Hakuna Matata, or no worries, the live-action “The Lion King” is a hit. Released July 18, the remake roared into theaters, setting a new standard for live-action animation technology while keeping the storyline as similar as possible.
The most important part that remains mostly unchanged is, of course, the music. The 2019 soundtrack features the same composers and writers as its 1994 counterpart and the Broadway production, with work by Hans Zimmer, Elton John and Tim Rice. This creates a continuity between the soundtracks that’s evident.
Four songs are kept from the original soundtrack: “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” “Be Prepared” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” There’s also a cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — a fitting touch — and the song “He Lives in You” from the Broadway production.
Overall, the musical ensemble is empowering. As with the original, the movie opens with an all-encompassing composition of “Circle of Life” that causes one’s heart to pound along with the drums. Lebo M., who had a hand in both film soundtracks and the theatrical production, chants the “Circle of Life” introduction in the 1994 and 2019 versions. This time he’s accompanied by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, whose voice rings out deeper and stronger, making for a more positively overwhelming experience.
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” also surpasses the original, as Beyonce and Donald Glover’s duet hits notes that sends chills up the spine.
Aside from the music, the plot’s adherence to the original is applaudable. Naturally, the biggest change is the animation. While some may say this takes away from the original animation’s charm, these visual effects create an all-immersive experience that makes the viewer feel as if they’re in the Pride Lands of Africa — something older animation simply can’t do.
The lions blink slower with a dash of extra emphasis when their eyes close as in real life, their ears twitch to flies, their tails mindlessly sway and every muscle is perfectly in sync with movement. Their eyes even allow viewers to feel like they’re face-to-face with animals they’ve likely only seen behind a zoo fence.
The remake’s production began in 2017 after the 2016 “The Jungle Book” live action grossed nearly $1 billion. Even though the movies have the same director, Jon Favreau, and production started a year later, the animation in “The Lion King” is significantly more advanced.
A change customary for live actions is the characters’ looks. This is seen with Scar. Since lions don’t have clay-colored skin and black hair like he does in the animated version, Scar looks like the rest of the lions with tan fur in the live action. While this is a shock at first, it makes the film more realistic and Disney still represents the original character through the scar on his face and his staved-looking body. These changes are also shown in Pumbaa since warthogs aren’t as pleasing to the eye as they may have seemed in 1994.
Consistency can be found in Mufasa’s voice since he’s played by James Earl Jones who voiced the original Mufasa in the animated film. His iconic voice from the 1994 classic shines through, and his synergy with young Simba (JD McCrary) makes one forget they’re watching a new movie.
But the real stars are Pumbaa (Seth Rogan) and Timon (Billy Eichner). They’re the dynamic duo the world has been missing since 1994.
Timon takes the lead with added commentary such as telling Simba, “You do you,” calling Zazu a puffin and continually blaming Pumbaa. But the young warthog is quick with his humor as well. His best moment comes at the end of the iconic song, “Hakuna Matata,” which is accompanied by Simba growing through silhouette images. When Simba continues to sing, Pumbaa recommends they stop and adds, “You’ve grown 400 pounds since we started.” These two top off the comedy by singing “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty and the Beast” as they head off the act as bait for the hyenas.
And for all the Beyonce fans out there, it’s important to note she’s not exactly the star of the show. Younger Nala (Shahadi Joseph) is in most of the scenes. But no worries, Beyonce’s voice shines through in her songs and lines just as expected.
It’s likely “The Lion King” live action will surpass the criticisms of most films of its type since the new actors only replace the voices of the characters viewers are accustomed to. The characters themselves, while brought to life, still visually hold true to the ones from viewers’ childhoods.
The plot and musical consistency in this new version of “The Lion King” will surely remind viewers of one’s singalong days when they just couldn’t wait to be king.
Contact Shanna Kelly at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.