The Lion King (1994/2019)


D: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Disney (Don Hahn)
US 1994
88 mins
W: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton
Mus: Hans ZimmerElton John & Tim Rice
voices of: Matthew Broderick (Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Jeremy Irons (Scar), Moira Kelly (Nala), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba)
Arguably the last of the traditional Disney classics, taking the plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet to the plains of Africa, where a pride of lions fight for power in a fairytale setting. 
Following the death (murder) of his father, heir to the throne Simba goes into hiding while his evil Uncle Scar serves as king, destroying the pridelands as he ruled with an iron fist.
Simba returns as an adult to overcome the authoritarian and reclaim what is rightfully his.
Making a mint at the 1994 box office, The Lion King is widely regarded as the last traditional cel animated classic from the Goliath Hollywood studio, with songs penned by Elton John & Tim Rice which are as timeless as the film itself. A stage musical followed and has become hugely successful in its own right. A remake followed in 2019, using computer generated animation techniques.

The Lion King
The Lion King


D: Jon Favreau

Disney (Jon Favreau, Jeffrey Silver & Karen Gilchrist)

US 2019

118 mins


W: Jeff Nathanson [based on the 1994 screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton]

DP: Caleb Deschanel

Ed: Mark Livolsi & Adam Gerstel

Mus: Hans Zimmer

voices of: Donald Glover (Simba), JD McCrary (Young Simba), Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Billy Eichner (Timon), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), John Oliver (Zazu)

Disney's business model of remaking all their animated back catalogue as live action movies continues, although there is a credible debate over whether or not the 2019 version of The Lion King could be considered as live action, as while it is aesthetically photorealistic, everything on screen was in fact rendered via computer animation.

As for the visuals, they are impeccable throughout, with convincing lions, hyenas and other animals set against an African backdrop which simply cannot be set apart from the real thing. It's almost like watching a National Geographic documentary, albeit with talking lions and an animal kingdom take on Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The story is identical to the 1994 version, with hardly anything changed or altered, and that which is different is merely scenes, dialogue and songs being dropped to serve a more "serious" envisioning. That being said, it is a fairytale set in a real-life environment and it is a contrasting clash, which the suspension of disbelief can only go with due to the striking visuals. 

It's very much a copy & paste job, and though you can marvel at the intricate work which has gone into the film, it is a cynical cash-grab from a studio that almost seems intent on global domination and monopolising the entertainment industry.

The vocal work varies, with James Earl Jones' reprising his role as Mufasa as there is simply no other choice for this part. Chiwetel Ejiofor is also great as the villainous Scar, bringing a theatrical take to the character just as Jeremy Irons did in the original film. JD McCrary is also very good as young Simba, but Donald Glover as adult Simba is less impressive. The weak link to the cast is Beyoncé, who may be a successful singer on the worldwide stage, but she just doesn't have the nuance or characterisation in her voice to convincingly portray Nala.

Still, it would be quite a difficult skill for any of the actors to master when the animal characters seem to always show the same facial expression. Seth Rogen probably steals the show as Pumbaa, the comic relief warthog, but his singing skills leave much to be desired.

Overall, it's an enjoyable movie, and one which will doubtlessly be a huge money spinner for Disney, but the cynic in me thinks it's completely unnecessary when the 1994 version still exists and feels timeless in its own right, but I still have to respect the painstaking effort that went into this film.


The Lion King
The Lion King