For the last several years Disney has been producing live action remakes of its animated classics in the hopes of retelling the story through photorealistic visuals. The decision is understandable because by using the latest technological breakthroughs in computer-generated imagery it can utilise these classics as cash cows as there is a definite market for it, especially amongst the younger crowd. The problem, as so painfully demonstrated by The Lion King (2019), is that what it gains in spectacular pictures, it loses in rigid expressionless characters and emotionally lackluster storyline.
The plot is exactly the same as in 1994. Simba, the heir to an unnamed African grasslands kingdom, must avenge his father’s death who was murdered by his uncle. He is forced to live a carefree existence in some far away Shangri-La with two goofy friends but must soon realize his true place and duty. It is simple and straightforward. When the plot is so unsophisticated you have to make up for it by creating memorable and holistic characters, who add some zest and vitality to the film. This is what the animated movie of 1994 did so well or rather what animation allowed it to do. The characters in the 2019 movie look drab, dispassionate and frankly boring. We are not sure how much technology prohibits filmmakers to portray emotionally lively characters but by the evidence of The Lion King, it certainly feels like quite significant. Although we do know that motion capture helps resolve the problem, as brilliantly showcased by Andy Serkis and Mark Ruffalo, because we have actual actors doing the acting.
The voice acting in the film feels wooden and taut and unexpressive except for Billy Eichner’s Timon and Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa but even then it seems as if they are overdoing it to compensate for the lack of liveliness otherwise. I guess the actors can only limit themselves within the contours of what the CGI animation provides them even though they have some established names amongst them like the superbly-talented Donald Glover.
Don’t get me wrong, the visuals in the film are stunning and every blade of grass and hair in a lion’s mane is exquisitely crafted as was done in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016). The issue is that computer generated animals look beautiful on screen but cannot act if their life depended on it. This weakness exposes the other weakness – the unadorned story which moves about in a somnambulant stroll with disjointed transitions and untethered arcs. One does not really care for any of the characters. It does feel like they skipped a whole lot about Simba’s journey from a scared cub to a strong-willed challenger for the throne.
Disney’s live action remakes will keep minting money because of an untapped market of young movie-goers but they will leave a bitter taste in your memory of the originals that were such a fond part of one’s childhood.