When Pamela Travers confronted Walt Disney about changes she wanted to see in “Mary Poppins” after the film premiered, Walt Disney said, “Pamela, that ship has sailed.” It was one of Walt’s frustration with film. Once it was done, he could change it or tinker with it to make it better. It’s part of the reason he created Disneyland; it gave him something he could change and improve. You would think that the company’s live action – or in ‘the Lion King’s” case, CGI animated – films would allow them to improve on the story.
You’d be wrong. Jon Favreau’s self-proclaimed live action “Lion King” does nothing to improve up on the original and eliminates some of the best parts of the 1994 classic. Was there nothing the filmmakers thought they could improve upon?
The elimination of Ed the hyena who communicated through laughter is one large change. It was Ed’s change from bumbling fool to evil, backstabber that was the most frightening change in the original.
The “Be Prepared” sequence lacks the emotional impact that the Jeremy Irons number had. The visuals and message in the original are staggeringly relevant and scary. It may have been the best song in the movie.
Favreau’s animals are limited to the things that animals can do. This necessitated a huge change to the visuals for the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” number. There’s no Hula dancing meerkat, and staff-wielding Rafiki is only revealed in a lackluster moment of no import. Rafiki pulls the staff out of a hiding place in the tree and says, “My old friend.” There’s no connection to this staff in the film, so this statement doesn’t serve a purpose, except as fulfilling fan expectations. Seriously, you don’t need any fan appreciation because it’s ALL fan appreciation.
I can respect that Favreau wanted to make these animals photo-realistic; it’s something Disney tried to do with Bambi in 1940. But in doing so, Favreau eliminated a lot of what makes the 1994 version a standout film. In fact, this new version doesn’t even do justice to the stage play, which was truly something new and fresh when it debuted – and it’s still a work of art.
The last battle between Scar and Simba has less drama than an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” where the lions’ strength would be on full display. Here, it comes off as “Man, this would be powerful if they were real lions in the wild; instead, it’s artificially enhanced by sound effects.”
In the past Disney released their animated films in the theater every seven years so new children could become acquainted with them. That worked for the new “Aladdin.” There were enough changes that it was clear the movie was released for the next generation. “The Lion King” just seems like it was developed because the original made a billion dollars. For those who love the originals, the 2019 version plays like “Phantom Menace” without a new plot line.