Movie Review: Go to the New-ish ‘Lion King’ for the Technical Marvels If You Must, But Stay for the Goofy Sidekicks

1 Comment

CREDIT: Disney Enterprises

Starring: Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, James Earl Jones, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Jon Favreau

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG for Leonine Fratricide

Release Date: July 19, 2019

I’ve expressed before that Disney’s recent spate of remakes of its animated catalog is not an inherently bad idea. Plenty of stories have been told and then subsequently retold in fresh ways. For a classic example, William Shakespeare’s plays have remained relevant as many different versions have had their say over hundreds of years. But the major difference, and this is especially clear in the case of The Lion King, is the source document. A feature film that has been recorded on and uploaded onto a variety of durable formats sets a more indelible imprint than an initial theatrical performance that was presented before such recording technology existed. If you want to revisit the journey of Simba’s ascendance to the throne, you can always pop in the DVD or find the right streaming channel. Thus, a fresh feature length retelling demands that there be something new on offer.

The Jon Favreau-directed photoreal Lion King remake does in fact offer something new, at least (or if only) on a technical level. Every speck of dirt and strand of fur is rendered in painstaking fashion. But to what end? I’m reminded of Steven Soderbergh’s mashup of Hitchcock’s original Psycho and Gus van Sant’s remake, which is the sort of thing that you do just because you feel like it. And so, as far as I can tell, the team at Disney recreated the “Circle of Life” opening sequence with an updated animation style just because they felt like it. I have a bit of a Pavlovian reaction to that wonder of a kickoff, but this time it was just a secondhand Pavlov to a secondhand routine.

On a positive note, I will admit that I found this viewing experience valuable for making me feel more amenable to the adult perspective of believing that Simba just needs to get around to taking care of his responsibility. But I don’t know if that is a unique feature of this version or just a function of me happening to see this particular version instead of the original on this particular day.

In conclusion, while I have mostly focused on the disappointments, I do ultimately recommend nü-Lion King thanks to the Timon and Pumbaa of it all. As Simba’s meerkat and warthog companions, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are given more free rein than anyone else in the cast to find the characterization that suits them. Their performances avoid any inadvisable postmodern Shrek-style smart-aleckry, while also suggesting that they are at least self-aware of the all-franchise-fare-all-the-time pop culture landscape they are operating within. If you’re going to go back to the well, you can’t be too precious about what came before, and thankfully, enough of Timon and Pumbaa’s non-preciousness is on display here for us to get by.

The Lion King is Recommended If You Like: The wonders of animation technology, Perfectly suited yin/yang comedy duos

Grade: 3 out of 5 Circles of Life

Advertisements

Best Songs of 2016

1 Comment

kiiara-gold

All songs on this list were released as singles in 2016, or 2015 but didn’t make an impact until 2016.

1. Kiiara – “Gold” – An ingenious production trick wins the top spot. The best music in the world rewires your brain.
2. Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Freedom” – Beyoncé BUSTS out every emotion of the year.
3. Phantogram – “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” – I can feel myself dissolving in the despair.
4. Lady GaGa – “Perfect Illusion” – GaGa’s crying out in beautiful pain.
5. Kanye West – “Fade” – From another dimension.
6. Rag‘n’Bone Man – “Human” – The blues are alive and kicking.
7. Sia – “The Greatest” – Sia’s career is the soundtrack for perseverance.
8. Alessia Cara – “Scars to Your Beautiful” – What could have been an anodyne message piece instead infuses an influx of attitude.
9. Flume ft. Tove Lo – “Say It” – An airy, effervescent blast from 2016’s top DJ.
10. Childish Gambino – “Me and Your Mama” – Where did this burst of neo-P-Funk come from?!
11. Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane – “Black Beatles” – This sounds like nostalgia and the future.
12. Glass Animals – “Life Itself” – Alternative quirk’s top spot of the year.
13. Bishop Briggs – “River” – I need at least one lady rocker belting it out like this per annum.
14. Beyoncé – “Formation” – The production is so much more adventurous and more mature from Queen Bey than ever before.
15. BANKS – “Gemini Feed” – Icy and boopy, with attitude to spare.
16. Leonard Cohen – “You Want It Darker” – I’m vociferously nodding along to every declaration Mr. Cohen makes.
17. Kaleo – “Way Down We Go” – That title is sort of like musical onomatopoeia.
18. Highly Suspect – “My Name is Human” – These guys from Cape Cod ought to be rocking stadiums to their core.
19. Beck – “Wow” – Beck’s gonna keep uncovering these strange corners in the aural landscape.
20. Kongos – “Take It From Me” – These South African rockers are totally in control.
21. Tove Lo – “Cool Girl” – Tove keeps freaking up the airwaves.
22. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People” – A necessary anthem.
23. Sia ft. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills” – Bounce along when you’re looking for fun.
24. Ariana Grande – “Into You” – Features the year’s most killer opening line
25. Rihanna ft. Drake – “Work” – One of those great songs that defy natural analysis.