Synopsis: Coming of age story of a lion who can talk and sing.
Movie Loon grows tired of the Disney Classics Redux. However, Movie Loon’s addiction to cute animal imagery overrides any resistance to feeding the Disney money machine. The company’s latest return to the well remakes the brilliant 1994 animated feature, The Lion King. The CGI is photorealistic, and the artists succeed in glorifying the landscapes and walking the fine line between reflecting the animals’ real life appearance while adding enough (human) facial expression to encourage our sympathies.
A nearly identical scene of the savannah animals and baby Simba’s sorta christening begins the movie. A superior version of “The Circle of Life,” performed by Lebo M and Lindiwe Mkhize, soars over the majestic scene where all of the animals get a look at the future apex predator. Come to think of it, the gathering seems more a protest than a celebration.
New Lion King feels a bit like watching a documentary, except that the animals are talking. And singing the fantastic Tim Rice & Elton John songs, naturally. 2019 Pumbaa and Timon do a fine job –with some welcome new jokes– on “Hakuna Matata.” I’m afraid that the new sequence for “Be Prepared” lacks the verve and commentary of the original. Instead, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) slowly whispers the song. No matter, his Scar is the best
actor in the production. Simba and Nala (Childish Gambino and Queen B) kill it on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Although I do miss the 1994 sequence with the more telling looks on their faces as they are falling for each other. In particular, when Nala gives Simba a seductive look and the unworldly lion is like, “Wuh???!!!”
Poor Simba, living with a warthog and a meerkat, how could he learn about lion dating? On the other hand, Nala had the pride’s lionesses to inform her about courtship practices.
Movie Loon appreciates this Lion King‘s photorealism, but the approach certainly highlights the lack of realism with respect to actual lions’ lifestyle. So let’s look at reel life vs. IRL/ in real life…
First of all, the pride structure is dysfunctional. Mufasa is ‘king’ and his brother, Scar, is his rival. Mufasa is ‘married’ to Sarabi. The couple have one cub, Simba. There are numerous other lionesses, but only one other than Sarabi has a cub, Nala.
IRL, prides are usually made up of four to twelve related females (genetically as close as cousins) and one to six males (genetically as close as half brothers); the adult males and the adult females are not related because males roam to find a pride to take over and drive out the resident males. The cubs are the offspring of unions within the pride. The males approach and copulate with receptive females. It’s all rather hetero, free-lovish.
And while Mufasa and Scar are rivals, IRL the males are highly cooperative and reinforce their bonds with mutual head rubbing. They need to be cohesive because defending territory is tough work. Btw, part of that work involves patrolling (remarked upon in the movie) and urine marking (not remarked upon). Certainly no bird would be patrolling the “pride lands” and reporting to a lion. And why does the African Hornbill have an English accent?
Regarding little Nala and Simba? Clearly the pride has troublingly low fertility. IRL, lionesses average two – three cubs per litter. And since the cubs’ moms are related –Genetics 101– so are Simba and Nala. I know that European and Egyptian royalty were incestuous, but felid nature is more sensibly adaptive than human culture.
Lion King 2019 recreates the impressive stampede that kills Mufasa and it’s just as thrilling here. But this time I didn’t cry as hard when Simba tearfully cuddles up to his deceased dad because I have had years to steel myself for the cub’s heartbreak. (Actually, I re-watched the original scene and it is sadder.)
Onto Simba’s cubhood with Pumbaa and Timon… This is perhaps the most unrealistic friendship in Disney history. Even less believable than dalmation guardian Anita and Cruella DeVille having been school chums in One Hundred and One Dalmations.
All cats are obligate carnivores and even sweet little kittens are wannabe killers. Simba would not be able to thrive as an insectivore. The poor thing would have to be scarfing down bugs night and day for calories. Also, for example, without red meat, Simba would develop a taurine deficiency that could certainly lead to dilated cardiomyopathy and blindness. Hakuna Matata? No! Lots of worries.
Well, maybe Simba managed to gobble up some ostrich eggs or parts of a crocodile carcass when his pals are napping because he somehow makes it to adulthood. But adult male lions need about fifteen pounds of meat a day. Surely Pumbaa and Timon notice Simba often staring at them and drooling?
Fortunately, it won’t be long before Nala finds Simba and attempts to talk some sense into him. In the update, there is a tense nighttime scene in which she must elude Scar and his army of hyenas before she can set off in search of Simba.
When Nala finds Simba, I wasn’t surprised that she was able to best him in a tussle. He probably lacks muscle mass from his poor diet. And Simba has had no practice play fighting with other lions. Instead he has spent his time singing and slurping grubs with Pumbaa and Timon.
Simba and Nala conduct their courtship to the strains of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Both Lion King movies keep things chaste. It’s understandable that Simba has no game. On the other hand, isn’t it plausible that his instincts would guide him, along with Nala’s likely knowledge gleaned from her aunties’ girltalk?
IRL –skip this part if you are a prude about (big cat) sex –a lion pair might copulate up to fifty times in a twenty four hour period, with each act lasting less than thirty seconds. I was glad that the movie did show the true to life foreplay of mutual head rubbing, lion following lioness and her rolling around like, well, a cat in heat. I was also glad that they didn’t show the typical lion practices of sniffing each other’s groin and snarling during copulation. In any event, it’s probably a good bet that Nala was pregnant by the time that she and Simba went back to Pride Rock.
In reel life, animal stories teach us how to live, and good triumphs over evil. Of course they aren’t accurate to real life, where we often fail to live up to the virtues that we ascribe to our animal heroes. And good and evil take turns winning.
Go and enjoy Lion King for all of its beautiful real life look and its reel life great storytelling where the good (lion) triumphs.
Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Worth your time, but the original will still be the kids’ favorite.
Humor Highlight: Pumbaa & Timon with some new material