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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, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6105098/reference, 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, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6105098/trivia, last accessed 7/27/19.

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

[vi] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6105098/trivia, 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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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      Dale Anderson - How does you wife feel about remakes and reboots in general?

      Kenna McHugh - In years past they would re-release classics every few years. The idea was to introduce the movie to a new generation of children. It seems they are going one better with the live action versions. It is a gutsy move since a remake costs a lot more than a re-release.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      3 weeks ago from The High Seas

      This is a funny topic at our house because my wife rally loves The Lion King original cartoon movie. We have seen the live stage play which she also enjoyed. But she will not even think about going to see this new movie version. Not sure why, but she just makes a sour face whenever I suggest it.

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 

      6 weeks ago from Northern California

      It's a creative and bold move Disney is making with remakes of the animated versions of Disney movies. The animated version of "Beauty and the Beast" was a phenomenal and breathtaking in the quality of the animated scenes, particularly the library-dance scene. When they released "Beauty and the Beast" with real people and live-action, it became a whole new world (pun intended.)

      Now, Disney is leading the way with live-action CGI remakes. It appears to be successful with "Aladdin" and "The Lion King." Bringing in Guy Ritchie and Jon Favreau to direct these movies was a smart move as well. Let's not forget James Cameron, who started playing around with CGI (far more costly then, too) in "Terminator," "Titanic," and "Avatar."

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 weeks ago

      Would definitely be interested in your opinion of the movie. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      I still have to see this movie and I definitely will after reading your article.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 weeks ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. If anyone enjoyed the original then the live action version is worth a look for that reason alone.

    • Lora Hollings profile image

      Lora Hollings 

      7 weeks ago

      After reading your review, I will have to see this new version, Robert. You really piqued my interest with your detailed review about the contrasts and similarities of these two movies. If these animals seem so real in the live action version, it certainly sounds like a movie I have to see. I love lions! And the fact that it was filmed in South Africa makes it sound very realistic yet still with the great story of the Disney classic animated feature. Wonderful review! Thank you.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 weeks ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Peggy Woods - These live action version of originals makes for interesting compares and contrasts.

      FlourishAnyway - The racism criticism was made about the original when it first hit the theaters. It seems Disney has taken such criticisms to heart when making their remakes. The original "Be Prepared" scene has Hyenas marching in review.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 weeks ago from USA

      I read this review with great interest. I loved the first version but have yet to see the new version. I was shocked about the information you presented regarding Nazi themes, racism for having a black mane, etc. I need to rewatch that animated version because I didn’t see that! Wow!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      I loved the original animated version of The Lion King. I have yet to see the new version and read your review with interest. Thanks!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 weeks ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      Liz Westwood - The live action remakes lend themselves for a compare and contrast.

      Sherry Haynes - The traditional version does have a certain quaintness about it. It is similar to the Disney classics that came before it. These live action versions are something different.

    • Sherry H profile image

      Sherry Haynes 

      7 weeks ago

      You've given a very good description here. This has to my favourite childhood movie ever. The upgraded version is truly a treat to watch. I especially loved the plot around Scar. I felt like it came out more remarkable compared to that in the traditional movie. Except for a few more scenes, I think I have a special liking for the traditional version.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 weeks ago from UK

      I have yet to see the new version, but am very familiar with the first Lion King movie. It was a favourite of our children. So I have read your comments with interest.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 weeks ago

      Yes, Disney has been attracting audiences for decades. They mastered the concept of making children's movies that adults can enjoy. It's a great movie model since it sells tickets one family at a time. These live action movies may be the next step in the evolution. The movies seem to make the characters a bit more complex. That makes it more interesting for adults without losing the children in the audience.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I haven't seen the movie but it sounds wonderful. It has made so much money, to say it is popular is an understatement. Your good descriptions make it sound exciting, and I imagine that is why your whole group enjoyed it so much.

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