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The new version of The Lion King is technically brilliant but fails its iconic characters.

I’m not normally one to give out parenting advice, having never cared for tiny humans myself, but if you truly do love the kids in your life do not let them see the new version of The Lion King this week.

At least not until you are sure that they have already consumed (and fully APPRECIATED) the original 1994 animated Disney film which was the inspiration for this new and revamped 2019 offering.

The true crux of the constant swirling argument around the value of these endless Disney live-action remakes is centered on whether or not they are adding new and exciting value to the original tales.

Take a look at the trailer for Disney’s brand new version of The Lion King below. Post continues after video.

This year’s Aladdin live-action remake successfully reimaged Princess Jasmine into a fierce and feminist leader, while the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid will add some much-needed diversity to the Disney roster with the casting of the uber-talented Halle Bailey.

In stark contrast, the new element that 2019’s The Lion King brings to the table is… groundbreaking technical advancements.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, except for the fact that it makes for a slightly sobering movie-going experience when you’re talking about a beloved family film that hinges on emotional depth and cheeky humour. It’s not exactly what the kids are looking for.

This version of The Lion King also tells the story of a young lion named Simba living in the African savanna who idolises his father Mufasa. Following a tragic event (you all know what I’m talking about here…) Simba runs away and is taken into a carefree life with a meerkat named Timon and warthog named Pumbaa, until his evil uncle Scar’s wrongdoings draw him back home.

This version of The Lion King hits every single story beat in the exact same way and sequence that its predecessor did, with just a few jokes and song lyrics altered and updated along the way.

What is vastly different about this live-action delivery, thanks to the strident advance in computer animation, is that it offers up imagery so realistic using new “virtual cinematography” that you’ll feel like you’re looking at true sprawling African scenes dotted with living and breathing creatures.

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The cast of people who lend their voices to the film are also impressive and add a touch of new magic to the familiar dialogue. Donald Glover is perfectly cast as the adult version of Simba while Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen were born to voice the hilarious duo of Timon and Pumbaa.

When the casting of The Lion King was announced there was a lot of noise about Beyoncé Knowles-Carter agreeing to voice Simba’s childhood best-friend turned adult lover Nala and while she does a beautiful job in the film, Nala’s supporting role in the storyline doesn’t really give Beyoncé a whole lot of room to shine.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s voice gives a delicious air of dangerous vengeance to Scar and since no one else could possibly voice Mufasa after James Earl Jones first growled into a microphone back in the original film, he has returned to bring life to the king once again.

The trouble with assembling such an impressive voice cast is that the realistic animation of The Lion King actually fails to do real justice to their talents.

In this new world, the lions might look alarmingly realistic but the payoff for that is that their faces are expressionless, and despite the snappy dialogue and emotive Disney music swirling around them, every creature in this film never ceases not to look completely soulless and dead behind the eyes.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just can’t say Hakuna Matata to that.

And unlike the lovingly drawn characters from the original film, these 2019 versions are also pretty indistinct from each.

At one point in the film, Simba leaps heroically into frame and as the other characters urgently called out his name I squinted at the nondescript lion figure up on the big screen and thought to myself: “That’s Simba? Really? I could not pick that dude out of a line-up of the other lions if my entire life depended on it.”

There’s not a lot of argument to be made around the assumption that audiences will still flock to see this newly revamped The Lion King and that it will be a box office success. After all, the 1994 animated feature was a global success, the musical stage adaptation which premiered in 1997 is the third longest-running show in Broadway history and the international spin-off productions have grossed more than $8 billion for Disney over the years.

It’s also a film worth seeing on the big screen, just for the sheer spectacle and technical brilliance of it all. Just make sure that it’s seen with a good dose of nostalgia for the warmth of the original, to cut for the coldness of what 2019 has dished out.

The Lion King is now playing in cinemas across Australia. It is rated PG.

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here). 

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