Nala (Beyonce) and Simba (Donald Glover) in The Lion King.

REVIEW: Disney’s The Lion King rehash plays like BBC Planet Earth cover version

Realistic animals, no fun.

In 1994, when the original animated version of The Lion King was released, Disney was enjoying a new golden age.

Hit after hit flowed from the company, a solid run of modern classics and beloved favourites: Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King.

For the couple of decades, Disney innovated again with its partnership with Pixar, upping the ante for children’s films, stirring in complex emotional tales with cutting-edge animation.

The contract between the audience and Disney was a solid one. We gave them ticket money, they gave pure cinema magic.

Now, however, Disney’s less Mickey Mouse and more Scrooge McDuck. Like a sponge, the corporation has sucked up some of the world’s most profitable titles (Marvel, Star Wars) and are churning them out at pace.

Turning inward, the overtly corporate Disney has also been reheating and re-serving their own beloved titles and asking for money, with the contract now being as one-sided as your broadband provider upping the bill. Come on, cough up.

Like the 2017 live-action version of Beauty and The Beast, The 2019 Lion King is essentially a shot-for-shot remake. Gone, however, are the big, bold characters and joyful expressions of the likes of young cubs frolicking.

Instead, the decision was made to make a photo-realistic version of The Lion King. Did you ever wonder what it might really look like to see a lion cub curl up with the corpse of its dead father?

Now you can find out, as it faithfully renders the emotional scene when lion cub Simba finds his dead dad has been murdered by his evil uncle, Scar. We’re not in spoiler territory here – you’ve seen The Lion King and beat for beat is exactly the same, just nowhere near as good.

The songs are all there, because all of it is still there. There are just now more animals in each scene, rendered in a strangely weightless CGI that gives the impression the contested land presided over by lions has a gentle magnetic force that makes the animals glide rather than bound.

While the tech-heads have got close to nailing wildlife, basing a whole film on it and expecting emotional results was a tall order from director Jon Favreau (the man behind the Jungle Book remake).

With your eyes closed, the cast, which includes Beyonce, Donald Glover and Seth Rogan, are doing a pretty good audiobook version. Open your eyes though and this disconnect between the realistic animals is too big to ignore.

It’s essentially a Johnny Morris Animal Magic take on the story, and using the Mr Ed technique of giving a real animal thick, sticky peanut butter to make it look like it was talking would be just as (in)effective and a whole lot cheaper.

This BBC Planet Earth cover version of a firm favourite falls flat. Get the original on DVD – 50p from your local charity shop.


Review by Tom Cassidy

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