The Lion King (2019)

1994’s “Lion King” still rules but change is a given in the circle of life

Pivotal to the 2019 version of “The Lion King,” was to make the film more realistic. The filmmakers certainly achieved that goal giving us a visually appealing movie, which if for nothing, must be acknowledged for how much animation has improved through the years.

At the helm is Jon Favreau serving as director and co-producer alongside, Jeffrey Silver and Karen Gilchrist. Favreau’s film extends the original by 30 minutes. It allows the audience revel in the exceptional cinematography. For instance, in the scene that Simba’s fur travels to the shaman, Rafiki.

Although set in an animal kingdom, at the heart of “The Lion King,” is a great friendship between a father and son, childlike innocence, envy and betrayal. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) welcome a son, Simba (Donald Glover). There is jubilation in the land but one person is unhappy – the king’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Jeff Nathanson is behind the screenplay of this photo-realistic version. His screenplay stays true to most of the original 1994 film. But he makes a few tweaks which are welcome improvements.

For one, “The Lion King” (2019) provides more context. The backstories deepen certain characters such as Scar and the hyena, Shenzi (Florence Kasumba). The plot explains how Scar’s face got scarred. It also provides more explanations for his resentment. Asides being displaced by Simba as heir to the throne, Scar detests Sarabi because she chose his brother Mufasa over him. The changes to the dialogue when Mufasa showed Simba the extents of Pride Land also certainly struck a chord. Unlike the 1994 film, Mufasa explained to his son that he does not own Pride Land. But he looks after the lands because a king is about ‘what he can give.’ Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter) who is betroth to Simba is also given more voice. She is more assertive and daring.

“The Lion King,” like Black Panther celebrates Africa. Pride Land is a fictional animal kingdom in Africa. Rafiki is a mandrill. Mandrills are of west African origin. Zulu chants are prominent in song, “The Circle of Life.” And Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase. So, it is remarkable that the 2019 remake included actors of African descent. South Africa’s John Kani voiced Rafiki. And Ugandan-German actress Kasumba replaced Whoopi Goldberg as Shenzi. Sadly, their performances were not energetic enough.

“The Lion King,” 1994, captivates the audience from the opening sequence with the rising of sun to the singing of “The Circle of Life.” One gets goosebumps when Rafiki embraces King Mufasa. And when he presents the cub, Simba to all of Pride Land, your heart leaps for joy as they all celebrate the birth of their prince and pay him homage.

The Lion King (1994)
Credit Disney, via The New York Times

The original film also did better at showing Scar’s range of emotions. His disdain, sarcasm and a pretentious fondness for Simba were brilliantly depicted. Scar is a phenomenal villain. And the voice actor, Jeremy Irons, was extraordinary in his portrayal of the character. His performance of “Be Prepared,” was a high point. Equally remarkable was Robert Guillaume. He was boisterous as Rafiki. And oh how we miss his drawings of Simba in the remake. In general the 1994 voice actors gave very lively performances. But one cannot say same for the 2019 film.

Nonetheless, Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon gave the standout performances. In this film, the song, “Be Prepared,” is replaced with spoken word. Ejiofor delivered it in a theatrical Shakespearean-style monologue. It works and also alludes to the original film’s influences from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” With Beyonce joining the cast, it was only fitting that she did a song. So we got “Spirit.” The song is used as background music when Simba makes his way home to take his rightful place as king.

News of the remake was displeasing. But most fans were happy to learn that Jones would reprise his role as Musafa. He is inimitable. However, he did not command as much authority as in the the 1994 animation because his voice has aged a bit. It is a reality of life. So, Walt Disney Pictures and Fairview Entertainment’s choice of realism at the expense of not appealing to emotions might not have paid-off artistically. But perhaps we need to let go with the understanding that change is a given in “The Circle of Life.”

For those who saw 1994’s “The Lion King” it still rules. For those who have not, the 2019 film is not bad. Given the recent remakes of Disney’s animated classics, and plans for even more, this is one remake I can live with.



Directed by: Jon Favreau

Cast includes: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones

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About the author

A lover of the arts who sees film and television through the eyes of the Nigerian viewer.