‘The Lion King’ (2019) review: Photorealistic Disney remake means no worries

Jon Favreau’s remake of ‘The Lion King’ does not liberate itself from the shackles of the Disney classic but the nostalgia it brings should be enough to make this an easy crowd-pleaser.

On a strict technical level, Disney’s 2019 version of The Lion King counts more as a retelling than a reimagination: the story and dialogues are roughly the same, the well-loved songs are all present, and the iconic scenes are masterfully replicated through cutting edge technology (making the 1994 classic look like a giant storyboard). James Earl Jones even reprises the role of Mufasa, “King of the Pride Rock” (pictured above). Had you seen the original film a day before the screening (yes, I have), the beat per beat similarities will be more evident and you’ll find yourself guessing the next lines.

This sounds good news for those who like to be comforted by the same blanket of emotions, all while revelling in the filmmakers’ technical prowess. Anyway, the classic has already a solid story to begin with, and this remake’s faithful adherence to it does not take away whatever entertainment value The Lion King brings. I can’t blame Disney for not fixing what’s not broken as multi-millions of dollars are at stake here. Jungle Book director Jon Favreau’s first and foremost duty is to not mess it up… even if it’s at the cost of storytelling ambition.

Adventurous souls. Zazu (John Oliver) warns a young Simba (J.D. McCrary) and a young Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) not to stray away from the Pride Lands.

That being said, those who couldn’t tolerate watching a practically the same film, will be greatly disappointed. The question of necessity immediately pops into one’s head and terms like “cash-grab” and “blatant rehash” will be thrown around by cynical viewers. Personally, I would rather reserve those terms for films which are lazily done and TLK 2.0 definitely doesn’t look like one. With its photorealistic and painstakingly rendered imagery, the film looks like a high-end feature of Disneynature. For someone who enjoys watching NatGeo documentaries, I am digging this. If anything, audiences will be baffled to know that none of it is actually real—everything is created in digital space. (The term “live action” seems to be a misnomer by now.) The main attraction here is to gawk at the visual wizardry and there’s no shame in that.

Wisdom and tribe loyalty. John Kani plays Rafiki, a wise mandrill who serves as the shaman of the Pride Lands and a close adviser of Mufasa.

Putting realism to the context of animation, however, creates dissonance at some parts and that’s where this remake fails to completely replicate the magic of the original. To be specific, Favreau & Co. sticks to realistic animal expressions: which means that a lion’s sad/angry/confused face won’t be as expressive as their animated counterparts. Hence, even if the vocal performances are all incredible, the emotional range and depth is not fully captured. In a way, 2.0 serves as a reminder why traditional animation is important. The exaggerated facial expressions and the surrealist sequences are used to convey larger than life emotions. The Lion King thrives more in that territory. It can never entirely sell the idea of realism in the first place, as there’s no way in the world that animals talk or sing like people.

But everything else is mostly forgiven when TLK 2.0 starts hitting the nostalgia button via its amusing, sing-along songs, and the sweeping musical score once again provided by the great Hans Zimmer. This remake retains most of the melodies but there are welcome additions too like Beyoncé’s original song “Spirit” which is played during Simba’s eventual return to the Pride Lands. Her character Nala is given more dimension this time and I wish we’re given more time for Donald Glover’s adult Simba to fully grow on us. Nevertheless, the coming-of-age push and pull themes of ‘putting your past behind’ vs. ‘remembering who you are’ are well emphasized in his character building moments. 

The heir of the Pride Lands, Simba (Donald Glover) and his childhood best friend Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) reunites after several years of separation.

While the opening song “Circle of Life” is a frame by frame recreation of the original, Simba and Nala’s performance of Elton John’s rousing hit “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is wonderfully set in the warm glow of sunset this time. There’s also a fresh take in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance of “Be Prepared” which is delivered as a mix of spoken word/song. Combined with Scar’s scruffy features, the character looks more devious and menacing. 

Usurpers to the throne. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), along with his hyena henchmen Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), and Azizi (Eric Andre), are onto something evil.

But TLK 2.0 starts to earn its big laughs upon the introduction of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s Timon and Pumbaa. The duo steal the thunder with their nihilistic philosophy of living a worry-free lifestyle and the actors’ seemingly improvisational freedom. Their acapella performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” really lights up the mood of the film. Also bringing levity is John Oliver’s pompous and diplomatic bird Zazu.

Hakuna Matata. A young Simba (J.D. McCrary), meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa sing away their problems in ‘The Lion King.’

The Lion King (2019) does not reinvent nor reimagine the story and it does not have to. There’s a reason why the 1994 film is a timeless classic and it’s because of the relevant themes of responsibility, pride and courage. The main goal here is to reintroduce the story to a younger generation who don’t share the same level of enthusiasm towards the old-school Disney animation. In that note, this film succeeds.

The 2019 remake honors what came before. It may lack the surprise factor—the emotional punches and musical cues come as expected—but there’s great pleasure in seeing this classic brought into life. It won’t overthrow my love for the original anytime soon but think of this as a good old, hand-me-down present that’s beautifully wrapped for every generation to keep.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Jon Favreau, ‘The Lion King’ features the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre and James Earl Jones. Based on the 1994 Disney classic by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. 118 minutes. Rated G.

‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ review: Greater upgrade, greater responsibility

Spider-Man: Far From Home’ keeps the comic book lore fresh with its picturesque locations, strong performances and overall light-hearted fun.

Note: The following review contains spoilers from Avengers: Endgame.

I admire MCU’s Spider-Man films for managing to impart uncle Ben’s infamous words (“With great power, comes great responsibility”) without the need of explicitly mentioning it. Homecoming stands out in the superhero genre with its scaled-down coming-of-age themes that nevertheless delivers action, humor and heart. At its center is a teenager who wants to be a superhero, yet hasn’t quite figured out how. In Far From Home, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is once again wrestling with that responsibility but the stakes here are much larger than saving the neighborhood. Much of the pressure comes from filling the metal boots of the late Tony Stark/Iron Man as he bequeathed Peter a pair of techie glasses which has access to Stark Industries’ database and orbital weapons. It’s a cool legacy to inherit (not to mention the spectacular spidey suits later), but can Peter have at least a week off to enjoy his high school field trip to Europe – a perfect setting to profess his romantic feelings for his classmate MJ (Zendaya)? Well, you know the drill: With great power…

Against his wishes, Peter is pulled out by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to team up with Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a superhero from an alternate earth who emits green gas and wears a fishbowl on his head. The mystery guy quickly buddies up with a confused Peter (who’s in need of a father figure since Tony’s death) and empathizes with his struggle to moonlight a superhero job. Gyllenhaal fits wonderfully into this environment as he carries the charisma and gravitas needed to act as a mentor to a young Holland. But of course, anyone who’s familiar with his character in the comics should know early on that there’s more to him that meets the eye.

A new ally? Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) explains the existence of a multiverse to Peter Parker (Tom Holland).

Together, they try to stop various destructive “Elementals” across the globe. This mission is clearly an Avengers-level type of threat but when Peter asks Fury as to the whereabouts of the other Avengers, he simply says that they’re all either busy or unavailable. Hmmm… how convenient. Thankfully, a must-watch post-credit scene alludes to a bigger inter-dimensional threat that supports this plot convenience and fixes a huge character plothole found in the narrative. Hence, I’m letting this one off the hook.

Set several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, this installment also has the task of addressing the ramifications of Dr. Hulk’s snap that restored half of humanity wiped by Thanos. The five-year absence, referred to as “the blip,” is amusingly explained through the perspective of high school milieu. Those who are spared by Thanos continue to grow five years older, while those who are previously “snapped” went back with their original ages. Again, for convenience sake, the significant class members of Peter are still of the same age.

An unforgettable European field trip: Betty (Angourie Rice), Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) are caught in the crossfire against the Elementals.

With all the globe-trotting and action extravaganza involved, reprising director Jon Watts finds a way to maintain a light tone that keeps the sequel intact with its predecessor, yet at the same time, fit it with the ever-expanding world of MCU. The script, penned by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, remains to be a character-based, high-school comedy just so happened to be set in multiple geographical locations – New York, Venice, Berlin, Prague, London and the Netherlands. One of the film’s twists traces back to Captain America: Civil War and another one back to Captain Marvel. It’s a testament how well-written and well-thought of this film is. I have to emphasize that with Kevin Feige and the rest of Marvel’s vision, the future of MCU is in safe hands.

New continent, new suit. Spider-Man dons the Stealth Suit.

More than the standard saving-the-world scenario, the coming-of-age sensibilities once again makes Far From Home a breezy and charming addition to the franchise. There are plenty of relevant adolescent themes like young adult anxiety and insecurity, competing love interests, class bullies, Gen Z’s indulgence to social media and the general immaturity of youth. Through it all, the story not only propels Peter’s individual story but also manages to give the supporting players their moments to shine. Nerdy Ned (Jacob Batalon) steals scenes through his unlikely romance with the prim Betty (Angourie Rice). Tony’s right hand man, Happy (Jon Favreau) strikes a spark with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). While we get a more layered character in MJ this time, with Zendaya keeping the mutual attraction to her onscreen partner under a sarcastic and awkward facade. On the other hand, Holland continues to thrive on the iconic role for this generation. His edge over Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s portrayals is that he exudes with a sincere, boyish enthusiasm that appeals to a wide audience.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) takes a greater responsibility in ‘Far From Home.’

Spider-Man: Far From Home pays homage to Tony Stark’s legacy as viewers are constantly reminded of the fallen industrialist’s presence. Sometimes it’s done literally through his mural images painted on buildings or his life story featured as a documentary in an airline, almost like he’s a religious figure. Other times, it feels symbolical through the growing paternal bond between Happy and Peter. The big question that keeps getting thrown around here is who should be the next de-facto leader of The Avengers. I stand by my opinion that Peter is way too young and inexperienced to play a leadership role. (I’m personally rooting for you, Dr. Strange). However, as the front face for the next phases in MCU, I think we might just found a worthy successor.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Jon Watts, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hii and Jake Gyllenhaal. 129 minutes. PG-13.

‘Iron Man’ director Jon Favreau helms Disney’s all-new ‘The Jungle Book’

Acclaimed director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) takes audiences on a wild ride back to the jungle, in Walt Disney Pictures’ all-new live-action epic adventure, “The Jungle Book.”

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, “The Jungle Book” tells the story of Mowgli, a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan, who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera, and the free-spirited bear Baloo. Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa, a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie, who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.

According to Favreau, story is king. “I think films have to offer an emotional experience for the audience,” says the director. “The spectacle won’t mean anything if they’re not engaged emotionally with the characters. Every story needs humanity, emotion and character development, as well as humor—presented in a way that doesn’t betray the stakes of the film. There are white-knuckle moments in the movie when you wonder, ‘what’s going to happen to this kid?’”

Filmmakers didn’t set out to create a beat-by-beat literal remake of the original animated film, nor a total return to Kipling’s version. Finding just the right tone for this new version of the story was a fundamental priority. Favreau’s adaptation of “The Jungle Book” draws its inspiration from the beloved Disney animated classic, while still retaining the gravitas and mythology inherent in Rudyard Kipling’s original stories.

Says Favreau, “We kept going back to the basic idea of Mowgli as a boy raised in the jungle who is forced to leave because of the presence of this big bad enemy—the tiger Shere Khan. We have Mowgli who’s living a happy-go-lucky life, but doesn’t quite fit in a jungle because he’s human. Although he’s been raised by wolves and lived in the jungle, he doesn’t have the physical attributes required to survive in that environment. The jungle—beautiful with some friendly inhabitants—is a very dangerous place.

“We borrow from Kipling in that it’s an environment where there’s real jeopardy,” continues the director. “It’s not safe for a kid. We took the basic story structure of the animated film, but we do it in a way that has a more story stakes. We play with a tone that has a lot more jeopardy and where survival isn’t necessarily a given.”

“It’s a coming-of-age story about a kid who is figuring out his place in the world,” adds producer Brigham Taylor. “The adventure is real, the stakes are high, but at the same time, the film is warm and humane. It’s hard to find that combination, but Jon brings it all to the table.”

According to Favreau, it’s that balance that appeals to viewers of all ages. “As a parent, I’m so grateful when there’s a film that’s appropriate for my kids see but doesn’t talk down to them. Kids can keep up with sophisticated storytelling. Walt’s dream was always to pull families together but not necessarily in the most obvious or predictable way.

“In our version, if you’re a Disney fan, you’ll notice attention to detail that honors the film’s legacy,” concludes the director. “If you’re a kid seeing ‘The Jungle Book’ for the first time, you might forget to eat your popcorn it’s going to be a really fun ride.”

The wild adventure swings into Philippine theaters in 3D on April 6, 2016. “The Jungle Book” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #JungleBookPH.

Triptych poster revealed for Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’

Walt Disney Pictures has unveiled the triptych poster of its new, imaginative take on the classic children’s adventure “The Jungle Book.” The triptych features lead star Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli together with talking animal characters on either side, in a sprawling and extended horizontal shot.

Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, “The Jungle Book” is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves.

But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).

Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johannsson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.

The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela.

The wild adventure swings into Philippine theaters in 3D on April 2016. “The Jungle Book” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #JungleBookPH.