On Friday 19th July, me and my family all went together to see The Lion King (2019) and whilst I enjoyed it thoroughly, I couldn’t help but compare it to a similar film I remember from my childhood, a film that my siblings and I grew up singing and quoting together. This film was called The Lion King (1994). I know that these names are similar, so I’ll make it easier by referring to them by the years that they came out, so 1994 and 2019. Despite the names being so similar and their plots being almost identical, these two films are not the same!
Okay, let’s drop the act a little here so I can drop a slight spoiler warning. I’m going to be talking about all aspects of both films so I’ve you’ve not seen 2019 and don’t want to know what’s different, maybe watch the film and then come back. However, I can promise you that if you’ve seen 1994, you don’t really need to avoid this post.
2019 is the latest film in Disney’s money-grabbing scheme where they make films they’ve already made, but in live-action. This is something I find quite baffling in the case of The Lion King considering that every single character in 2019 is fucking CG animated because animals can’t actually speak English and aren’t the best at acting. Okay, now to put my British cynicism aside and actually talk about what I did and didn’t like about 2019.
Although, beforehand, I’d like to say that I love that Disney have gone out of their way to cast more people of African descent for a film set in Africa. I love the increase in diversity in their works, and if you have a problem with Ariel being black…please fucking fight me!
Let’s start with the positives.
This film is abso-fucking-lutely breathtakingly beautiful, the crew have definitely utilized some incredible vistas. I love that 2019 gives itself time to slow down and focus on lovely moments. Moments like watching the mouse run around before finding itself in Scar’s cave, or seeing Simba spend time playing whilst moving between story beats; specifically between Mufasa’s “everything the light touches” speech and Simba talking to Scar about the aforementioned speech.
The performances for Simba and Nala (whilst not as I remembered) were solid and enjoyable takes on these classic characters. I respected the use of traditional African languages with Rafiki, reflecting the stage production, which I recommend you experience if you haven’t. And as we’re talking about performances, the new Timon & Pumba saved this film for me! I was worried that the electrifying chemistry that I remembered wouldn’t be present in this retelling, but thank goodness it was! The two bounced off each other and Simba in a hilarious way, and whilst their relationship was different to 1994, they certainly stood alongside their 1994 counterparts unlike any other characters in 2019.
Also, the scene where Timon & Pumba sing The Lion Sleeps Tonight was even better than before as all their various critter friends join in to create an aural acapella delight, before being rudely interrupted by Nala trying to catch a bite to eat.
Unfortunately, that’s probably all I can say in terms of positives, and now onto what I think didn’t worked so well.
Firstly, let’s touch upon my biggest disappointment, and that’s James Earl Jones’ return performance as Mufasa. Let me be straight, if I were directing 2019 the absolute first thing I would’ve done is contact Jones to offer him the chance to reprise the role, so I don’t think this was a mistake on the production team’s behalf. However, he doesn’t capture the sheer weight behind every word of his prior performance, and at times it feels as if he’s just reading words off a script rather than a giant lion talking to his cub. The same goes for John Oliver’s piss poor performance as Zazu; his lines fall flat and he just sounds snide and entitled whilst Rowan Atkinson’s 1994 performance has a sarcastic (very British) nature but his heart is always in the right place. It feels like they just said “let’s find a snarky Brit with a broad appeal” rather than look for someone with actual voice acting talent.
Now, whilst I was disappointed in Mufasa’s performance, the portrayal of Scar and the hyenas is what ruined 2019 for me.
Let’s start with the hyenas. The three core hyenas in 1994 are evil, eccentric, and lovably stupid. They were constantly telling jokes and cackling away to themselves, this bringing out a duality in Shenzi who is also has a secret cunning side, and is more capable and intelligent than she initially appears. In 2019, Shenzi is a stoic ‘badass’ who is serious 24/7 and never walks on the goofier side. Banzai and Ed are replaced with Kamari and Azizi, who just have one bad joke and no definable character traits besides being lazy and dumb.
And Scar… Scar was such an incredible character in 1994, his seething hatred escaped in every venom-coated word. He didn’t only want power, but he believed it was owed to him, and he only felt disdain to everything around him that contradicted that belief. Despite this, he was also relatable and cunning, easily controlling the stupid hyenas in promise of greatness. In 2019, Scar is just entitled, and is only able to come to an agreement with the hyenas rather than brainwash them with his silver tongue. Oh and Be Prepared is turned into more of a speech than a song and that really pissed me off, that’s like my favourite fucking scene!
A minor gripe I had is that the character designs were very samey for the lions and hyenas and at times it was hard to tell which character was which in the more intense action scenes.
With this being said, I did enjoy 2019 but I’ll be showing 1994 to my kids when I one day have them. It was an extremely important film for me and of course there’s a bias involved, but the expressiveness that was present in animation is lost in ‘live-action’, and that’s what matters to me. Moments like Simba sinking into the grass due to being scared of getting a bollocking from his dad are lost. Put simply, 2019 is lacking in these simple characterisations that littered 1994.
I know this is an anime blog so I’m sorry this is first post is somewhat anime-adjacent rather than actually about anime itself, I promise I’ll be talking more about anime in the future! What did you think? Are you team 1994 or 2019?