Man, oh man, you just cannot deny the success of 'The Lion King'. It was always my personal favorite of the animated classics, and it seems abundantly clear from Box Office numbers that I'm not alone. It's the first of these Disney remakes to reach the Top 10 box office opening weekends of all time (domestically) at #8. In other words, this is popular enough to fit get sandwiched between 'Black Panther' and 'Age of Ultron'.
This is gonna be a relatively short review, however, as plot-wise, there's absolutely nothing to say. It literally is, more or less, a shot for shot remake of the '94 classic. There's nothing new here at all. In fact, I'd even say they took stuff out (I really wanted to see Rafiki bop Simba on the head!) So, if you're like me, and love that original, you'll probably take this for what it is, accept it as a visual upgrade, and move on. In all honesty, I was prepared for this to be that shot for shot remake, but wanted to see the punch it packed from a visual perspective. I have to admit, that this is an absolutely gorgeous movie to look at, and it's pretty well fully CG - even some of that background stuff, apparently.
I kinda have to eat my words here on my review for 'Beauty an the Beast' which I criticized for being the same thing again, because even it had more new stuff going than this. So, I meet 'The Lion King' kinda lukewarm. I pretty much got what I expected, which softens the blow. But the truth is, the only real purpose this film serves is to show us what CG can do now. It pulled an 'Avatar', in a way - showing us something new while telling us something we've already heard. All I'm doing is sitting here waiting for polished 'Star Wars' films, as this advanced CG stuff stands largely between two Disney properties ('Endgame' and this)
I think where this movie really dips for me is in the songs. The originals are just plain better, and in a messed up way, that includes visually. The best examples; 'I just Can't Wait to be King' used to be bright, colorful, playful, fun, but now it's just Simba and Nala running around with different animals, not doing much else. The other, 'Be Prepared' - one of the best Disney villain songs ever, and it's sort of just casually played out here. The others, I didn't care much about what they did with them, but others might say the same criticisms about them.
For my money, 'The Jungle Book' (also directed by Favreau) is still the best of the Disney remakes. It had all the basics there while doing its own thing, and the animal effects - well, again, same director. Although, I guess I understand that 'The Lion King' is kind of an untouchable story (pretty much 'Hamlet'), so there's only so much new they can do about it. I think the only big thing they did here was give Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) a bit of a bigger role.
The casting was pretty good, and I found it interesting that it was headed with a nearly all African cast, which includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala and the return (thank God) of James Earl Jones' awesomely powerful voice as Mufasa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively, were great choices for the comedic duo (who were by and large the best part of this movie), and of course John Oliver as Zazu couldn't really be more perfect. I could go on, but we'll be here all day.
So, the film was a triumph in visuals, box office success, and casting - but not a whole hell of a lot more. The way I see it, if the original never existed, and this came out as a whole new thing, I think it would be widely regarded as being anywhere from good to amazing. But as it stands, it's just kind of in the middle for me. I feel like I missed out on a few more things the CG could have lent itself to. It's neat for what it is, but in all sincerity, the '94 film is far superior, in my opinion.