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The Lion King: Animated and Live Action Versions

Updated on July 28, 2019
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Movie poster on display in a Virginia theatre, July 2019.The movie poster for The Lion King (1994).A promotional image of The Lion King's characters for The Lion King ((1994).
Movie poster on display in a Virginia theatre, July 2019.
Movie poster on display in a Virginia theatre, July 2019. | Source
The movie poster for The Lion King (1994).
The movie poster for The Lion King (1994). | Source
A promotional image of The Lion King's characters for The Lion King ((1994).
A promotional image of The Lion King's characters for The Lion King ((1994). | Source

Techical and Personal Data

Disney released a live action version of The Lion King in 2019. It is a remake of the 1994 animated movie. Live action seems a loose term since much of the action is CGI. I attended this movie with a party of people who ranged in age from 6 to 89. It was an English language showing. Our party ranged from native language speakers to people who spoke no English. That everyone in the party enjoyed the movie speaks for itself. I watched The Lion King on a standard screen. The movie is available in 3D. The movie has a worldwide box office gross of over $ ½ billion.[i] One capsule will have spoilers for the live action and the animated movie.

[i] These figures are as of Jul 21, 2019,, last accessed 7/27/19.

CGI or Traditional Animation

The live action version closely followed the original’s story line. These movies show the advantages of both. The CGI version has images that are almost indistinguishable from reality. The characters moved as real animals move. The scenery is authentic. South Africa was the scenery filming location. The animated version has more vibrant colors. The characters’ movements and expressions are a mixture of animal, human, and fantasy. The visuals of the live action version worked against it during the climactic fight scene. The fighting took place in the dark and as with most combat scenes set at night it’s difficult to distinguish which side is winning.

The Plot

The Lion King has a newborn son. This moves the king’s brother from first in line to second in line. The king’s brother plots to kill his nephew. The king ends up dead and the cub goes into hiding. A warthog and a meerkat, with a “don’t worry be happy” philosophy, find the cub. They raise the lion cub and teach him to live their carefree lifestyle.

The new lion king, through lack of wildlife management, has brought famine on the land. A young lioness runs off to find help. She finds the, now grown, true heir to the throne. She convinces him to come back to the pride with her. This sets up a showdown between the young lion and his uncle to decide who will be The Lion King.

Compare and Contrast – Spoilers Here

The “Circle of Life”[i] scenes are mostly similar. The notable exception is Zazu’s fly in. The animated version gave a bird’s eye view of it. The animation included the uneven flapping and movement of birds in flight.

There were claims of racism concerning the animated movie since Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and Simba (Matthew Broderick), had red manes while Scar (Jeremy Irons), the evil lion, had a black mane. In the live action version Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) had the same color mane as the other lions. The similar mane color added to the confusion of the climatic fight scene.

The live action “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” scene does an excellent job of showing how Zazu (John Oliver) loses track of two lion cubs (Simba and Nala). The live action version also shows a natural explanation of how Rafiki (John Kani) figures out Simba is still alive. It may be the only, non-nature documentary, movie where a dung beetle plays a pivotal role. In the live action version Rafiki has a staff but handles it as one might expect a real mandrill to handle a staff.[ii] In the animated version Rafiki uses the staff as a Kung Fu master would use one.

In the animated movie Shenzi (Whoppi Goldberg) is the leader of the hyenas in the sense that Moe was the leader of The Three Stooges. In the live action version Shenzi (Florence Kasumba) is the hyena leader. This set up a cat fight between Shenzi and Nala (Beyoncé) at the climax.[iii] The elephant graveyard scene involved more than three hyenas. The heyena attempt to kill Simba and Nala is more intense in the live action version. The fight in between Mustasa and the hyenas in the graveyard scene, and subsequent fights, are more realistic looking than in the animated version.

“Be Prepared” is the villain song. Disney initially left the song out of the live action movie because Chiwetel Ejiofor doesn’t have a good singing voice and the Nazi themes in the animated versions’ scene.[iv] The later reason seems odd since Nazis and Nazi themes are frequently used in movies and television.[v] The critics and fan uproar caused Disney to change its mind.[vi] Disney does deserve credit for listening to its fans. The song was shortened and reworded. It is a credible song and scene but the animated version of both are clearly superior.

Scar’s speech in explaining the alliance he made with the hyenas is imaginative in the live action version. He explains since he wasn’t as strong as Mufasa (James Earl Jones) he had to make an alliance with the hyenas.

In the animated version Nathan Lane (Timon) and Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) sing a couple of lines of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that seemed a “we had to throw it in tip of the hat”. The live action version has a full video of the song that is expertly done.

In the live action version when Pumbaa (Seth Rogan) acts as a diversion for the hyenas the hyenas corner him. A hyena calls Pumbaa fat and Pumbaa says “I may run from hyenas, but I do not run from a bully!” Then Pumbaa makes the hunters the hunted.

[i] Performed by Lindiwe Mkhize (2019), Carmen Twillie (1994).

[ii] I’m writing as one non-mandrill expert to other non-experts.

[iii] I couldn’t resist the pun.

[iv] International Movie Database,, last accessed 7/27/19.

[v] The Wehrmacht isn’t the only military that used the goose step.

[vi] International Movie Database,, last accessed 7/27/19. Yes, another pun.

The Lion King 2019

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


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