The original (part of a Disney renaissance in the 90s, not unlike how there’s a renaissance now in remaking their animated catalog into live-actions) is one of the first films I remember growing up on, watching it all the way back in nursery. So given the mixed response from critics, I was a bit anxious. So what did I then think?
First of all, parts definitely feel a bit shot-for-shot, meaning identical to the original, but equally, I’m happy to say, it also feels fresh enough, especially given the live-action aesthetic (and the animation feels so real your brain essentially believes it is). Jon Favreau (also director of the Jungle Book remake) directs this with more of a nature-documentary feel, and as such elements like the animals in the cartoon being anthropomorphised are not this time round. Yet Simba, voiced as a young character by JD McCrary and as an adult by Donald Glover, as he goes through trials and tribulations in the build-up to being a future king, feels more rounded in a sense this time round. Perhaps this is down to the remake by nature of what it is being less cartoony.
Indeed, the closest element to the original is Mufasa, Simba’s dad and the current king, being voiced by the same actor (James Earl Jones), his lines almost verbatim. Less verbatim is Scar, Simba’s uncle (also the villain) and voiced this time by Chiwetel Ejiofor, with more of a menacing Shakespeare take (oh and definitely less vain than Jeremy Irons’s iconic version).
What more is there to say? You still get the same songs only again they’re more grounded and Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner kinda steal the show as Timon and Pumba respectively, Beyonce also does good work as Nala, Simba’s friend and love interest (the character having a more expanded role now), and so forth. But ultimately it is admittedly a bit shot-for-shot, yet at the same time it’s arguably, to me anyway, one of Disney’s most revered films (and the animation really is good!). So there’s only so much you can truly change and luckily I think it feels fresh enough anyway. So check it out and see what you think.