WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Lion King, in theaters now.
With the advancement in technology since 1994, one would certainly go into Disney's remake of The Lion King expecting the fun moments from the original movie to be amped up big time. In fact, you'd expect these moments to make a bigger impact in the narrative and provide a spectacle one could have only dreamt of 25 years ago.
Sadly, as much as director Jon Favreau and his team tries to advance the look and feel of the modern retelling, for whatever reason, the best moments from the animated movie are severely watered down leaving you feeling a bit sold short in reconciling that trip down memory lane.
THE HULA DANCE
In the original, when Simba and Nala try to sneak back to Pride Rock, they see Scar's hyena army and decide to use live bait as a distraction. Timon asks jokingly if he should dress in drag and do a hula dance, which hilariously ends up being the case. He goes onto repurpose the "Hawaiian War Chant," written in the 1860s by Prince Leleiohoku, changing up the lyrics and enticing the hyenas to run them down to eat Pumbaa, thus allowing the lions to sneak in.
Favreau sadly axes the luau from this film, instead opting to have Timon sing the opening words of "Be Our Guest" in a patronizing French accent as if they're in a five-star restaurant. The message is the same as he riffs on Beauty and the Beast, tricking the hyenas to chase them down for a meal. Now, while the film operates in a quasi-realistic realm, pulling out the Hawaiian skirt and dancing to showcase Pumbaa really wouldn't have been that far-fetched because, hey, it's a Disney movie.
Even if it wasn't a luau, the diversion could have been cheekier, better and longer than a few seconds as it's such a crucial cog in Simba getting back to his mother and to eventually face Scar. Most of all, taking away the silly theatrics of this scene dilutes the impact and also robs Timon and Pumbaa of their most glorious moment in the franchise.
RAFIKI, THE STICK FIGHTER
The '94 film had hyenas outnumbering the lions on Pride Rock as Simba led the rebellion to depose the tyrannical Scar. Amid the claws and bruises, Rafiki, the wise monkey, enters the fray and uses his mystical staff to beat down and slap away hyenas kung-fu style. It's a badass moment that shows he's more than just a shaman, and basically, someone no animal in the kingdom should mess with. Also, seeing as he's comic relief, it adds a brilliant duality to see Rafiki in combat like this.
Favreau doesn't come anywhere near this when he has his Rafiki saving Zazu from being devoured by hyenas, because as the monkey touches down, he simply begins swinging his stick around like a madman. There's no art or fluidity to this, and even if fans did think the old film felt like cultural appropriation due to the sound effects of Rafiki being a martial artist, there's a simply workaround Disney could have employed.
The African art of stick-fighting could have been used, which would have organically fit Rafiki's character. He'd have been an elite warrior, true to his roots and honoring the culture of the continent. But rather than paint Rafiki as this hero, the new film just makes him an ordinary animal wielding a staff as if it were a baseball bat rather than a mystical instrument of justice.
THE GHOST OF MUFASA
When Rafiki takes Simba to meet Mufasa's ghost in the '94 film, it's a very emotional moment as he sees his dad in the water when he tries to look at his own reflection. It reiterates Rafiki's point that Mufasa lives on in Simba, immediately followed by the king-in-waiting seeing his dad's ghost in the clouds. The way this takes shape and turns into Mufasa's spirit is quite beautiful and really tugs at your heartstrings.
Favreau's new film follows this water sequence to a tee, but when the time comes for the clouds to form Mufasa's ghost, it's shockingly tame. The clouds don't form anything close to a lion king. You do get a hint of Mufasa's face when the lightning strikes and illuminates the clouds, but in this day and age that should be easier to spot with a bigger and more creative wow factor. Instead, this honestly feels like the Galactus cloud from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
This moment lacks any sort of regal nature and feels scaled-down, exacerbated by our high expectations for this interaction. It's one of Lion King's most pivotal moments, one which convinces Simba to return to take the throne from Scar. Sure, James Earl Jones delivers the goods vocally as Mufasa, but this is one shot that needs to be as much style as it is substance, and sadly this isn't the case here.
SIMBA'S KILLING BLOW
When Scar and Simba engage in battle at Pride Rock, the evil uncle throws fiery embers into Simba's face and they brawl on the edge of a cliff. This leads to Scar pouncing dramatically in slow-motion on Simba for the kill, only for the latter to catch him using his feet and propel the villain over the cliff where the hyenas would devour him. It's a true warrior move and shows how Simba improvises in the field, using his brain against Scar's brawn.
Favreau diminishes this particular killing blow, though, because after Scar blinds Simba, they simply grapple and push each other around until Scar slips off the cliff and into the path of the hungry hyenas. Again, this has no pizzazz to it and ruins Simba's epic showing as a fighter. One has to wonder why the studio changed this bit of fight choreography up as it would have fashioned Simba in an intimidating and cunning light like his father.
All Favreau does here is make Scar clumsy and unaware of his surroundings, which honestly doesn't fit his character in the movie. He knows every step to make except what Simba has to throw at him, so this dumbs the evil lion down and lessens Simba's worth as the king of the jungle.
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.