WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Lion King, in theaters now.
The Lion King remake has one of the most iconic casts of any Disney film. It's a big part of the reason why Disney probably wanted to remake the original with new technology. Beyond Simba, it's an ensemble full of all-star villains, friends and more. And although the 2019 film is largely a recreation of the 1994 original, it does offer new shades to some of the supporting cast.
While this faithfulness works really well in some cases, other times it's totally unexpected. Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) are the comic highlights of the film, largely because of the frankly weird tweaks to the characters and their philosophy. Hakuna Matata is downright depressing in this version of the story, and the pair make a number of jokes poking fun at the fourth wall. It's an unexpected aspect of the film and something that makes the pair stand out even more than the creators probably intended.
IT MEANS NO WORRIES
As in the original film, Timon and Pumbaa find Simba (JD McCaray) on the verge of death. They take him into their scenic home and introduce him to their way of life: "Hakuna Matata." It's an ideology that recommends not to worry about the past and enjoy life in the moment. But whereas the original didn't really delve further into that philosophy, the new film takes the idea further, in a frankly darker direction.
The film argues that the past doesn't matter because nothing matters. At one point, Timon and Pumbaa compare life to a single straight line instead of the circle that Mufasa (James Earl Jones) taught Simba about. It doesn't interact with other lives or the world around it, only going further until it ends.
The pair even suggest they believe in nothing after death, comparing death to everything just going dark and ending. So, they argue, why worry about anything? While it's a little optimistic (focusing on finding the fun in life, even if it's meaningless), it's still an inherently bleak thing to hear Timon and Pumbaa tell a young cub, as well as the audience.
Especially coming from the typical controversy-averse Disney. It's one of the most radical ideas the studio has ever included in a film. To hear it come from the comic relief also makes it even more surprising.
BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL
The Lion King aims to be as realistic as possible. Thanks to the advanced technology used in the film, sections of the movie feel real in a way no other film ever has. As a result, many of the more cartoonish aspects of the original have been toned down. Much of the slapstick has been removed for more dialogue-based comedy. The musical numbers have also been reduced in size and scope, with much of the bright color palettes removed. It tries to maintain the illusion of this film being realistic in every way.
But something that repeatedly draws the audience out of the experience is the various fourth wall-breaking jokes that Timon and Pumbaa make. When they tell Simba about Hakuna Matata, they admit "that usually gets a bigger response" from others. It's a wink to the audience, who likely recognize the term and what it means. When they start singing the song of the same name, they have to count down to make sure they're on the same beat.
The biggest break comes when Pumbaa reaches the point in the song where he says the word "farted." In the original film, Timon cuts him off before he can actually say the lyric: "Hey, Pumbaa! Not in front of the kids!" But in the new version, Pumbaa is free to yell it out. He's even as taken aback as the audience is, outright asking Timon why didn't he stop him like he usually does.
It's all very winking humor aimed at older viewers, and much of it's among the funniest stuff in the film. Rogen and Eicher are great together, and a later scene where Timon sings, "Be Our Guest," to distract the hyenas is arguably the best joke in the film. But they just don't gel with the tone for the rest of the movie, or the experience the film is endeavoring to create. It undercuts the realistic documentary approach, which is a weird decision for the filmmakers to make.
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, Florence Kasumba, Eric André, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones.