The Lion King
Director: Jon Favreau
Voice Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyonce
Transported into the forests and the majestic Pride Rock as one sink into the theatre seats, 3d glasses perched atop the nose, it is difficult to not be impressed by Disney’s ambition at reinvention. The Lion King’s newest version without a shadow of a doubt is a marvel of creative technology. It is the sort of film that parents would like to take their kids to watch over the weekend.
We all agree that telling a good old familiar story over and over again can be charming as well as monotonous. I recall the childhood days when during the never-ending summer vacations, we would surround my grandmother for telling us stories of kings and queens and witches and ghouls. After a few rounds of storytelling, she would inevitably run short of new tales to regale us with, resulting in a bunch of whiny, bored kids at hand. Being the resourceful woman that she was, she fixed the problem by retelling the same stories with slightly altered twists and turns to characters and situations each time we begged her for a new story. It worked like a charm. Disney’s attempt at reprising The Lion King for newer generations too tries the grandma’s tricks of telling tales complete with a sparkling new photo-realistic version!
Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay and story by Brenda Chapman remains faithful to the original with minor tweaks to enhance the drama –Nala for instance in this version has to escape the hyenas and Scar in order to go hunting for food. There are many more tweaks and it would be interesting to see how an entirely new audience responds to this version of the story.
And it works! At the very outset, I was mesmerised when the dark scowling Scar (with the voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor) makes his appearance on the screen, silkily uttering, “Life’s not fair, is, it my little friend? While some are born to feast, others spend their lives in the dark begging for scraps.” And the ride thereon remained intriguing for most part.
Directed by Jon Favreau (of the very successful The Jungle Book fame) the one thing The Lion King lacks is the element of human emotions. Expressive as cub Simba’s eyes are when he blinks in confusion at the world bowing to his arrival, emotions, even when they are running high don’t show up as well on the animal faces as they did on the animated versions. It is then left to the excellent ensemble of voice actors to do the rest. Particularly impressive are Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) Zazu (John Oliver) Mufasa (James Earl Jones), JD McCrary (Young Simba) Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and Billy Eichner (Timon) with capable supporting voices in Donald Glover (Simba) and Beyonce Knowles-Carter (Nala). Irene Mecchi, Jonathon Roberts and Linda Woolverton credited for characters in the film are consistent with the earlier versions but unlike the 1994 edition, drop the humourous touch to the hyenas of earlier times making the confrontation scene with Mufasa a tad underwhelming.
Timon and Pumbaa, the life of the jungle party, have been altered to match with the personalities of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen lending them a touch of the contemporary. Among my favourite moments in the scene was one on where Timon, adds his clever asides about too many carcasses on witnessing the state of Pride Land!
Hans Zimmer’s music is effective. Tracks by Elton Jon and Tim Rice be it the Circle of Life are appealing and Hakuna Matata in its revised version is still great fun to sing along with. There is also Beyonce’s song ‘Spirit’ as an additional attraction in the film.
Jon Favreau obviously has the chops to pull off an ambitious, revised version of Disney’s extremely popular musical about the lovable feline Simba who is destined to be King despite evil machinations. In his numerous interviews, Favreau spoke about working closely with creators of the original film in order to keep the legacy intact. Given that he has masterfully orchestrated a new cast, new technical features aided by Caleb Deschanel’s impeccable cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design and Vlad Bina’s art design, it would be fair to say that Favreau has done well.
As the French famously say--‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’—well in the instance of The Lion King, the world of cinema is probably the better for it.