The live-action remake of the Disney classic The Lion King is finally here. The years-long anticipation for the film has people on edge about what to expect from this new version. Does it still capture the magic of the original cartoon? While there are a few hiccups–mainly that Scar doesn’t look as deliciously evil as he does in the animated movie and that the famous “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” scene takes place during the day–there are five important ways that the live-action remake improves upon the original masterpiece.
1) It’s Blacker than ever
Remember in the ’90s when you had to sit through the unseasoned version of a song in a Disney movie before getting to the song’s Black version that played in the credits? Looking at you, “Tale as Old as Time,” and “A Whole New World.” Well, wait no more. The Black versions are the main songs now because the main cast of Pride Lands lions are voiced by Black actor-singers, including J.D. McCrary as young Simba, ‘Us’ star Shahadi Wright-Joseph as young Nala, Donald Glover as Simba and Beyonce as Nala. Of the main young lions in the 1994 cast, only young Nala was voiced by a Black actress, Niketa Calame-Harris, and while the cartoon version enlisted incredible child actor-singer Jason Weaver to sing the part of young Simba (uncredited), the voice acting role went to Home Improvement star Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Having the main family of African lions all voiced by Black folks this time around (with James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa and Alfre Woodard taking on the role of Sarabi) is a huge improvement.
2) Hyena Ed is no longer an ableist joke and dark skin no longer equals evil
In the original The Lion King, the hyena Ed fell into a frequent ableist Disney trope of an animal sidekick that has some sort of disability that is played up for jokes (here’s looking at you, Hei Hei in Moana and Dante in Coco). Fortunately in the remake, lovable goofballs Eric Andre (who plays the new Ed, now called Azizi) and Keegan Michael-Key, the hyenas bring the humor with personal space jokes rather than ableism. Let’s hope this trend continues.
Though there was quite the social media backlash to Scar’s appearance when the first trailer for The Lion King dropped earlier this year, the hyper-realistic lion’s appearance should be seen as a win. Though black-haired lions don’t appear in nature, the original Scar’s mane was full of it–and a much darker fur covered his body, as well. It was just another example of the white supremacist tropes that have been plaguing the screen since its inception: darker skin equals evil. The live-action version leaves this trope in the past, making Scar leaner than Mufasa with a thinner mane, but essentially the same color. Progress.
3) Improved comedy
Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, and Jon Oliver were born to play Timon, Pumbaa and Zazu. Eichner and Rogen recorded their parts together in the same room, which led to the obvious chemistry we see on screen. The improvised comedy between the two is one of the strongest parts of the film, just as in the original, but Eichner is the clear star of the three sidekicks, with both incredibly biting one-liners and a Broadway singing voice that carries both his and Rogen’s parts through to bring even more magic than the original. Check out Eichner telling Shadow And Act how Timon and Pumbaa’s allyship can be mirrored in real life here.
4) Gorgeous CGI
If the cartoon ever made you long to visit the Pride Lands, the live-action version will transport you there. From the tiny blades of grass Mufasa describes in his Circle of Life speech, to the mouse that runs through the fields and into Scar’s devastating grasp, the CGI brings the story to life and feels more real than you could imagine, especially in that harrowing scene when Mufasa is killed. RIP to a king.
5) 100% more Beyoncé (and Nala)
Beyoncé has been trying to be a Disney princess for years. It was well-known that she put her hat in the ring heavy to voice Tiana in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, but the role went to the wonderful Anika Noni-Rose, instead. Now, Beyoncé is having her turn as Nala, who has an expanded role in the live action than in the original, showing the danger Nala went through under Scar’s reign of terror. She’s also singing a whole new song and curating a whole new The Lion King-inspired album. The music has always been one of the strongest elements of The Lion King, and with Beyoncé on the mic, the live-action version can only be an improvement of queenly proportions.