So far Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and others have been ticked off of Disney's list of films to remake in live-action form, and on paper The Lion King seems like an odd film to give the same treatment. After all, you can't put actors in the roles and film them, since the entire cast is made up of animals, although that hasn't stopped the entertainment titan and director Jon Favreau from trying. After many, many months of waiting, the bonafide classic is back again with a new lick of paint, and what a lick of paint that is.
Visually the film is undeniably stunning; a technical achievement without a doubt. The whole film is created using the Unity game engine in fact, and this creates photorealistic models of animals, meaning the end result is a film that looks just as if it was real-life, save from the talking wildlife and choreographed musical numbers. Even the fur (hauntingly realised in the recent Cats trailer) looks fluffy and lifelike, and it's clear that there has been painstaking effort taken to make sure that this all looks true to life, right down to the way the animals move and behave as well.
In terms of the story, those who know and love the original will still be able to see what happens and sing along with the soundtrack, save for a rather odd addition of an extra Beyonce track towards the film's climax. Each song has been reproduced with the singers giving it their own flavour and interpretation, although on the visual side it's almost a shot-for-shot remake at times, albeit with some extra narrative points thrown in or dialogue churned out. Essentially, there are no plot points changed in the overarching narrative, but there's enough new in there to make it worth a watch.
The star-studded cast is part of the selling factor for this film too, and they deliver on all accounts. The titans like James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa, Beyonce as Nala, and Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) as adult Simba all make good on their promise, and even the smaller roles like Eric André as Azizi and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa deliver great versions of their characters. It's still as funny as it once was, thanks to all this comic talent (John Oliver as Zazu stands out), but also retains the same level of heart-wrenching emotion as we remember back in 1994.
At times there is an odd disconnect between the animals and the voices though, a minor qualm in the overall package. Having a realistic hornbill open its mouth up and down while John Oliver's voice emanates from the beak is rather odd, and this applies to some of the other animals too, where we saw several instances of the mouths just failing to match up with what's being said.
In the grand scheme of things though this doesn't derail Disney's best live-action remake to date, one that respects the original without sticking to it rigidly. This is its own take on The Lion King, providing fresh variants of the characters, a bit of extra flavour in the music department, and a revitalised level of emotion made possible by the realistic visuals and the sheer spectacle of the product. It's safe to say that this does the first film justice, and won't be spoiling your childhood memories anytime soon.