The Lion King is full of an infinite number of jaw-dropping visuals that will blow even the most cynical people away. There haven’t been many releases that even come close and I’m not sure any will. While I have noticed that the latest fad amongst my fellow critics is to bash this release, going down that road really will serve little purpose. Is this version of The Lion King perfect? No, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks value.
As a family film, you really can’t get much better than Disney’s latest live-action release. Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay has moments of sheer brilliance in it. I loved how rich Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) were in the film. The casting of Zazu (John Oliver) was absolutely on the money as well.
I also got the feeling from the film that director Jon Favreau understood the essence of what made The Lion King so special to everyone. However, he ran into a massive issue as it concerns the performances of Donald Glover and Beyoncé ( more so the latter than the former).
Glover (who voices is an older Simba) was average at best and didn’t vocally convey much of the angst that he should be feeling following the death of Mufasa (who is once again voiced by James Earl Jones). He’s an essential piece of the emotional core, which makes this film resonate, and his performance was average at best. Now some might blame the technology, but it sure didn’t hinder the other cast members.
Beyoncé was far worse than Glover’s performance. Nala is supposed to be invested in Simba returning home and reclaiming the pride lands from Scar, and none of that comes through during her performance. I want to think that most actors when they are voicing a character have to do these in multiple takes, but I have to wonder if she just read he lines in one take and that was that. There was no emotion in her voice ( and for the matter Glover’s too).
Simba and Nala are indeed the heart of this film, and that was nowhere near to be found. Now I understand that criticizing Beyoncé will probably draw such an interesting response for the peanut gallery, but if you are attempting to remake what most consider a Disney classic, then step up to the challenge.
Overall, I’m not going to say that The Lion King should be avoided. There’s undoubtedly much more that works than doesn’t. Just don’t expect to be blown away by this release.