There’s probably a very good reason William Shakespeare didn’t turn to the flora and fauna of Africa when originally staging “Hamlet” and my money is on the inability of big cats to emote properly because that’s one of the biggest problems with this ‘live-action’ Lion King has. Oh, it’s still a great story, competently told but it’s never more than a pale, exquisitely rendered, CGI shadow of its former self.
Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” is a giant leap forward for animation, but a few steps backwards for storytelling as the photorealistic approach robs many of the characters of their expressiveness and ability to emote properly. In fact, so closely does this new version hew to the original story that it’s a puzzle they bothered to get a new cast at all and didn’t just reuse the original dialogue track for the new visuals. It doesn’t help that the voice cast and performances across the board just aren’t quite as good as the original (okay, Donald Glover > Matthew Broderick) even, bizarrely, including James Earl Jones’ Mufasa, which is a noticeably flatter and less vibrant performance than his 1994 reading.
One thing the live-action Disney reimaginings have struggled with thus far is the animated showstoppers, with only “Aladdin” proving the exception to the rule with ‘Prince Ali’. “Beauty And The Beast”’s ‘Be Our Guest’ was a muddy CGI nightmare and here ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ is so underwhelmingly staged and performed it makes me fear for what may become of ‘Under The Sea’ in the forthcoming “The Little Mermaid” remake.
This is the first one of Disney’s live-action adaptation I can’t think of a single reason why you’d ever choose to watch this version over the animated original. Not a single one. It’s only redeeming feature is that the technical achievement is so astonishing we need no longer worry that future generations will be robbed of their chance to see what all the extinct animals used to look like in the wild now we can recreate them with unerringly de-anthropomorphised accuracy.