When I heard Disney was rebooting The Lion King using realistic-looking animals I thought to myself that it would, of course, be gorgeous. Then I wondered whether it would be fun to watch or whether I would find myself watching what appeared to be the world’s most hilariously voiced-over nature documentary. Off I went to see The Lion King on opening night to find out!
For those who haven’t already seen the original 1994 animated version, the movie is about a lion cub named Simba who is destined to grow up to be king of his pride. His uncle Scar is so jealous of both the current king Mufasa and of Simba that he arranges for Mufasa to be killed. Scar then convinces Simba that Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault. Simba runs away shirking all responsibility until he is found years later by a childhood friend and convinced to return to try to claim his rightful place as king.
How was it? Weeellll, that depends on who you ask. First off, I was right: The Lion King was absolutely gorgeous. You could suspend your disbelief and convince yourself that those were real animals onscreen. In fact, the animators seemed so focused on keeping the animals realistic that they ended up being expressionless, including a lack of “expressions” that I thought animals made, like using body language, ears, and tails, as well as more human expressions like eyebrows and even smiling or frowning that could have been worked in realistically. However, that made me appreciate the actors even more, because they were still able to make you feel all the feelings. (If you thought you couldn’t hate an animated lion, you were wrong. You will hate Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar; that cat is evil.) That being said, my husband said he felt it was like watching community theater actors take famous characters and try to make them their own. (And the actors did make the characters their own where the movie is the same as the original—even James Earl Jones doesn’t deliver Mufasa’s lines the same way!—plus the movie isn’t a shot-for-shot remake so there’s new material, too.) Sorry I don’t have my daughter’s review to add; she’s at summer camp this week. Although I can pretty much guarantee that she would have declared the movie, “Awesome!” She would have probably added that it’s scary…
Should you take your kids? Like all of Disney’s recent live action/realistic-looking reboots, everything is more intense when the characters are “real.” Watching Mufasa die is always hard but watching Simba’s reaction is even harder when he’s a real tiny lion cub. Similarly, watching the fight scenes is scarier when you’re watching real animals instead of cartoon animals. Sensitive kids especially may struggle with this. Primarily because of the realism, Common Sense Media puts this movie as appropriate for ages 8 and up and that’s a pretty good recommendation. Younger kids will do better with the original (recommended for ages 6 and up). Also keep in mind this version of The Lion King is about 20 minutes longer than the animated one, clocking in at almost two hours.
Overall, I think it was a gorgeous movie and the actors gave it their all, but ultimately the characters they were bringing to life felt more like pretty puppets than actual characters. It’s probably worth it to see this one on the big screen once to appreciate the animation, but the only reason we’re going to go see it again is because the kid is going to kill us when she finds out we went without her. Between the voice acting and the music, though, be prepared (ha ha!) for the emotional rollercoaster that is The Lion King!