Why The Lion King Live Action is Mediocre
This film isn't good. It isn't bad, but it's certainly not good. It misses the mark on so many fundamental aspects that it's genuinely surprising this film was made in the first place. Aside from the general discussion as to why Disney has decided to besmirch their name by making these "live-action" remakes, let's try to break down why this film does not work.
№ 1. Disney
Disney cares about one thing and one thing only. Money.
As long as they make money, they don't give a flying shit what they pump out. Credit where credit is due though, at least Disney isn't Illumination Animation. At least Disney tries to make their films look competent. But that's not enough. There's no inspiration anymore. No flair that makes people want to watch. When you watch a film, you're meant to enjoy yourself, surprise surprise. So when you nitpick and find plot holes off the bat, then you are not enjoying yourself. If a film is fun, you shoudn't even notice the stupid shit that's going on. Marvel films are riddled with plot holes, but they are generally so enjoyable that you never notice or frankly care. This film does not have that luxury and it's damaging. I didn't give a flying fuck about Simba, or about Scar's plan, or about the pride. I didn't care about Nala, Simba's mother, or the prideland. I just didn't care, and its Disney's fault because they're making me feel ambivalent towards a genuine intellectual masterpiece: The Lion King. If Disney put as much creative potential into producing new and innovative ideas, then they would be as popular as they were only ten or so years ago. But that is simply not the case. And the backlash against Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King is only proving as much.
№ 2. CGI
Have we all finished lathering ourselves in drool over the visuals of this film? Okay cool, now let's talk about why they suck.
Let me present a few stills from the original Lion King:
You look at these still frames and you can tell who the characters are, what their personalities are, their motivations, the situation of the scene, etc. Now let's flip this around and take some still frames from the 2019 Lion King:
Who's that character? What's that character thinking? What's that character's motivations? What's going on here? I can't tell what's going on in the scene because everything looks the same and no emotion is shown. Every lion has the same face and facial expression. Their reaction to Mufasa's death is the same as when Simba is born. HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DIFFERENTIATE? And it doesn't help when Jon Favreau made the genius decision to have s u p e r long shots of these lions' identical faces.
The visuals are fine, yes. But they are boring. The only thing that looked visually bad were the lions' front legs. They seemed to jut out in front of their body at a super weird straight line. Other than that, this film is visually beautiful. But I DON'T CARE. I don't want to see a Lion King remake with real lions because all it's showing me is how terrifying these animals are in real life. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. We get that in this day and age we can make super-realistic animals, we get that. Don't shove it down our throats by remaking classics that didn't need to remade.
№ 3. The voice acting
Right off the bat, Beyonce sucked. She is not an actress. Putting her in a scenario where the only medium is her voice doesn't suddenly make her an exceptional actress. Nala is already the most boring character of this film, and they made it worse by casting Beyonce, the most boring voice actor to ever plague the stage. I already dislike Beyonce as it is, but every review I've read for this film has criticised her dullness and refusal to dive deeper into one of the most disappointingly boring characters there is.
Donald Glover was also surprisingly underwhelming. He didn't truly capture the torn essence of Simba and didn't manage to sound intimidating against Scar. Speaking of, Chiwetal Ejiofor was fairly disappointing. I love Chiwetal Ejiofor. He is perfect in 12 Years A Slave and is a truly incredible actor. But come on, no one can succeed Jeremy Irons. Irons had a consistently deep and gravelly voice that commanded and reverberated. Ejiofor doesn't boast such a gift and only manages to shine in certain places. Not to say he was terrible, but whenever he was on the screen, my mind only wandered to Irons.
Surprisingly, the kids were the best voice actors in this film. They perfectly captured the situation and always seemed like they were their characters, not some actors standing in a recording studio. The only other actors that were the best with their performances were Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen...
№ 4. Not enough Timon and Pumbaa
I laughed a grand total of nine times in this film. One of which was for John Oliver (who is incredible both in and out of this film), and the rest for Timon and Pumbaa. Eichner and Rogen had such genuine compatible chemistry that their scenes were simply the only enjoyable parts to look forward to. Everyone who asked me whether they should see this film has met the same reply: "It isn't great, but you should watch it for Timon and Pumbaa". Because there's a reason they're one of the most lovable duos on screen... they're hilarious. Whether it's the same recycled jokes from the old film or new ones (best one being when they distract the hyenas with the "Be Our Guest" song from Beauty and the Beast; genius), they are the stars of the show.
So it's a fucking disappointment that they are not always in it. Because by the end of it the only scenes I remember are theirs. I can barely remember Simba, let alone Nala. So I just left feeling empty and unsatisfied.
№ 5. The music
The original Lion King soundtrack is iconic for a reason. An article from six years ago written by Alexa Kwiatkoski (https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2013/04/the-culture-broadway-allows-a-unique-expression-of-inner-emotions-through-song-36605) stated that "Musicals allow characters to express themselves in ways we wish we could". Singing in musicals should be from such an overflux of emotion that the only choice is to sing. Singing may be introduced to further the plot or to provide exposition in a manner convenient to the musical genre the film is placed. This film does not follow that half the time.
The biggest offender is Scar. Scar has a an iconic piece called "Be Prepared" where he essentially informs his hyena army to be prepared for his ascension. In the animated film, Scar's appearance and voice and constant smirk fit the need for a song. His naturally campy behaviour made the existence of a song believable and, frankly, desired. In this 2019 version, none of that mirrors. Scar is a scary frowning lion who has so far shown to be wholly cruel and not funny in any regard possible. There is no soaring crescendo, no wispy green smokes, simply Scar walking up some rocks and singing for literally no reason. I haven't watched the original Lion King in years because I wanted to approach this with a fresh start, so I did forget Scar had a song. But in this film, I was simply so confused by its inclusion because it didn't fit Scar's character at all. The rest of the music on the whole was fine, save for Seth Rogen's horrible singing abilities and the rest of the character's (apart from the children) lackadaisical delivery.
№ 6. Rafiki is barely in it
This is a small point, but the fact that one of the funniest and most crucial characters in the Lion King has as much screen time as some random antelope in Timon and Pumbaa's gang shows that these filmmakers were really lacking when they put on their creativity hats.
All in all, this isn't a great film. It isn't terrible, but there is no way in hell someone would voluntarily choose to watch this version over the animated version any day. The 1994 edition had so much heart and emotion and gravitas behind the characters and the backstories and the relationships. In this 2019 one, the film depends on you knowing the story, you figuring it out yourself while you admire the pretty landscapes they can make on their fiddly little computers. That's not what film-making is. Film-making is meant to inspire and astound the viewer, not have them want to watch the original film that you basically copied and pasted.