I have upset my niece. Rather assuming she’d be amused more than anything, I texted her to say I’d just seen the new version of The Lion King, having not seen the original.
The response was cutting, if not meant to be as such: she was dismayed that I “haven’t seen the original, because it was the least twee Disney out out there and really worth watching.”
Memories of things we experience in childhood have very, very long roots.
As it happens, I understand fully what she means. Back in 2016, The Other Half and I ventured into a cinema to see the new Disney Jungle Book. The trailers looked fabulous, but I was torn. For me, Jungle Book, the 1967 cartoon, was incredibly important.
Goodness – as a child, it was the only film I saw at the cinema twice. Taken first by my parents and then by my beloved Auntie Doll.
I still have the souvenir brochure somewhere and the soundtrack album. I can sing almost every word of the songs, even at the advanced age of 56. In my memory – the cultural part of my personal history – that cartoon remains important.
But that doesn’t mean that the new version was not utterly superb.
I came out of cinema at the time really pleasantly surprised.
So, fast forward three years.
The original Lion King came out when I wasn’t going to the cinema and was part of a Disney era with which, for some reason I cannot recall, I have never engaged. Disney/Pixar is quite another matter, but that’s a different thing.
The Other Half and I booked tickets for this incarnation of The Lion King on the basis of the trailers: it looked superb.
The 2016 Jungle Book was stunning. This develops on the technical achievement of that. There were moments when I found myself almost crying at the sheer quality of what was on screen. You could be watching a documentary. All that’s missing is a David Attenborough voiceover.
The Jungle Book did it in 2016. This redefines animation. Again.
Some reviews have suggested it has a lack of “heart”.
I can’t see it myself. Arguably, I went to watch it for the animation, but ended up loving the story, the characters, the songs etc: engaged by the whole package.
The technical achievement is simply second to none. This will – rightly – win Oscars.
We saw this less than a week after seeing Jon Favreau play Happy In Spider-Mad: Far From Home. He directed both that 2016 Jungle Book and this. A stunningly talented guy.
There’s a great voice cast here too. Keeping James Earl Jones as Mufasa lends such gravitas (note the joke of his telling his son about “your destiny”), while Donald Glover is excellent as the grown Simba (and a special note for JD McCary as the cub Simba).
Seth Rogan as Pumbaa, John Oliver as Zazu and Billy Eichner as Timon are all equally excellent.
Beyoncé puts in a fine turn as Nala, while John Kani as Rafiki is … well, this is Kani, so what do you expect? These days, he’s the wise, elderly African go-to actor for Hollywood (and the OH assured me that he got to speak a bit of Xhosa at one point).
But in many ways, perhaps the star performance in voice terms is that of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar: so calmly and understatedly sinister.
What we do get here that I sense was not as obvious with the original is the idea, for instance, of Scar as grooming Simba; of the latter’s trauma and of the general environmental questions.
For me, this was superb. Some critics have suggested that the technical achievement comes at the cost of heart.
I can’t see that, personally. The OH and I were in a large audience – mostly adult and one that was presumably more familiar with the original than we were.
When Simba the cub is raised to the crowd in the opening scenes and when we see Pumbaa as a baby warthog, the cinema was filled by the sound of people going: ‘ahhhhh’.
There were hints of attempts at singalongs. At the end, there was widespread applause.
Put aside your doubts: this is very, very good.
It amuses me even more to think that Walt would be spinning in his grave over how utterly cool Disney has become in social terms.
PS #1: I would actually say that the best Disney live-action remake yet is Pete’s Dragon, because although I saw the original in the cinema with my family, it was really, really poor. And the remake is really, really good.