Judging by how the studio has been operating as of late, the circle of life now refers to the near-guarantee that the animated Disney movies we once watched, adored and probably owned on VHS will soon be reborn in live-action(ish) form.
We are right now referring to Jon Favreau’s photorealistic rendition of “The Lion King,” of course, which features the voices of singing superstars like Donald Glover and Beyoncé and hit theaters Friday.
Comparisons are imminent with source material this beloved, and, aside from the obvious difference of animation styles, Favreau sticks pretty close to the 1994 original. The “Hamlet”-esque plot remains, as do many of the lines, the dynamics between characters and all the songs. In a slight departure, Beyoncé did us a solid by tossing in an extra tune, “Spirit,” which has its own music video co-starring Blue Ivy Carter.
For those who are curious, here’s a more thorough breakdown of how the two movies compare.
The Ciiiiircle of Life: Before he became the go-to music guy for directors like Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan – and way before he ever played Coachella – German composer Hans Zimmer was awarded an Oscar for the original “Lion King” score, his only win of 11 career nominations. So when Favreau reached out to see whether Zimmer, who returned for the new movie, would like to catch a sneak peek of the opening scene, the latter man was skeptical.“I went there with a certain amount of cynicism, and he sat me down and he played me the opening,” Zimmer told Variety at the film’s premiere. “It made me cry. It was extraordinarily moving. I didn’t think that could ever happen, that I, who have done the dah-dah-dah, lived with this for so long, that I could still be moved by it.”
Favreau opted to include an almost shot-by-shot remake of the iconic “Circle of Life” opening, giving viewers a chance to adjust to the new film’s aesthetic without having to process any new plot points.
Simba (and Nala): Though Simba is the “Lion King’s” main character, neither Jonathan Taylor Thomas nor Matthew Broderick’s voice-acting left nearly as much of a lasting impression on viewers as that of Jeremy Irons, who voices Scar in the original film, or James Earl Jones, who voices Mufasa in both. Perhaps for that reason, compounded with their own talent, the new Simbas (JD McCrary as the kid, Glover as the adult) are perfectly acceptable.Baby Simba is quite the cutie, as is the kid version of his best friend and future partner, Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph). We hang out with the cubs for about half the movie, mostly in anticipation of the moment they age into animals that sound like Glover and Beyoncé.
For Simba, that moment arrives as he, Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) stride in a line during “Hakuna Matata,” just as they do in the original movie. It’s fun to hear McCrary’s voice transition to the familiar sound of Childish Gambino, riffs and all. It should also be noted that Favreau’s “Lion King” gives Nala a little more to do, because you don’t pay the wildly talented Beyoncé to voice a character who is then relegated to the sidelines.
Scar: You know who probably would’ve understood this year’s Met Gala theme? Scar as voiced by Irons, who gave one of the most memorable performances of the original cast. His Scar was campy and incredibly cheeky, whereas the new movie’s Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is more mundanely terrifying. His backstory has changed a bit, too – in a Shakespearean twist, Scar reveals that Simba’s mother, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), once chose Mufasa over him.Scar remains one of the most intriguing components of “The Lion King.” But it’s difficult not to lament his new appearance. Gone are the menacing lion’s bright green eyes and thick, luscious mane; the new guy, whose mane sort of looks like a piece of lint, is in serious need of some dry shampoo.
Timon and Pumbaa: Despite the young age of its intended audience, “The Lion King” has always been pretty scary. When the movie first hit theaters in summer 1994, The Associated Press reported that some parents and psychologists observed “not family fun but shocking violence.”Timon and Pumbaa serve to bring levity to all that darkness, and Favreau’s versions of the characters don’t disappoint. Whereas Rogen’s warthog leans heavily on fart jokes, Eichner’s meerkat is a breath of fresh air. Aside from the obvious hilarity of the “Billy on the Street” host’s voice coming out of a photorealistic animal, Timon breaks the fourth wall – such as when he comments about how much Simba aged over the course of “Hakuna Matata” – and brings a welcome dose of modernity to the movie overall.
“How are you, in as few words as possible?” he asks Simba early on. Later, upon approaching a ravaged Pride Rock, he tells the lion, “Talk about your fixer-upper. I like what you’ve done with it, though it’s a little heavy on the carcass.”
The music: The soundtrack doesn’t stray much from Elton John and Tim Rice’s original, aside from the addition of “Spirit,” Beyoncé’s powerhouse anthem, as well as “Never Too Late,” an end-credits song performed by John. The cast did all their own singing, and Beyoncé’s voice pairs nicely with Glover’s on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”What might upset some viewers, however, is the starkly different version of “Be Prepared” – which almost didn’t even make the cut. Whereas Irons infused his villainous solo with enough theatrics to persuades the hyenas to help him stage a coup, Ejiofor’s lackluster version gets cut down and all the fun sucked out of it.
The aesthetic: While Favreau’s film is a stunning reminder of how much technology has improved in the past 25 years, several critics have pointed out that the photorealistic approach limits how much emotion the animals are able to show on their faces. For instance: In the original “Lion King,” as young Simba watches his father fall to his death in the gorge, the hand-drawn animation allows viewers to sense the lion’s terror through his widened eyes and perked-up ears. The new movie relies on McCrary’s voice to deliver that emotional impact, as the rather stoic lion cub we see on screen could very well have been plucked from an Animal Planet documentary.