The opening notes of The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life” always gets me. That soaring “naaaaaaaaants” always manages to reduce me to tears, whether it’s the Disney animated version, the Broadway rendition, or any of the YouTube videos I watch whenever I feel like getting emotional. So when I heard that Disney is doing a live-action adaptation, I was excited to hear a new interpretation of the song I grew up with.
Whether or not you’ve seen the Disney classic or the Broadway adaptation, you’re going to love the live-action translation. If you fall into the latter category of those who haven’t seen anything, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young cub set to become the king of Pride Rock. When his uncle Scar murders his father Mufasa, he is blamed for it and flees into exile. The 1994 animated film became an instant classic, going on to win two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The 2019 live-action adaptation presents this timeless story in hyperrealistic detail, painstakingly showing every piece of fur, glint, dust, and other ephemera. The movie was so well-designed that there are times when I forgot I was watching something generated by computers. Jon Favreau, the director, was obviously flexing when he did closeups and panned to the other animals, but he deserved to. It felt like a stylish documentary from National Geographic.
I’ve read a lot of reviews criticizing how this photorealistic approach takes away the charm of the animated version. It’s true. The characters aren’t as expressive as the cartoon, but that’s the price you pay for live-action. It’s a small one for something visually stunning.
A lot has been said about the star-studded cast and they delivered. Donald Glover and Beyonce were amazing as Simba and Nala. Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, and John Oliver were hilarious as Timon, Pumbaa, and Zazu. However, my favorites have to be the ones belonging to the older generation. Alfre Woodard and Chiwetel Ejiofor brought royalty and elegance as Sarabi and Scar. The cherry on top? James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa. His booming tenor was commanding and it instantly brought me back to childhood afternoons watching the animated The Lion King.
The songs were great but were not my favorite part of the film. “Circle of Life” moved me but the rest was not for me, a Broadway baby. The soundtrack had a pop feel, especially in “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” that I’m sure Gen Z will love. The same goes for the additional song, the Beyonce-fronted “Spirit.” I was slightly disappointed in “Be Prepared.” It became a monologue in the film, a far cry from the ominous style in the animated feature and the campy, club-appropriate version on Broadway. On that note, I still believe Scar is gay.
Despite these hitches, I still enjoyed The Lion King. It offers a fresh take on a childhood classic, in the sense that this is what it would look like if Simba’s story was set in the real world. I had the privilege of watching it in IMAX and it was an immersive experience. I normally don’t like 3D or IMAX but it was so good in this format. And of course, if you’re like me who grew up with the cartoon, you’re going to feel nostalgic. Be prepareeeeeeeed!
This story is in partnership with The Walt Disney Company. The Lion King opens in Philippine cinemas on July 17, 2019. For more information, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow the hashtag #TheLionKingPH to join the conversations online.