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After the death of his father, young Simba has to flee his kingdom until the time comes to claim his rightful position as King of the Pride Lands.
*Be aware of spoilers*
In the Pride Lands of Africa King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi present Simba to the gathering of animals by Rafiki, the mandrill. Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands and explains him the duties of a King and his responsibilities when he will take his place. Scar, Mufasa’s brother, leads Simba and Nala, Simba’s future wife, to a forbidden elephants’ graveyard where they are hunted by hyenas led by Shenzi. Mufasa is alerted by the hornbill Zazu and saves the cubs. He forgives Simba for his mistake while Scar makes an alliance with the hyenas in order to overthrow Mufasa.
He then sets a trap and lure Simba into a gorge. With wildebeest threatening Simba, Mufasa runs to his rescue but when he needs his brother’s help Scar sent him falling to his death. He then convinces Simba that his father’s death was his own fault and advises Simba to leave the kingdom while instructing the hyenas to kill him but manages to escape. Scar then tells the pride that both Mufasa and Simba have been killed in the stampede which makes him the new King allowing Shenzi’s clan to hunt in the Pride Lands.
Simba is rescued by Timon and Pumbaa and live a careless life until he meets Nala again urging him to return. He falls in love with her and while he tries to avoid his past he then realizes that he can’t escape his destiny and returns to the now drought-stricken Pride Lands. Simba with the help of Nala, Timon, Pumbaa along with Rafiki and Zazu fight Scar and Shenzi’s hyenas. Having won the battle Scar tries to blame the hyenas while Simba throws him off a cliff. While he survives the fall the hyenas that had heard his betrayal attack him and Simba becomes the new King. With the Pride Lands restored Simba and Nala present their newborn cub to the animal’s assembly.
The Lion King…the original certainly brings back happy childhood memories as I very clearly remember it being one of the first films my parents let me see in a real cinema. Back then 3D and CGI the way we know them today were non existent and all we had was the old traditional animation style of films that kept us company throughout those early years. Who can forget the epic music that still ring in my ears so clearly or the amazing landscapes of the Pride Lands? Even the animation for it’s time was top notch and one of the best along with Disney’s Aladdin, another film that was recently remade, that certainly helped the film to reach it’s classic status it has today.
But with the years having past and children nowadays having been used to the new era of CGI animation films these old classics would be very hard to be passed to the new generations and would be doomed to stay a sweet memory only among those that have passed a certain age. So Disney seems to have put forth a certain plan to put life back to these old but never obsolete franchises and what better way to do so by remaking them up to standards that our times now dictate.
Obviously the way that Disney would remake a film as Lion King would need very delicate handling as the way they would decide to follow would make or brake the film entirely. Disney could choose many different ways to bring the film back on the big screen, either as a pure CGI film in the likes of Shrek and Toy Story or a more realistic depiction of this old classic. In the end the filmmakers decided to create a film that draws a fine line between photorealism and CGI elements giving it a more mature feel than the original. And with director duties being taken by no other than Jon Favreau, of Iron Man fame, the film certainly had a lot of positive vibes from the get go.
What we got in the end? Well first of all we must say that the new version is neither a reboot nor a remake. We would most certainly call it a re-imaging of the original as the story is exactly the same and a very large portion of the film has exactly the same scenes so if you have seen the old one you will recognize most scenes in the new one. And this is the first right decision the designers made. Keeping the story that we all loved and remember intact ensured that the new generation will not see a different film, they will just see the fresh paint job that is on top of it. The core remains the same as we see the struggle of Simba throughout the film until he decides that he cannot escape his destiny to become the King of the Pride Lands.
With the story intact and locked it seemed that the designers and Jon Favreau were now free to work on what would really make this film hold on it’s own, the visual aspect of it. With exactly the same stories it would be inevitable that comparisons between the two films would show if the new look was worth all the trouble. So we had to be given something really good that would surpass anything the original offered in terms of visual quality.
What we got was really a miracle of visual effects design. We live in an era that movies are full of CGI and special effects and to be amazed by all this is not easy any more as we have literally seen it all the last few years. I can say, in all honesty, that it’s been a long time since I saw a film that really made me watch in awe. Even blockbusters like Infinity Wars didn’t manage to give the same kind of feeling watching such a visual spectacle as I felt during watching the new Lion King in 4K resolution.
We are fairly certain that Jon Favreau and the rest of the designers and artists involved in the making had exactly this purpose. To provoke the same kind of feeling when viewing the film as we had during watching the original. Having success in that is not a small feat and shows how much of a breakthrough in visual design they managed to make. But all this nice talk about the photorealistic graphics of the film has an ugly face also and one that many have criticized the film for.
In trying to reach a new level of realism the designers missed one critical element of the original film. And this was the amazing facial emotions the characters were able to show. In the new film pushing the facial emotions to the same levels as in the original would look goofy at best. You can’t have realistic looking animal make such expressions. In the original animation it worked because of the visual design, here not so much. So as a result all expressions had to be toned down to a point that now many times their faces feel wooden and cold and never are able to transmit us the same emotional roller coaster ride we had during the old one. And this is probably my only gripe with this re-imaging.
Everything seems so perfect that the wooden performances stick out so much that ruin the whole performance. Take Timon for example. In the old film he was such a funny character with his expressions and jokes. Here he is reduced to a simple animal that holds not a single fraction of what made the original Timon such a memorable character. And the same holds true to a lesser degree to almost all other characters.
But except from the character’s performances everything else is so good and well made that it is almost impossible to distinguish what is real and what is fake. At least when we viewed the film it was one of the rare cases that we really couldn’t make the distinction which certainly means a lot for the future of photorealistic special effects. The film is called a hybrid by the filmmakers of real photography with CGI elements and certainly is a first that we have seen it to such an extreme degree. And for sure the film gives us a glimpse of what CGI effects are going to look into the future making the times ahead of us very exciting.
For those children that have never seen the original the new Lion King is the perfect opportunity to experience an amazing story that feels fresh even after all these years even if the performances are not as iconic as we, the older ones, remember. It was inevitable that no matter how good the film would be we would all the time compare the old with the new but we will have to live with that. Disney decided to bring back a certain number of old classics and the new Lion King is certainly a successful one. If we judge by the box office the decision to follow the more photorealistic route worked the best and people seem to accept the new one even if comparison with the original is unfair.
We are certain that there are more than a few romantic ones still holding firmly from the nostalgia that is brought by all these old classics. But we have to be realistic here and profit is what drives this industry forward and as such it was a matter of time before Disney would throw all these old films into the re-imaging frenzy in order what else…to make more money. But we should at least appreciate the fact that Jon Fravreau and the rest of the filmmakers kept the story intact and just presented it with a new shiny cover that brings it in line with our times.
With an amazing story that stays untouched by time and technology that is in the cutting edge of CGI at the moment The Lion King (2019) is a film that ticks all the right boxes and certainly will become a new landmark for the generations that will follow. And if it was not for the wooden expressions we would be talking about an almost perfect film. But as everything in this life no one is perfect. Now if you haven’t seen it yet then make yourself a favor a do so because you are truly missing an amazing spectacle.
The Lion King (2019) roars it’s way into the 4K UHD format with a mesmerizing 2160p resolution, HEVC / H.265 encode courtesy of Disney. The UHD version of the film comes in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, comes with HDR10 and in the disc we find a rock solid Dolby Atmos audio mix.
The film is said to be shot in 6.5K resolution and as usual finished in 2K meaning that practically this release we get here is an upscale but only by name. This must be one of the best UHD upscales we have seen so far and one of the best from Disney as the first thing that will immediately strike you when you start watching is the level of sharpness and clarity that dominates each single scene. The film’s design obviously helps with that as what we get here is a real photography/digital hybrid but nevertheless we were not expecting to get this level of sharpness from what ultimately is a 2K DI.
With each single shot your eyes will be looking for the fine details of each frame as we are bombard with a level of detail that is out of this world. And with such immense clarity HDR really helps to make the image pop out as colors are boosted and make the entire color spectrum come out in full swing. The film’s locales help to give enough diversity from the lush greens of the Pride Lands to the mood greys of the elephant cemetery and with certain elements like blue waters and burning reds of the fires during the last act the UHD encode is a feast to the eyes.
The UHD disc is free of any visible compression artifacts, macroblocking or banding and in general this is a release that really shows what this format is capable of offering.
Let’s see how this release does in the audio department. Having been amazed so much by it’s image quality the accompanying Dolby Atmos falls a bit short and in all honesty this is not fare as the audio mix is a really good one. It’s just that we were so much mesmerized by the ridiculously amazing image quality that you certainly expect an equally top quality audio performance.
The Atmos track provide all the immersion you would expect from such a film with surround and overhead effects feel more complementary to the front and center channels although there are a couple of scenes that they do stand out more than the rest of the film. Also the low end feels a bit underwhelming but obviously this is the kind of film that doesn’t help much in this regard. Overall it’s not a bad mix and will provide the necessary immersion with it’s fine details and encompassing soundstage. It’s just not the kind of mix that will blow you away from start to finish.
Closing we will say that The Lion King (2019) in UHD format is the best version you can see the film at. The image quality is out of this world showing exactly what this next generation format can really do and makes us wonder how the film would look if it had a real 4K Digital Intermediate instead of being a 2K upscale. The Dolby Atmos is rock solid and even though never reaches the same heights quality wise as the image does it does offer an overall amazing experience. If you want to showcase your expensive new TV the UHD version is the perfect choice to do so as what we have here can certainly be classified as reference material at least in the visual department.
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