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The Lion King is a 2019 American musical film directed and produced by Jon Favreau, written by Jeff Nathanson, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It is a photorealistic computer animated remake of Disney's traditionally animated 1994 film. The film stars the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, as well as James Earl Jones reprising his role from the original film. The plot follows Simba, a young lion who must embrace his role as the rightful king of his native land following the murder of his father, Mufasa, at the hands of his uncle, Scar.

The Lion King
Disney The Lion King 2019.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJon Favreau
Produced by
  • Jon Favreau
  • Jeffrey Silver
  • Karen Gilchrist
Screenplay byJeff Nathanson
Based onDisney's The Lion King
by Irene Mecchi
Jonathan Roberts
Linda Woolverton[1]
Starring
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited by
Production
company
Distributed byWalt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Release date
  • July 9, 2019 (2019-07-09) (Hollywood)
  • July 19, 2019 (2019-07-19) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$250–260 million[3][4]
Box office$1.439 billion[5]

Plans for a remake of The Lion King were confirmed in September 2016 following the success of Disney's The Jungle Book, also directed by Favreau. Much of the main cast signed in early 2017, and principal production began in mid-2017 on a blue screen stage in Los Angeles. With an estimated budget of around $260 million, it is one of the most expensive films ever made.

The film was theatrically released in the United States on July 19, 2019. It has grossed $1.4 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing animated film, overtaking Frozen, as well as the second highest-grossing film of 2019 and 9th highest-grossing film of all-time. It received mixed reviews, with praise for its visual effects, music, and vocal performances (particularly Rogen and Eichner) but criticism for its lack of facial emotion on the characters, with many describing it as "soulless" compared to the original film.[6]

Contents

Plot

In the Pride Lands of Africa, a pride of lions rule over the animal kingdom from Pride Rock. King Mufasa's and Queen Sarabi's newborn son, Simba, is presented to the gathering animals by Rafiki the mandrill, the kingdom's shaman and advisor. Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands and explains to him the responsibilities of kingship and the "circle of life", which connects all living things. Mufasa's younger brother, Scar, covets the throne and plots to eliminate Mufasa and Simba, so he may become king. He tricks Simba and his best friend Nala (to whom it is expected Simba will marry) into exploring a forbidden elephants' graveyard, where they are attacked by spotted hyenas led by Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi. Mufasa is alerted about the incident by his majordomo, the hornbill Zazu, and rescues the cubs. Though upset with Simba, Mufasa forgives him and explains that the great kings of the past watch over them from the night sky, from which he will one day watch over Simba. Meanwhile, Scar visits the hyenas and manages to convince them to help him overthrow Mufasa in exchange for hunting rights in the Pride Lands.

Scar sets a trap for his brother and nephew, luring Simba into a gorge and having the hyenas drive a large herd of wildebeest into a stampede that will trample him. He informs Mufasa of Simba's peril, knowing that the king will rush to save his son. Mufasa saves Simba but ends up hanging perilously from the gorge's edge. Scar refuses to help Mufasa, instead sending him falling to his death. He then convinces Simba that the tragedy was Simba's own fault and advises him to leave the kingdom and never return. He orders the hyenas to kill the cub, but Simba escapes. Scar tells the pride that both Mufasa and Simba were killed in the stampede and steps forward as the new king, allowing his three hyena minions and the rest of their large pack to live in the Pride Lands.

Simba collapses in a desert and is rescued by Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, who are fellow outcasts. Simba grows up in the oasis with his two new friends and other animals, living a carefree life under the motto "hakuna matata" ("no worries" in Swahili). Now a young adult, Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala. She and Simba reunite and fall in love, and she urges him to return home, telling him that the Pride Lands have become a drought-stricken wasteland under Scar's reign. Feeling guilty over his father's death, Simba refuses and storms off. He then encounters Rafiki, who tells him that Mufasa's spirit lives on in Simba. Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the night sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as king. Realizing that he can no longer run from his past, Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands.

Aided by his friends, Simba sneaks past the hyenas at Pride Rock and confronts Scar, who was about to fight Sarabi. Scar taunts Simba over his role in Mufasa's death and backs him to the edge of the rock, where he reveals to him that he murdered Mufasa. Enraged, Simba reveals the truth to the rest of the pride. Scar attempts to defend himself, but his knowledge of Mufasa's last moment (despite having previously claimed that he arrived too late at the gorge) exposes his role in Mufasa's death. Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, Zazu, and the lionesses fend off the hyenas while Scar, attempting to escape, is cornered by Simba at the top of Pride Rock. Scar begs for mercy and attempts to blame the hyenas for his actions; Simba spares his life, but orders him to leave the Pride Lands forever. Scar refuses and attacks his nephew, but Simba manages to toss him from the top of the rock. Scar survives the fall, but is attacked and killed by the hyenas, who overheard his attempt to betray them. Afterwards, Simba takes over the kingship and makes Nala his queen.

Later, with Pride Rock restored to its usual state, Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub to the assembled animals, continuing the circle of life.

Voice cast

  • Donald Glover as Simba:
    A lion who is the crown prince of the Pride Lands. Glover said that the film will focus more on Simba's time growing up than the original film did, stating that "[Favreau] was very keen in making sure we saw [Simba's] transition from boy to man and how hard that can be when there's been a deep trauma".[7]
  • Seth Rogen as Pumbaa:
    A slow-witted common warthog who befriends and adopts a young Simba after he runs away from home. Rogen said, "[a]s an actor, I [...] don't think I'm right for every role — there are a lot of roles I don't think I'm right for even in movies I'm making — but Pumbaa was one I knew I could do well".[8] Favreau encouraged Rogen and Timon's Billy Eichner, who did their voice recordings together, to improvise a lot.[9]
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar:
    The treacherous brother of Mufasa the brother-in-law of Sarabi and the uncle of Simba who seeks to take the mantle of king of the Pride Lands. Ejiofor described Scar as more "psychologically possessed" and "brutalized" than in the original film.[8] Ejiofor said that "especially with Scar, whether it's a vocal quality that allows for a certain confidence or a certain aggression, to always know that at the end of it you're playing somebody who has the capacity to turn everything on its head in a split second with outrageous acts of violence – that can completely change the temperature of a scene".[8] Ejiofor also said that "[Scar and Mufasa's] relationship is completely destroyed and brutalized by Scar's way of thinking. He's possessed with this disease of his own ego and his own want".[7] Favreau said of casting Ejiofor, "[He] is just a fantastic actor, who brings us a bit of the mid-Atlantic cadence and a new take on the character. He brings that feeling of a Shakespearean villain to bear because of his background as an actor. It's wonderful when you have somebody as experienced and seasoned as Chiwetel; he just breathes such wonderful life into this character."[1]
  • Alfre Woodard as Sarabi:
    The Queen of the Pride Lands, Mufasa's wife, and Simba's mother.
  • Billy Eichner as Timon:
    A wise-cracking meerkat who befriends and adopts a young Simba after he runs away from home. Eichner described Timon as "physically the smallest character, but he has one of the bigger personalities, and I love the combination of those two things. I kind of played into Timon, as I’ve done with many characters of mine, [the notion that] he might be small in stature but he has a huge sense of entitlement, which is always funny to play," and that "when Timon speaks and when he’s quote-unquote ‘being funny,’ he’s very loud and boisterous, but [his] singing allows this vulnerable side, a slightly softer side, especially in ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and other moments.”[9] Eichner also talked about having "what some may consider a gay sensibility" that he brought to the table when he voiced Timon.[10]
  • John Kani as Rafiki:
    A wise mandrill who serves as the shaman of the Pride Lands, and a close friend of Mufasa's.[11] Likening his role to that of a grandfather, Kani said, "Rafiki reminds all of us of that special wise relative. His wisdom, humor and his loyalty to the Mufasa dynasty is what warms our hearts towards him. [He's] always happy and wisecracking jokes as lessons of life and survival."[1]
  • John Oliver as Zazu:
    A red-billed hornbill who is the majordomo to the King of the Pride Lands. Speaking of his role, Oliver said, "I think Zazu is basically a bird who likes structure. He just wants things to be as they should be. I think there are British echoes there because we tend to favor structure in lieu of having an emotional reaction to anything."[1]
  • Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala:
    Simba's childhood best friend and future love interest. According to Favreau, the character has a bigger role than in the original film.[12] Favreau felt that "part of [Beyoncé joining the film] is that she's got young kids, part of it is that it's a story that feels good for this phase of her life and her career, and she really likes the original very much. And then, of course, there are these wonderful musical numbers that she can be involved with, and my God... she really lives up to her reputation as far as the beauty of her voice and talent".[8][13]
  • James Earl Jones as Mufasa:
    The King of the Pride Lands, Sarabi's husband and the father of Simba. Jones reprises his role from the original 1994 animated film. According to Favreau, Jones' lines remain mostly the same from the original film.[8] Ejiofor said that "the comfort of [Jones reprising his role] is going to be very rewarding in taking [the audience] on this journey again. It's a once-in-a-generation vocal quality".[8][15] Favreau saw Jones' return as "carrying the legacy across" the original film and the remake, and felt that his voice's change in tonality compared to the original film "served the role well because he sounds like a king who's ruled for a long time".[16]
  • Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre voice Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi: Three spotted hyenas who are Scar's henchmen. While Shenzi is a character that was featured in the original 1994 animated film, Kamari and Azizi are the respective names of new characters loosely based on Banzai and Ed from the original film. The hyenas' characterizations were heavily altered from the original film's, as Favreau felt that they "had to change a lot" to fit the remake's realistic style, stating that "[a] lot of the stuff around them [in the original film] was very stylised".[17] Kasumba elaborated, declaring that "Those hyenas were funny. These hyenas are dangerous."[1]

Additionally, Penny Johnson Jerald voices Sarafina, Nala's mother.[1] Amy Sedaris, Chance the Rapper and Josh McCrary voice a guinea fowl, a bush baby, and an elephant shrew, respectively, Timon and Pumbaa's neighbors in the oasis.[1][18] Phil LaMarr voices an impala, while J. Lee voices a hyena.[1]

Production

Development

On September 28, 2016, Walt Disney Pictures confirmed that Jon Favreau would be directing a remake of the 1994 animated film The Lion King, which would feature the songs from the 1994 film, following a string of recent box office successes on the other Disney live-action remake films such as Maleficent, Cinderella, Favreau's The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, with the latter three also earning critical praise.[19] On October 13, 2016, it was reported that Disney had hired Jeff Nathanson to write the screenplay for the remake,[20] with the story written by Brenda Chapman, who was the original film's head of story.[21]

In November, talking with ComingSoon.net, Favreau said the virtual cinematography technology he used in The Jungle Book would be used to a greater degree in The Lion King.[22] Although the media reported The Lion King to be a live-action film, it actually utilizes photorealistic computer-generated animation. Disney also did not describe it as live-action, only stating it would follow the "technologically groundbreaking" approach of The Jungle Book.[23] While the film acts as a remake of the 1994 animated film, Favreau was inspired by the Broadway adaptation of the film for certain aspects of the remake's plot, particularly Nala and Sarabi's roles.[24] Favreau also aimed to develop his own take on the original film's story with what he said was "the spectacle of a BBC wildlife documentary".[25]

This serves as the final credit for film editor Mark Livolsi, who died on September 2018.[26] The film is dedicated to him.[1]

Casting

In mid-February 2017, Donald Glover was cast as Simba, with James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa from the 1994 film.[27] In April 2017, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen were cast to play Timon and Pumbaa respectively.[28] In July 2017, John Oliver was cast as Zazu.[29] In August 2017, Alfre Woodard and John Kani were announced to play Sarabi and Rafiki, respectively.[30][31]

Earlier in March 2017, it was announced that Beyoncé was Favreau's top choice for the role of Nala and that the director and studio would be willing to do whatever it took to accommodate her busy schedule.[32] Later on November 1, 2017, her role was confirmed in an official announcement,[33][34] which also confirmed that Chiwetel Ejiofor would play the role of Scar, and announced that Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba, and Keegan-Michael Key will be the voices of Azizi, Shenzi and Kamari while JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph will be the voices of young Simba and young Nala, respectively.[35][36][37][38][39] In November 2018, Amy Sedaris was announced as having been cast in a role created for the film.[40]

Visual effects

The Moving Picture Company, the lead vendor on The Jungle Book, provided the visual effects, which were supervised by Robert Legato, Elliot Newman and Adam Valdez.[41] The film utilizes "virtual-reality tools", per Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato.[42] Virtual Production Supervisor Girish Balakrishnan said on his professional website that the filmmakers used motion capture and VR/AR technologies,[43] with the production team combining VR technology with cameras in order to film the remake in a VR-simulated environment.[25] New software had to be developed for the movie, and made it possible to create scenes with a shaky-cam look of a handheld camera.[44] Sean Bailey, Disney's President of Production, called the film's visual effects "a new form of filmmaking", and felt that "Historical definitions don't work", stating that "[it] uses some techniques that would traditionally be called animation, and other techniques that would traditionally be called live-action. It is an evolution of the technology Jon [Favreau] used in Jungle Book".[45]

Rather than animators do everything, the team also used artificial intelligence to allow virtual characters behave in ways that mimicked real animals.[46] There is only one real and non-animated shot in the film.[47]

Music

Hans Zimmer, who composed the 1994 animated version, would return to compose the score for the remake with Pharrell Williams as a collaborator.[48] Elton John also returned to rework his musical compositions from the original film before his retirement,[49] with Beyoncé assisting John in the reworking of the soundtrack.[50] John, the original film's lyricist, Tim Rice, and Beyoncé were also slated in 2018 to create a new song for the film.[51] However, the collaboration between Beyoncé and John did not pan out as the unreleased song was not added to the official soundtrack.[52] John and Rice also wrote a new song for the film's end credits, titled "Never Too Late" and performed by John.[53]

"Spirit", performed by Beyoncé and written by herself, Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Labrinth, was released on July 9, 2019, as the lead single from the soundtrack.[54] The film also features all the songs from the original film, a cover of The Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and the song "He Lives in You" from Rhythm of the Pride Lands and the Broadway production.[53] The soundtrack, featuring Zimmer's score and John and Rice's songs, was released digitally on July 11, 2019, and physically on July 19, 2019.[53]

Beyoncé also produced and curated an album titled The Lion King: The Gift, which features "Spirit", as well as songs inspired by the film. The album was released on July 19, 2019.[54]

Marketing

The first teaser trailer and the official teaser poster for The Lion King debuted during the annual Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game on November 22, 2018.[55][56] The trailer was viewed 224.6 million times in its first 24 hours, becoming the then 2nd most viewed trailer in that time period.[57] A special sneak peek featuring John Kani's voice as Rafiki and a new poster were released during the 91st Academy Awards on February 24, 2019.[58] On April 10, 2019, Disney released the official trailer featuring new footage which revealed Scar, Zazu, Simba and Nala (both as cubs and as adults), Sarabi, Rafiki, Timon and Pumbaa and the hyenas.[59] The trailer was viewed 174 million times in its first 24 hours, which was revealed on Disney's Investor Day 2019 Webcast.[60] On May 30, 2019, 11 individual character posters were released.[61] A special sneak peek featuring Beyoncé, Billy Eichner, and Seth Rogen's voices as Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa respectively, was released on June 3, 2019.[62] A special sneak peek featuring Beyoncé and Donald Glover's voices as Simba and Nala singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and also featuring James Earl Jones' voice as Mufasa, was released on June 20, 2019.[63] On July 2, 2019, Disney released an extensive behind-the-scenes featurette detailing the various aspects of the film's production along with seven publicity stills featuring the voice actors facing their animal counterparts.[64]

Shot-for-shot claim

The trailers of the film led to a claim of its being a shot-for-shot remake of Disney's 1994 film. On December 23, 2018, Sean Bailey, Disney's President of Production, said that while the film will "revere and love those parts that the audience wants", there will be "things in the movie that are going to be new".[45] On April 18, 2019, Favreau stated that "some shots in the 1994 animated film are so iconic" he couldn't possibly change them, but "despite what the trailers suggest, this film is not just the same movie over again",[65] and later said "it's much longer than the original film. And part of what we're doing here is to (give it more dimension) not just visually but both story-wise and emotionally."[66] On May 30, 2019, Favreau said that some of the humour and characterizations are being altered to be more consistent with the rest of the film,[67] and this remake is making some changes in certain scenes from the original film, as well as in its structure.[25] On June 14, 2019, Favreau said that, while the original film's main plot points will remain unchanged in the remake, the film will largely diverge from the original version, and hinted that the Elephant Graveyard, the hyenas' lair in the original film, will be replaced by a new location.[17] The film is approximately 30 minutes longer than the original.[68]

Release

The Lion King premiered in Hollywood on July 9, 2019.[69] The film was theatrically released in the United States on July 19, 2019.[70] It will be one of the first theatrical films to be released on Disney+, alongside Aladdin, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, Captain Marvel, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.[71] The film began its international rollout a week before its domestic release, starting with July 12 in China.[72]

Reception

Box office

As of August 19, 2019, The Lion King has grossed $497.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $940.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $1.439 billion.[5]

The film had a global debut of $446.1 million, the ninth largest of all-time and the biggest opening for an animated film.[73] On July 30, 2019, the film grossed $1 billion marks, becoming the 42nd film to ever reach the milestone, as well as fastest animated film to gross $1 billion, doing so in 21 days, surpassing Incredibles 2 (46 days). The Lion King is the highest-grossing animated film of all time, the highest-grossing musical film of all time, the highest-grossing remake of all time, the highest-grossing Walt Disney Pictures film of all time, the highest-grossing film of Favreau's career, the second highest-grossing film of 2019, and the 9th highest-grossing film of all-time.[74]

United States and Canada

Beginning on June 24, 2019 (which marked the 25th anniversary of the release of the original film), in its first 24 hours of pre-sales, The Lion King became the second-best pre-seller of 2019 on Fandango in that frame (behind Avengers: Endgame), while Atom Tickets reported it was their best-ever first-day sales for a family film.[75] Three weeks prior to its release, industry tracking projected the film would gross $150–170 million in its domestic opening weekend.[76][77] By the week of its release, estimates had the film debuting to as much as $180 million from 4,725 theaters, beating Avengers: Endgame's record of 4,662.[4] The film made $77.9 million on its first day, including $23 million from Thursday night previews.[78] It went on to debut to $191.8 million over the weekend, the highest opening total of the Disney reimaginings of animated films (beating Beauty and the Beast's $174.8 million), a July release (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2's $169.2 million) and Favreau's career (Iron Man 2's $128.1 million).[79][80] The film had a slightly higher-than-expected drop of 60% in its second weekend, but still topped the box office with $76.6 million.[81][82] It was dethroned by newcomer Hobbs & Shaw in its third weekend but still grossed $38.5 million, crossing the $400 million mark in the process.[83][84]

Other territories

The film was expected to gross around $450 million over its first 10 days of a global release, including $160–170 million from its worldwide opening weekend.[4] In China, where it released a week prior to the rest of the world, the film was projected to debut to $50–60 million.[72] It ended up opening to $54.2 million, besting the debuts of The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.[85] Over its first 8 days of global release, the film made a total of 751 million, including $351.8 million from overseas territories. This included $269.4 million from its opening weekend (sans China), with its largest countries being the United Kingdom, Ireland and Malta ($20.8 million) France ($19.6 million), Mexico ($18.7 million), Brazil ($17.9 million), South Korea ($17.7 million), Australia ($17.1 million) and Russia ($16.7 million, second-largest ever in the country), as well as $6 million in the Netherlands, the best opening of a film ever in the country.[73]

Critical response

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 52% based on 378 reviews and an average rating of 6.01/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "While it can take pride in its visual achievements, The Lion King is a by-the-numbers retelling that lacks the energy and heart that made the original so beloved – though for some fans that may just be enough."[86] Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[87] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average four out of five stars.[78]

Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times called the film "polished, satisfying entertainment."[88] Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter considered it to be inferior to the original, noting, "The film's aesthetic caution and predictability begin to wear down on the entire enterprise in the second half."[89] At The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw found the film "watchable and enjoyable. But I missed the simplicity and vividness of the original hand-drawn images."[90] Among the vocal performances, the roles of Eichner and Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively, received particular praise by critics,[91][92][93][94] with A.V. Club's Dowd proclaiming: "Ultimately, only Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, as slacker sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa, make much of an impression; their funny, possibly ad-libbed banter feels both fresh and true to the spirit of the characters—the perfect remake recipe."[95]

A. A. Dowd, writing for The A.V. Club, summarized the film as "Joyless, artless, and maybe soulless, it transforms one of the most striking titles from the Mouse House vault into a very expensive, star-studded Disneynature film." Dowd bemoaned the film's insistence on realism, commenting, "We're watching a hollow bastardization of a blockbuster, at once completely reliant on the audience's pre-established affection for its predecessor and strangely determined to jettison much of what made it special."[95] Scott Mendelson at Forbes condemned the film as a "crushing disappointment": "At almost every turn, this redo undercuts its own melodrama by downplaying its own emotions."[91] David Ehrlich of IndieWire panned the film, writing, "Unfolding like the world's longest and least convincing deepfake, Jon Favreau's (almost) photorealistic remake of The Lion King is meant to represent the next step in Disney's circle of life. Instead, this soulless chimera of a film comes off as little more than a glorified tech demo from a greedy conglomerate — a well-rendered but creatively bankrupt self-portrait of a movie studio eating its own tail."[92]

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