I watched the new Lion King and have some thoughts

Alex Casey, a bona fide Simba-head, went to premiere of the new Lion King movie last night. She wasn’t mad at it.

For months, I was furious about this fucking remake. I hate to sound like a millennial snowflake, but The Lion King is extremely important to me and ONLY me and NOT YOU. Like many my age, it was the first movie I ever saw at the cinema. When my Poppa died, my parents played ‘Circle of Life’ at his funeral because I didn’t know what tf was going on. I gripped a purring Simba toy for most of my early childhood, a gift from an older half-sister in Australia who I wouldn’t meet for a decade. Circle of life etc.

With all of that sappy, 100% misplaced meaning I have ascribed to The Lion King (1994), I walked into the IMAX premiere last night and took my throne between two famous radio hosts and their probably famous children for The Lion King (2019). I had a notebook, I had a napkin for my choc top and my tears, and I had a hell of lot of expectations. Would it be better than the original? Would the dust still spell SEX? Would it remind me enough of my mortality to keep me awake for days, or weeks? 

Here were 10 of my most legible scribbles from inside the cinema:

1. It really does look real, and that can be weird

Introduced beautifully through the whopper opening scene, the astounding photorealistic animation of The Lion King definitely also has moments of astounding weirdness. You can go for long spells at a time believing you are basically watching a David Attenborough documentary with whacky bouts of talking and singing (nature be crazy), but then one of lions laughs and looks like Slappy the Living Dummy. 

Poor Zazu fares even worse, but I guess it’s not really his fault that he doesn’t have any discernible lips to work with. Know that feel. 

As many have already gleefully pointed out, the steadfast commitment to realism means that some things from the original have, of course, been sacrificed. The bugs don’t look half as nearly as delicious as those juicy technicolour morsels from 1994, and rollicking musical numbers such as ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ have to trade their Busby Berkeley choreography for a bunch of animals just kind of plonking around and having a bit of a jam. 

2. “Still hot” 

Two words that a certain friend whispered to me at a certain time. If you know, then you know.

3. It’s heaps funnier than the original

Huge and true – the punched-up script is absolutely crack-up. Whether it’s Timon (Billy Eichner) and his escalating use of internet colloquialism “I just can’t” or Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) waxing lyrical over the “umami” grubs, the writing feels fresh and stays away from winky-winky meme territory for the most part. Put it this way, I’m glad they ditched Timon’s naff cross-dressing bit, but the replacement gag is a risky fourth wall break that makes zero sense for the universe. Me? Oh, I loved it. 

Extremely good duo

Timon and Pumbaa are hands down the best part of this film, which will sound obvious to some and lame to others. Eichner’s Timon has absorbed all the neurosis and angst of Nathan Lane’s version into his tiny body and chased it down it with the 2019 apathy of someone whose main hobby is joking about dying on Twitter. He can also absolutely belt a tune. Seth Rogen can’t sing, but he does make up for it by farting a lot. The melody of the arse, in a way.

4. Real lions don’t cry

I didn’t notice in the moment because I was too busy blowing my nose on a choc top wrapper and trying not to upset all the celebrity sprog around me, but during the pivotal Mufasa death scene, Simba doesn’t weep like he does in the original because real lions can’t cry. He’s gutted, sure, but when I reflected on a dry-eyed Simba just sort of staring blankly at his father’s corpse, it definitely vibes like a dad-murdering psychopath. And you said they didn’t do anything differently!

Simba in 1994 and again in 2019

5. ‘Be Prepared’ is cooked

Less of a song, more of a beat poem.

6. Scar ain’t scarred enough

Someone has been using their Bio Oil and slurping up their collagen powder, because Scar’s scar – his most distinguishing feature aside from his wacky bed hair – was sometimes impossible to make out. This got tricky whenever the lions appeared in the same shot together and especially when they were fighting in the chaos of dust and flames. Seems like a problem when you don’t know if you are rooting for the villain or the good guy greg in a scrap.

7. The best musical number is not what you expect

Where some of the other heavy-hitters don’t quite hit dazzling highs due to the ol’ ‘an anteater can’t actually play its nose like a kazoo’ rules of “science”, the smash hit of the film was a song I had completely forgotten about from the canon. It’s not even a Beyoncé one and it’s not even an Elton one – it’s ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. Harnessing real animal sounds and the ethos of Stomp, I was beaming like an absolute goof the whole way through it. 

With that said, ‘Spirit’ is a total belter and, when it was deployed, caused me to whisper to my friend “I want to start running” at the exact time that she whispered “I want to start singing”. Only Beyoncé could ever inspire an audience like that. A note on Beyoncé: hearing her rare voice gave me chills every time, but also takes a bit of getting used to for that reason alone. It’s just a bit jarring, like when someone from Shortland Street is at the supermarket and everyone’s walking that bit straighter?

8. “Let’s do this” 

Is uttered in this film. Circle of life? Don’t mind if I do.

9. The hyenas are plenty scary

With an elephant graveyard sans a whooping Whoopi Goldberg and a bespoke ribcage slide, things got pretty dark, pretty quick. The new pack of hyenas arrive to the film as bloodthirsty, borderline zombies, reminding me far too much of the freaky sack man from The Strangers. Thank Christ they eventually started making jokes because I was about to call the police.

The fear is real

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10. I cried twice

Still far less than I would in the original, but I also belly-laughed about three times more. Carry the one, split it by half and you’ve got yourself some kind of undeniable result. Yes, the palette can get gloomy and the manky lions are nowhere near as fun as their vivid old tongue-flapping, eye-bulging counterparts. Yes, it’s a cynical cash hoover from Disney and remakes suck and death of originality blah de boo blah. But I still had heaps of fun, and so did all of the small celebrity children around me. Circle of life etc. 

The Lion King opens next Thursday 17 July in New Zealand


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