In terms of the voice cast, I think Donald Glover as Simba and Beyonce as Nala were somewhat of a let down as they don’t resonate as well with the audience as the other characters do, but they do a functional job. John Oliver who had Rowan Atkinson’s giant-sized boots to fill as the Dodo Zazu leaves something to be desired in his less than stellar performance.

The filmmakers employ different techniques to define how a character looks. Whether it’s subtly changing the lionesses’ colors or giving some lions a darker mane. A similar trope has been employed here but for a studio that gave life to the androgenous Rocket Racoon, a little more could have been done to the expressiveness of the characters to take away the Animal Planet vibes the film gave a lot of in some parts.

More characters make their spoken word debut in this film as opposed to just the main cast, and it features a whole new sequence which was reduced to just narration in the predecessor. Subtle changes in dialogues with more underlying subtexts and shuffling of a few key scenes, representative and comedic round off the film as a worthy remake. The animated feature in itself is stunning but to see it brought to life is an experience in another completely different dimension. The original score composed by the ever amazing Hans Zimmer makes a remastered comeback with all the popular songs seeing new life breathed into them along with a couple of newcomers in a welcome addition.

Unlike in Jungle Book, Faverou has chosen not to play fast and lose with the original’s script sticking very closely to the previous right down to the dialogues and fight sequences. The latter is a bit more fleshed out and every character has more depth with a little more of the backstory revealed in subtle mentions here and there but by and large the story remains untampered for good measure. Understandable, as one wouldn’t want to mess with audience emotions of a nearly perfect film in the first place! Props to the hyenas who flip-flopped between comedy and dangerous in the original who master the craft perfectly here looking fantastically menecing as they play foil.

The film is released in multiple languages with equally impressive voice casts, the Hindi version sees Shah Rukh Khan essaying the role of the titular Lion King Mufasa, and his son Aryan as Simba which promises to be a great outing. And for the first time ever, a Hollywood film makes it’s Kannada debut with a fantastic voice cast of Yash, Darshan, Devraj and Radhika Pandit as Simba, Scar, Mufasa and Nala opening a new chapter in the Sandalwood industry. With a lineup like that, it’s almost certain that yours truly is going to watch the film at least 2 more times!

The film during its original release 25 years ago was historic for being the first Disney Original, and a rich legacy has sprung up since then. New filmmaking, voice acting techniques, and animation has made this the best possible time to create groundbreaking strides in cinema history, and The Lion King has become yet another strong and sturdy brick in that castle of great films. The Battle for Pride Rock is one writ for the ages with violence, betrayal, romance, life lessons and a feel good script that essays the idea of the circle of life in more ways than one and it is one that forms it’s own niche under the formulaic Disney Umbrealla. Here’s to more of these!

For a film such as this that has had so much expectations riding on it there is sure to be a few sore spots here and there, but if Timon and Pumbaa have taught me one thing, it’s water under the bridge because “Hakuna Matata!”

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