Lion King – Animated vs Broadway vs Live Action

live action lion king with baby simba
It’s the Circle of life. (Sniff!)

The “live action” (actually CGI, folks) remake of The Lion King is hitting theaters.  This new version of the Disney 1994 classic features significant differences.  Now is a great time to return to Pride Rock — and revisit Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Mufasa, Zazu, and Rafiki — as we compare the animated, Broadway, and the live action versions of The Lion King.

The Animated Version of The Lion King

In the summer of 1994, Disney released The Lion King.  It was the fifth film in the Disney renaissance that started with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  It was also the first Disney animated film that featured an original story, and not an adaptation of an existing property.  Although it does have strong similarities to the play Hamlet….(link goes to our cool comparison post).

Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the award-winning songs for the soundtrack. Remember Hakuna Matata, and Can You Feel the Love Tonight?   Hans Zimmer himself composed the score.

The movie was a true critical and box office success!

hakuna matata log scene from lion king with simba, timon, and pumbaa
Hakuna matata, forever!

Synopsis of The Lion King (Spoilers)

The film starts with a young lion cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), heir to his father Mufasa’s throne.

All three versions of The Lion King open with the song “The Circle of Life” with the mandrill Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) presenting newborn Simba to the animal kingdom, who bow in reverence.

Simba’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) murders Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and blames Simba for it, sending him into exile and taking over the throne.  Simba forms a new family with free spirits Meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and Warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), who rescue him in the desert.  He embraces their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata” (No Worries).

Time passes.  Simba’s friend and love interest Nala (Moira Kelly) goes in search of him, and finds adult Simba (Matthew Broderick).  They fall in love (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”)  Nala tells him the Pride Lands are in ruin and everyone is starving under Scar’s reign.  She urges him to return home.

Simba refuses and storms off, unable to tell Nala he “killed” Mufasa.  Simba runs into Rafiki, who tells him his father’s spirit lives on in him.  Simba is visited by Mufasa’s spirit, who tells him he must take his rightful place as king (the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther has this concept too, and is also from Disney Studios…hmmmm).

Unable to run anymore, Simba returns home.  Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyenas so Simba can get to Scar.  When Scar thinks he has Simba cornered, he confesses to murdering Mufasa.  Simba pins him to the ground and forces him to confess this out loud to everyone.  Like all Disney villains, Scar ends up getting what he deserves.  Simba takes his rightful place as king with Nala as his queen.  The last scene is of Rafiki presenting their own newborn cub.

The lion king broadway poster
See The Lion King on Broadway, or at Disneyworld, if you ever get the chance!

The Broadway Version of The Lion King

In 1997, Disney brought the Lion King to Broadway.  Beauty and the Beast was still going strong as a musical, so why not adapt one of their other biggest hits for the stage?  Indeed.

From the very start, Lion King was getting rave reviews and selling out. It won six Tonys, including Best Musical.  It is Broadway’s third-longest running show, and the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time.  It made over a billion dollars.  Julie Taymor became the first woman to win Best Director of a Musical.

One of the most significant differences between the Broadway version of — and the other versions of — The Lion King is the appearance of the animals.

Animation is not an option for a live theatrical Broadway performance.  Instead, Julie Taymor designed elaborate costumes — most of them based on puppetry — that create not only the illusion of the animals, but the grace of their movements.

Having seen the show at least five times, I can tell you the effect is breathtaking.  It is the kind of creative risk one wishes Disney would take more of.

rafiki in the lion king broadway musical
Rafiki in the Lion King Broadway musical

Another significant difference is that Rafiki was changed to female, and the role is now traditionally played by a woman on stage.  According to the Wikipedia, Taymor believed there was no leading female character in the film.  Rafiki becomes a sort of Greek chorus in the musical.  She actually leads the song, “The Circle of Life” at the top of the show.

New Lion King Songs in the Broadway Musical

Musicals are generally longer than the average Disney cartoon.  So material had to be added to flesh out the show.  Significant new songs included Zazu’s pun-filled “Morning Report,” Mufasa’s powerful explanation of ancestors “They Live in You,”  Rafiki’s reprise to Simba about Mufasa “He Lives in You,” and Simba’s lament “Endless Night.”

Other new songs written for the musical include:  “Grasslands Chant,” “The Lioness Hunt,” “Chow Down,” “Rafiki Mourns,” “One by One,” “The Madness of King Scar,” “Shadowland,” and “Simba Confronts Scar.”

The book was written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, along with additional music and lyrics by Lebo MMark MancinaJay RifkinJulie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer.

Rafiki’s chants in “Rafiki Mourns” were written by Tsidii Le Loka, who originated the role on Broadway.  Of course, favorites from the animated movie such as “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” remain intact.

The Lion King musical also includes new scenes:

There is a conversation between Zazu and Mufasa about his parenting.  Timon nearly drowns in a waterfall while Simba watches, paralyzed.  This is an event that helps remind him of who he is and the power he has.  Nala departs from Scar when he tries to make her his queen in “The Madness of King Scar.”  She announces her intention to leave home and find help.  During new song “Shadowland”, the other lionesses and Rafiki bless her.

Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical
Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical

Of course, there were new actors playing the roles when the show debuted on Broadway.  The one I felt was especially cool was Max Casella, originating the role of Timon on-stage.  Those of you from my generation may remember him as Vinnie, Neil Patrick Harris’s best friend on Doogie Howser, M.D.

The Live Action Version of The Lion King

It is now 2019 and Disney has gone a little remake crazy. (Done or coming next: The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Mulan, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid.)  Then again, after seeing the promos that show the photo-realistic Circle of Life sequence, a live action Lion King kind of feels irresistible.

I should start off by saying “live action” is a misnomer.  Even though we’re all using this expression, the animals are actually computer generated animation.

A few things the new Lion King has in common with the original:  James Earl Jones is again the voice of Mufasa (as well he should be).  And Rafiki is male again.

Like the Broadway version, the new movie includes The Tokens’ classic pop song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  The Broadway song, “He Lives In You” is also represented.  “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are, of course, highlights of the film.

The movie also boasts a few new songs.  Beyonce contributed a song called “Spirit” and Elton John wrote a new song called “Never Too Late” — which plays over the credits.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s new version of “Be Prepared” is reported to be toothless compared to the original Jeremy Irons version.  Which is ironic, because his version of Scar is angrier and scarier, according to reviews.  He even fought Mufasa for the crown and lost: a new addition to the villain’s back story.

The visuals in the new movie are beautiful.  This is constant across all versions of The Lion King.  The sets on Broadway are amazing.  The look of the original animated film is still dazzling.  (If they ever do another IMAX re-release or even just a theatrical re-release, I highly recommend it.)

According to critics, the new movie fails in two key areas:

One is that by making the film photo-realistic, the characters and the world are now bound by the constraints of reality.  For instance, you can’t have a massive animal pile-up at the climax of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” or an army of hyenas during “Be Prepared.”

The 1994 film wasn’t bound by such constraints.  The Broadway musical gets around this by using a combination of inventive costumes and set pieces, stage magic, and the participation of the audience.  When you’re watching a play, you fill in things with your own imagination.  You’re an active participant in the process.

When you watch a movie, you’re more passive.  You don’t get to co-create the experience with the filmmaker.

The second flaw with the new movie is the limited range of expression the animals have.  Again, this is a problem with setting the movie in a photo-realistic world.  In animation and theater, you can get away with going over the top.  In theater, you have to play to the back row.  However, to accurately portray how an animal looks, you can’t exaggerate its features.

And Timon and Pumbaa? 

The good news is that Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) steal the show here (as they do in pretty much every version).  Some critics claim they’re even more fun in this version than in the original.

*****

Don’t forget to bring the RunPee app to The Lion King

It’s a jungle out there.  Don’t go to the movies without the RunPee app or you  might miss the best parts.  We’ve got Peetimes for The Lion King, Toy Story 4, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, with new movies added every week.  To stay up to date on the latest movie news and reviews, follow us on Twitter @RunPee and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RunPee/.

Aladdin –  Animated vs Stage vs Live Action

The Lion King – Can Disney Remake a Masterpiece?

Surprise! The Lion King is a Hamlet Remake

Character voices for Lion King

The Lion King – Can Disney Remake a Masterpiece?

My two cents worth as I anticipate The Lion King this week. I’m fascinated to see how Disney can remake a masterpiece. The original movie was amazing, and the stage musical was also, in an entirely different way. When my daughter, Destiny, and I saw the musical in Chicago, we were absolutely blown away by the production and costumes. I didn’t think I could love the movie anymore, but I did even more after the musical experience.

Destiny and I love ALL things Disney, and we are amazed at their attention to detail.  I’ve also taken the leadership course at Disney Institute, and their behind the scenes operational ethics are inspiring. For example, when Disney was making the Lion King musical, they spent months figuring out how to make the stage elephant blink perfectly, timely, and look real, simultaneously.

I especially can’t wait until I see the opening scene of the movie. I literally cry every time I see it, and I cried during the musical as well. They used live animals to enter from the back of the theatre, and walked to the stage (Pride Rock) —  and it was absolutely the most amazing and breathtaking thing I had seen in all my life.

Like many of you, I’ve seen The Lion King, via DVD, more than 25 times, and I know every scene and song. So to say, I’ll be especially sensitive watching the remake to ensure Disney didn’t ruin my ultimate love affair with my DVD replay. This is an understatement. I’m sure Disney is feeling the pressure too, but if I know them at all, this too, will be A+ amazing.

So don’t underestimate the magic of Disney. Walt Disney and the entire staff thrive on his words: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”  And on Thursday, July 19, Disney. will. do. it. again! (Exhale)

The Lion King – Lyrics and Video to Hakuna Matata

The Lion Sleeps Tonight Lyrics & Video from The Lion King

 

Virgin Movie Review – Jim Carrey’s The Grinch (2000)

Jim Carrey is the grinch
He’s a mean one. Also deranged, and possibly a pedophile.

Holy hell, this was directed by Ron Howard? Normally I love his touch. And as for Jim Carrey, I’ve always been a fan. Not with this. This is the Carrey equivalent of Bill Murrey’s Garfield: a true WTF?

I imagine (and know for sure, based on my own great-niece’s preferences) some people like this Grinch. Maybe they weren’t weaned on the 26-minute 1966 animated Dr. Seuss version like I was, that with even this year still made me cry with happiness. CRYING. TEARS running down my face.

[pullquote]This one? I was confused. I was bored. I had a headache from the non-stop and frankly exhausting Grinchy chatter intended as humor, and came off just weird — the bad kind of weird.[/pullquote] It felt more like a Tim Burton offering. (Which is weirder than ever for me, since I normally am not a Burton fan. But then, I just did a Virgin Review of Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes and kind of loved it. It’s clearly opposite week for me.)  😉

Even Max the dog couldn’t save this effort, and I previously gave the 2018  ‘meh’ new Grinch full length animal feature a D+ for cute animal action. This one, sadly, gets only a D, at best, for Whoville’s creative set design, and a nice kiddo as Cindy Lou Who. This Cindy Lou was sweet, and saved the 2000 Grinch from a D- or F+ grade.

By contrast, I gave the old 1966 Christmas special an A grade, and I don’t give that grade away easily. I expected it look old at the seams…but it happily held up through time, and made my own heart swell three sizes by the end.

Back to the 2000 live-action Grinch. I watched it last night with zero foreknowledge and the best of intentions. And for the first time in EVER in Netflixing films, I had to fast-forward over entire sections of dullness. I would have turned this off and picked something else,  but had to watch it through for my review.

Also, I wanted to know why the Grinch was compelled to sound like Sean Connery? Minor note, but it distracted me. [pullquote position=”right”]Jim Carrey normally is brilliant in his vocal and physical humor. Was he directed to filibuster like this?[/pullquote] Is he proud of this film?

There were a few funny jokes landing among the barrage of awkward efforts: I thought the joke about Santa’s reindeer was cute: “On Thrasher and Crasher and Vomit and Blitzkrieg…” <—- heh. Some moments of cleverness stuck, but most felt like film spaghetti tossed at the wall to see what would stick. Robin Wiliams mastered that kind of improvisation, and maybe that’s what Carrey was going for.

Even the songs lacked. I expected a fun delivery of the classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”…well, yawn. Then the final “Fahoo Foray” song was merely competent. Moving on.

What about the Whos in Whoville? Here was another cardinal sin:  these townspeople were unpleasant, underhanded, and a little bit creepy. While the Grinch, instead of being merely a cranky, damaged soul, was just deranged. I have no idea why this movie went down the paths it chose. Dark, weird, sinister, yada yada. [pullquote]The Grinch tale at heart is a story about alienation, rejection, and isolation, but it isn’t supposed to make you wonder if predatory sexual advances (with a whiff of pedophilia) are appropriate.[/pullquote]

The Cindy Lou character saved this version me, but expanding her role also undercut the rest of what should have went down that fated Christmas morning in Whoville. I know this is subjective, but one nice child can’t a plot pivot make. I didn’t buy this Grinch’s transformation: I don’t think he did either. We weren’t given a beat to breathe or let the story have any emotional landing space.

A tale of two Grinches
Some Grinch on Grinch action.

Alternatively, the new 2018 full-length Grinch movie didn’t make me cry either. It had nice technical animation and cute critters, but the story was a cup of plain vanilla yogurt.

So here it is: I say it’s time to stop messing with a classic. It’s like when Peter Jackson made that short Hobbit book into three bloated, sometimes off-putting films: like butter scraped over too much bread. If you’re a big LOTR fan, you’ll get the reference.  But anyone who’s had breakfast will get it anyway. 🙂

Movie Grade: D 

Movie Rewatch Review — Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

The Grinch Who Keeps Stealing Christmas

In Defense of the Grinch (1966)

The Grinch Who Keeps Stealing Christmas

He's still a mean one.
He’s still a mean one.

With the newest incarnation of The Grinch in theaters this year, we thought it was time to take a look at the history of this mean green creature, who is both dastardly and oddly sympathetic.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas  (1957) – The original kid’s book by Dr. Seuss is beloved, and for very good reasons. It started it all, showing us a grumpy Gus who hates the holiday (shades of A Christmas Carol). He steals, he lies, he abuses his dog Max, and breaks Cindy Lou Who’s trust…but eventually hears the joyous music and comes through in the end. This is an allegory for humanity, in a real way. [pullquote]We can be mean, we can hurt others to hide our own miserable loneliness…but if we open ourselves — just a crack — to others…well, we might learn to belong after all.[/pullquote] Who hasn’t known this kind of profound alienation? Who doesn’t secretly dream of being accepted despite the petty crimes we’ve committed? The message hits us right in the feels. Dr. Seuss knew it. This is among the three top stories he gifted to generations of children. (Along with The Lorax and The Cat in The Hat. Can’t argue with those.)

How The Grinch Stole Christmas –  A faithful and rousing rendition of the Dr. Seuss book, the animated 26-minute special from 1966 is definitely something…yes, special. Growing up with this, it was a traditional treat to rewatch it every year, as a child. I still watch it now to herald the holiday season. Good animation, great songs (I still sing the refrain), and a story to make your heart grow three sizes in the end. A-level work.

The Grinch (2000) – The live action version with Jim Carrey dropped on the scene to a mostly poor reception. (It seems Carrey doesn’t always have the magic touch.) I recently watched this for the first time, and found it lacking. Middling, dank, arbitrary, and a bit sour. Ron Howard himself directed, and usually produces great films. What happened to the color, the joy, the fun? Not everyone panned it, however. The Wikipedia reports, “Despite mixed reviews that often compared the film unfavorably to the 1966 special, it won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Art Directionand Best Costume Design.”

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – [pullquote position=”right”]Did we need ANOTHER Grinch? Why reboot this one; it’s been done enough, surely? [/pullquote]In spite of my fears, every time I saw the new animated trailer in theaters I smiled and giggled in spite of myself. It looks a world of better than the live action version. I think they might get it right! I’m not the kind of critic who wants to see the same darn themes rebooted every few years, but agree Pixar knows how to craft a film. The trailer looks charming and fun: I’m all over it. If it doesn’t suck, it might put this story to bed, finally. NOTE, after seeing the 2018 movie: it didn’t. Here’s my Grinch-like review.

Watch The Grinch Trailers, to get you in the proper mood for the Mean One this Christmas: 

The Final Grinch Trailer:  

In Defense of the Grinch (1966)

In Defense of the Grinch (1966)

Movie Review – The Grinch (2018)