Monday, November 4, 2019

The Lion King (2019) 4K Ultra HD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
In “The Lion King,” pioneering film-making techniques bring treasured characters to life in a whole new way. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother — and former heir to the throne — has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his. The all-star cast includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon.
Film (4 out of 5 stars)
When the first film of The Lion King first came out I respected it but at the same I didn’t like how it liberally borrowed from Bambi, Hamlet, and other sources.  It also seemed a little too manipulative, a little too calculated to inspire awe right from the start with that “Circle of Life” of sequence, and I resisted it.  It almost seemed like it followed a checklist: dramatic opening…check, cute animals…check, tragic death of a parent…check, comic relief for the youngsters…check, and so on until the predictable end.

I’m not sure what changed in the many years since it’s been released, but I really enjoyed seeing the original animated film when I watch it again. That’s not to say that my earlier complaints aren’t valid because all of them are still true, but it still works in spite of them. I’m not sure if the years have given me a new perspective or if it’s because I’m a father now, but the relationship between Simba and Mufasa and his sacrifice to save his son hits me a lot harder now. I’m sure my enjoyment was also increased by my son’s enthusiasm for the movie which he hadn’t seen before. So when I heard that a remake of this film would be made using CGI and directed by Jon Favreau, I was very interested. I really enjoyed what he did with the remake of The Jungle Book which used the same technology to tell the story, so I was looking forward to this film.

The movie starts with the birth of Simba (JD McCrary) and his dramatic presentation to the rest of the animal kingdom from atop Pride Rock.  Life is good on the pride-lands for awhile and everyone loves Simba with the sole exception of his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who barely tolerates him.  Despite his threats and his antagonism towards everyone, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) still puts up with his brother for some reason. Being physically weaker than his brother, Scar’s only option to seize power is through Machiavellian tactics and allying himself with the mentally unstable hyenas known as Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), and Azizi (Eric Andre).

When Simba foolishly evades his feathered chaperone Zazu (John Oliver) and goes beyond the safety of his homeland thanks to a suggestion by Scar, both Simba and his friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph, later Beyoncé as the older version) venture into the hyenas’ territory and into danger. Only the last minute rescue by Mufasa saves the two cubs from being eaten. Upset at Simba for disobeying him, Mufasa tries to teach Simba the concept of responsibility. Simba explains that he was just trying to be brave like his father, but Mufasa tell his that he’s only brave when he has to be. Mufasa tries to instill a sense of purpose in Simba by telling him that all of the stars above are the spirits of kings past there to guide him and he adds that he will be there for Simba too.

The next day Scar tells Simba to wait for a surprise from Mufasa in a desolate gorge as the first part of his devious new plan. He’s already instructed the hyenas to start a stampede which he knows will draw Mufasa to the rescue again which will allow him to eliminate both problems at at the same time. When the stampede begins and Simba is trapped and in mortal danger, Mufasa races to save him again. Mufasa manages to save his son but when he struggles to escape himself, he’s betrayed by Scar who refuses to save him. Shocked and devastated by his father’s death, Simba is easy prey for Scar who convinces the young cub that everything that happened was his fault. Guilt-ridden, Simba leaves the pride-lands to begin a self-imposed exile.

Alone, thirsty, and exhausted, Simba is saved by a meerkat named Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog named Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) who find him and take care of him since they figure he’ll provide some good protection for them when he gets bigger.  Time goes on and an older Simba (Donald Glover) grows up with their philosophy of “Hakuna Mutata” which means no worries, which is fine for Timon and Pumbaa but it’s not the path that Mufasa had in mind for Simba. When Mufasa’s old adviser the slightly crazy monkey named Rafiki (John Kani) finds Simba in the jungle, he leads him on a path to rediscover who he truly is with help from a spectral Mufasa who has returned to advise Simba like he said he would. Now faced with a hard decision on whether to follow his father’s example of accepting responsibility, or to continue his carefree life of freedom, Simba will have to make a life-changing choice of who he wants to be.

This movie is filled with some amazing CGI animation that is simply amazing. The Lion King harkens back to the kind of movies that Disney made while Walt was alive that had a blend of the usual happy fun filled entertainment that Disney is known for, but at the same time, it’s tinged with darkness that provides a cold dose of reality. That mixture of innocence and darkness is a tricky combination to pull off but Walt Disney did it over and over again with movies like Bambi, Pinocchio, Snow White, and now Jon Favreau has continued that tradition with this retelling. Did it really need to be remade? Not really and this film doesn't add enough new material to justify it, but what a gorgeous looking film that really shows the future of what technology can bring to the movies. 
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 4K release looks beautiful and the difference in clarity between this version and the Blu-ray is striking. The amount of detail on display is staggering and every texture and tuft of fur is distinct and sharp as possible. Colors are exceptionally vibrant and the black levels are inky and solid as they should be. This is reference quality!
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Lion King's Dolby Atmos mix is also very good and I especially like the atmosphere it provides though the surround channels. The stampede sounds fantastic and I also enjoyed when the spectral Mufasa returns to give advice to Simba. Dialogue is clear and well balanced with the music and the effects. The songs sound great as well. 
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
While the UHD version has no extras on it, the Blu-ray does although some are under the "Play Movie" option and the rest are under the "Bonus Features."
  • Director Jon Favreau Intro - The director gives a quick intro to the movie.
  • Audio Commentary - Director Jon Favreau talks about the movie and how it compares and deviates from the original as well as providing technical explanations for this new way to make movies. 
  • Sing Along with the Movie - If you'd like to sing along with the cast this extra is for you. Watch the film with karaoke style lyrics popping up onscreen. 
  • The Journey to The Lion King - This featurette has been broken into three parts:
    • The Music - Hans Zimmer did the score for the previous version and has returned to do it again for this new version. 
    • The Magic - This is a nice overview of how the movies was done. 
    • The Timeless Tale - A look back at how important the original film was for the studio and audiences and the need to preserve that and update it. 
  • More to Be Scene - Behind the scenes look at various parts of the movie that show the progression of their production using storyboards compared to the final version and also voice recordings. Scenes included are "Circle of Life," "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," and "Hakuna Matata." 
  • Music Videos - "Spirit" Performed by Beyoncé and "Never too Late" by Elton John.
  • Song Selection - "Circle of Life," "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," "Be Prepared," "Hakuna Matata," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "Spirit," and "Never Too Late.
  • Protect the Pride - A public service announcement asking viewers to help preserver the lions in Africa. 
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
The Lion King is a movie that I’m sure Walt Disney himself would be proud of since it explores many of the same themes that he covered himself. The movie is emotional, funny, scary, has a memorable villain, and this fantastic cast pulls it off with aplomb. While the really didn't need to be a remake of this, this film is beautiful to see and it will give new generations of people something to enjoy.

Order your copy today!

No comments:

Post a Comment