The Lion King (2019)

or “One Step Closer to a Live-Action Aristocats”

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones

Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson

118 mins. Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.

 

Well, it’s finally here, everyone! The Lion King is finally in theaters! Wait, I should preface that The Lion King hit theaters in 1994. This Lion King is the remake! The live-action remake! Wait, I should also preface that it’s not a live-action film.

But, damn, it does look like it.

You know the story, but I’ll refresh you. Simba (Donald Glover, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Guava Island) is destined to inherit Pride Rock when his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, The Hunt for Red October, Coming to America) passes. When the king  is murdered, though, and Simba feels responsible, his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) convinces him to run away and never come back. The young lion prince flees his kingdom, embarking on a journey to discover the responsibility that lie before him.

There’s very little change in the story of The Lion King, and this remake is pretty close to a shot-for-shot translation of the original film, something I do not agree with. With all the technology being thrown at the film, I feel it would benefit the finished film to take some story risks and changes to set itself apart from what is considered by many to be the greatest animated film of all time, or at least in the conversation. I just think that by making it so similar to the original film, you are inviting comparison, and that’s not a good idea when the film you are comparing to is the considered one of the Greatest of anything.

That all being said, wow, the animation is incredible here. It looks so real, so intense, and so breathtaking. Just like with The Jungle Book, I’m shocked to find that so much of this film was done in a computer, even down to all the backgrounds (I believe only one shot in the whole film is real footage, and I don’t even know what it is). It’s gorgeously animated. My one problem with the realism is that there is a slight disconnect in some of the voice work. I think some actual motion-capture would have helped in the animating process to keep some of the facial expressions more effective, if only for behind-the-scenes video of these performers crawling around on all-fours.

The voicework is quite strong in the film, specifically from Donald Glover, Seth Rogen (This is the End, Long Shot) as Pumbaa, and Billy Eichener (The Angry Birds Movie, TV’s Friends From College) as Timon. The only voice work I would have thought differently about was Beyonce Knowles-Carter (Dreamgirls, Epic), who kind of missed the mark. I know the reason for casting her was to get a new song in the movie, but I just think she missed it.

Overall, The Lion King is a perfectly fine movie, a breathtaking visual achievement, but also a little unneeded. I would venture the question of who is picking this film off their Bluray shelf in a year to watch it if they already have the original film. That is its problem, that it cannot hold a candle to the original. Any other Disney live-action film would avoid that problem by adding something new to the film, but The Lion King doesn’t really do that.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

Aladdin (2019)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kanzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnusson

Screenplay: John August, Guy Ritchie

128 mins. Rated PG for some action/peril.

 

I don’t think anyone needs a live-action version of our favorite Disney characters, but they’re just going to do it anyway, it might as well be good.

In this live-action retelling of the 90s Disney classic, Aladdin (Mena Massoud, Ordinary Days, Let’s Rap) is a street rat living in Agrabah who is rather effective at stealing and pick-pocketing as a means of survival. When he comes across Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott, Power Rangers, The 33), masquerading as a royal handmaiden, on the streets of the city and in trouble in the marketplace, he helps her, and in the process becomes quite smitten. There’s a problem, though, because she can only marry a prince, and Aladdin is far from that life. Aladdin soon finds himself befriending a Genie (Will Smith, Bad Boys II, TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) who can make his dreams come true and make him someone worthy of marrying the princess, but he must ensure that all these outer changes don’t change the person he is on the inside.

We all know the story of Aladdin, right? Well, there’s nothing major that’s structurally changed in this version, but what is changed is rather cool to see. The most drastic change is how the Genie is portrayed, and it’s done so in a manner which shows love to the late great Robin Williams without caricaturing him. Will Smith brings something wholly unique to his portrayal, which works very well in this interpretation. Much like Williams referencing his own work and getting meta, there’s a 90s Fresh Prince vibe to a lot of the humor that Smith brings to his version of the Genie. The toughest thing is to separate the two incarnations, and that’s where Smith is the most successful. I wasn’t comparing these Genies at all while watching because I was so invested in his interpretation. It’s a good thing that Smith did not take the role of Holt Farrier in the new Dumbo film, a role filled by the more-fitting Colin Farrell, because the Genie suits him so well.

Mena Massoud is not a household name, but he was a perfect choice for Aladdin, one of the reasons being because he isn’t a household name yet. He had that Aladdin charm and comedy, but he was able to play to the character’s emotional arc quite well. It’s funny, because I was wondering how some of these live-action interpretations could get over the idea of falling in love with someone you just met a day earlier, but Massoud’s emotions are on his face the whole time, and his chemistry with Naomi Scott is solid.

There’s a few new layers in the film for the character of Jasmine. It’s a more feminist look at the beloved character, and in the past few years, as Disney has been refocusing their princesses away from the idea that they need a prince or love or a man to make them happy, it works quite well. I’m not sure of its historical accuracy, but there’s a talking magic genie, so there you have it. I really like the new character arc for Jasmine, but I wasn’t a big fan of the new song, Speechless. The song itself is fine, but it doesn’t sound like the rest of the music in the film, and it’s obvious that it was written by other artists. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t mesh with the film, and it doesn’t really fit.

Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) seemed on the surface like an odd choice for Aladdin, but I read something he had said about Aladdin being the character he identified with most at a younger age. Ritchie is known for his fringe heroes, the ones who do not so great things but do them for the right reasons. The pick-pocketing street hustler character of Aladdin does fit him rather well, and this film is a good melding of his style with the Disney-branded wide appeal. There are times we see the Guy Ritchie slow-motion shot and the times we do work really well. The movie feels very collaborative in the best of ways.

Ritchie’s style fits with this new version of Jafar, played in the film by Marwan Kanzari (What Happened to Monday, The Angel). Dubbed Hot Jafar, Kanzari’s version of Jafar works right into Ritchie’s vision. He’s less a menacing, beard-twiddling evil and more of simpler, tighter version of a character, boiled down to his essence, a con man. He’s manipulating the system in order to become the Sultan. His menace lies both on the surface and under layers of cunning. His staff is a tool but he is nearly as good as changing people’s minds as the staff.

Navid Negahban (12 Strong, American Assassin) plays the Sultan, and this is another change that works better for the medium of live-action. The bumbling almost comic-relief Sultan of the animated film works very well for that version, but Negahban is a Sultan concerned with changing the laws of his land, and he is conflicted by his love for his daughter and his duty to tradition. A problem with eliminating his silliness is that it was given to another character in the film, Prince Anders (Billy Magnusson, Into the Woods, Velvet Buzzsaw), a worthless added fool that does little to add anything of substance to the narrative. Negahban’s character works, Magnusson’s flat-out does not.

Aladdin feels at times, especially early in the film, that it’s going too fast. There’s a jumbling to the early parts of the story that makes everything feel so rushed, but once the Genie is introduced, the film slows down significantly, and that’s where the story really opens up and breathes.

Aladdin is imperfect, but it is fun. It’s an enjoyably nostalgic ride through the Disney classic that isn’t overly-beholden to it. That’s when it works. Disney has ridden this line of how much they want their live-action retellings to carbon copy the animated film and how much they want to strike a new path. Aladdin isn’t always as successful as, say, a Cinderella or The Jungle Book, but it cannot be faulted for its lovely color-palette and visually striking storytelling or its fast-paced and fun action set pieces. I had a lot of fun with the flawed Aladdin. I think you will too.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Jon Favreau to Direct Live-Action The Lion King for Disney

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Jon Favreau has received critical acclaim for his risky adaptation of The Jungle Book for Disney this year. Also known for Iron Man and its first sequel, Favreau seems to be on Disney’s shortlist for future opportunities, and it looks like the next project has already been chosen.

According to Variety, Favreau has signed on to direct Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King. Itself a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King is the story of Simba, heir to Pride Rock, who is outcasted after a horrible accident results in the death of his father, Mufasa, the king. You know the rest.

Given the reception to The Jungle Book, I can completely understand the decision to go here. The only big concern on my end is that, for me at least, the original incarnation of The Jungle Book isn’t really a classic of the Disney animated features. Plus, the studio had already made a live-action attempt a few decades ago. The Lion King is still a pretty recent release in the grand scheme of things (the film series currently has an animated continuation series on Disney), and with the complete lack of the human component that The Jungle Book had, this is still on shaky ground. Now, I’ve no reason to believe that Favreau can’t pull it off. He has presented himself as a wholly capable director time and time again.

What do you think? Is it the right time for The Lion King? Should Jon Favreau be behind the camera? And what’s your favorite live-action remake of a Disney animated film? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Teaser Trailer for The Jungle Book Drops…So Does My Jaw!

 

THE JUNGLE BOOK ? WILD WORLD ? Man-cub Mowgli (voice of Neel Sethi), who's been raised by a family of wolves, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, guided by a panther-turned-mentor Bagheera. Directed by Jon Favreau (?Iron Man?), based on Rudyard Kipling?s timeless stories and featuring state-of the-art technology that immerses audiences in the lush world like never before, Disney?s ?The Jungle Book? hits theaters in stunning 3D and IMAX 3D on April 15, 2016. ?2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hey sports fans! I’ve been hoping this news would come soon. The first official teaser for The Jungle Book, from director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) is here.

I’ve heard nothing but great news surrounding this project since the first footage was revealed at this year’s D23 and I’ve patiently (as much as I could muster) awaited the first actual public release, and yesterday, it happened.

First of all, I have to point out the excellent visual presentation the trailer gives us. I have to think back on Favreau telling us that this entire movie was filmed on a soundstage. Judging from the trailer, it’s tough to believe him. This film looks astounding.

It looks like it seems to have gotten a lot right, and I am actually excited to see a live-action Disney film for once (I mildly enjoyed Maleficent and still haven’t gotten to Cinderella). The one worry I have concerns the animals of the film speaking. In the trailer, we really only get to see Scarlett Johansson’s character speak, and we only see it a moment. I hear from those who saw the D23 footage that it works, but I couldn’t help feeling like they were hiding it. Then again, it’s only a tease of the film, and I trust Jon Favreau at this point to knock out an exciting film.

So, Kids! What did you think of the first trailer for The Jungle Book? Are you excited to see it? And which live-action Disney adaptation is your favorite? Let me know.

The Jungle Book opens April 15, 2016.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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