The Lion King (Review & Panel Wrap-Up)
This post was written by AntPooh, thank you for the write up.
Shout out to the big homie DJ Ben Ha Meen. When you show yourself worthy, he looks out for you any and every time a dope opportunity comes across his desk. This week was no exception, as I was blessed to attend a special Lion King x Twitter screening, panel and party in Hollywood.
I was joined by screening buddy and podcast co-host, Meriah Hudson, as we took in an IMAX screening of The Lion King (we’ll get to our thoughts and reviews later), but first: the panel! It was amazing, as Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner hosted most of the lead cast of The Lion King – (L to R) Billy Enich, Seth Rogan, Florence Kasumba, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Alfre Woodard, and Chiwetel Ejiofor– along with director Jon Favreau.
We were able to get insight into Favreau’s intentions in remaking this classic Disney movie. Favreau started out by describing how important the casting process was to the film’s reimagining, since the incredibly lifelike visuals required all emotion to be expressed from the voice. Along with redefining the original score, Favreau said the new interpretation of the visuals is what first attracted him to the project. He let us know that no one else was considered to voice Mufasa; so, it was a no-brainer that they brought James Earl Jones back to reprise his role as the Pride’s iconic patriarch.
People in attendance were treated to the amazing repartee between Rogen (Pumba) and Enich (Tumon), and witnessed firsthand the natural chemistry between the two. “Within our first read through it became clear that we were perfect to play these characters together and we had so much fun just riffing off each other in the studio.” They revealed that their version of Hakuna Matata was mostly driven by improvisation. The duo recorded their vocals with just a piano, which allowed them to ad-lib. They would then return to the song in order to get the banter in between verses. “I saw the movie for the first time last night and I was shocked,” Eichner said. “There’s so much improv in it and our conversation feels so natural, even though I’m a meerkat and he’s a warthog.” Which Rogen interjected with: “And as you can see, it’s not that different!”
Rogen also detailed how intimidated he was when he heard young Simba (McCrary) belt out a pitch perfect rendition of Can’t Wait to be King. “I had no idea we had to bring our A-Game on day one. Talk about pressure,” said Rogen.
Going back to Favreau, his attempts to modernize the film for a new generation, led him to turning to a contemporary of Donald Glover, Chance the Rapper. Introduced by “Childish Gambino,” Favreau said that Chance became a “technical consultant” for the film, making sure that moments still resonated with those who grew up with it. Chance even got to make a cameo in the film: “Half the animals around the grubs were Chance,” Favreau revealed to a shocked audience.
Lastly, one of the interesting conversations was had between Ejiofor (Scar) and host Turner who debated whether Scar was the real sympathetic character of the film, to which Ejiofor agreed. “Well of course I feel that Scar is the most sympathetic character in the film. He has to be second to his brother and now must watch someone who is CLEALY not ready (in his eyes) to ever be King ascend the throne. How can we not feel for him.”
The panel concluded with an amazing rendition of ‘Circle of Life’ performed live by Lebo M, Clydene Jackson and The Lion King Choir. Lebo M was asked about returning to the music and said “It’s very hard for me to say I came back,” he says. “I never left. The greatest gift is to be able to re-enter a journey that has been in your life for 25 years. This is like a family reunion for me.” The event ended with a very touching moment as the choir broke out into the Happy Birthday song as a cake was carried out to celebrate Lebo’s birthday. Overcome with emotion, Lebo graciously thanked everyone before singing “He Lives in You,” and ending the nights festivities on such a high note.
Now as for the movie. I’ll have to be honest, overall the film does not break any new ground. I strongly believe that anyone who has seen the 1994 animated film will not be as impressed with this live action remake. Favreau and his team did a great job bringing the Pride lands life. You would not be able to tell the difference from CGI and actual footage of what we believe to be African lands. If you are a fan of the Planet Earth series, you will be astonished at how fantastic this film looks.
That being said, everything they put into the look of this updated film is conversely what they took away from the feel of this movie. While every actor gave great performances, with Seth Rogen and Billy Enich stealing the film as favorites Tumon and Pumba, there was a lack of heart and emotional weight to this film.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was felt so little invested in this GREAT story until it hit me: there is no facial emotion to animals. There are scenes where the characters we believe are scared, sad, angry, or genuinely happy, however if you looked at their face you would never be able to tell. I am not trying to be an old miser who bemoans new movies with a “back in my day” attitude, but there absolutely is something to be said about the work of those 1994 animators who put real facial emotions on those characters that the hundreds (if not thousands) of CGI renderers could not match here.
Children and anyone who has seen this will love this film. It’s a scene for scene adaptation of the original with slight dialogue deviations here and there but, unlike Dumbo, they took no liberties to tell a new story. As huge as the first film was, not to mention twenty-year Broadway run, you cannot give some of the same story. See this for the nostalgia and the great musical numbers.
FINAL SCORE: 7.0