About fifteen minutes into the Hindi-dubbed version of Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, it’s hard to understand the point behind a film SO intent on being faithful to its source material. What was the point of this remake? To just showcase Disney’s state-of-the-art motion capture?
But hold on, let’s try and rationalise this. What more does a film like this have to offer? Could it revive the legend of Ashish Vidyarthi, the voice of Scar? Vidyarthi has always been on the cusp of greatness as the definitive villain of the late ’90s, probably too actor-ly and polished for an audience that adored Amrish Puri and Gulshan Grover. Was the point of this film to let Shah Rukh Khan (Mufasa) have ‘the chat’ with his son, Aryan (Simba), before he passed on the torch? Young Simba sings ‘I can’t wait to be King…’ at one point – which could be an indication towards Bollywood and his father’s moniker ‘King Khan’? Too far-fetched, perhaps.
The revival of The Jungle Book did earn more than a billion dollars at the box office, and there was a whole generation who hadn’t witnessed (one of) the most shocking betrayal(s) in pop-culture. How would it look in Disney’s motion capture, the closest thing to make animation look like live-action? Mufasa’s face as Scar pushes him over the edge, as young Simba looks on with helplessness. While the 1994 animated version remains imprinted in our minds, the updated version (in spite of the stellar technology at work) doesn’t quite serve up the drama and the tears. In spite of Vidyarthi’s familiar, menacing voice saying Maharaj ki jai before he does the unspeakable.
Jon Favreau’s The Lion King is a technically proficient film, that does its best to recreate visuals from the iconic predecessor. Built entirely on a sound stage in Los Angeles, The Pride Lands of Africa look (arguably) even more realistic than Wakanda. Then there are the familiar beats of drama, where young Simba feels responsible for his father’s death, the dread around the high-pitched menace of hyenas, a son reconnecting with the spirit of his father. It’s all there in Favreau’s film, but it doesn’t tug at the heart-strings like the original did. Unlike the 1994 film, Favreau’s film remains a ‘spectacle inside a theatre’ and never quite becomes an immersive journey for its audience.
The Hindi adaptations of the classic songs by Elton John & Tim Rice (like Circle of Life & Hakuna Matata) are strictly passable. Armaan Malik and Sunidhi Chauhan are responsible for the Hindi versions with lyrics from Mayur Puri. Some of the biggest beneficiaries of Puri’s free-flowing Hindi dialogue are Shreyas Talpade and Sanjay Misra – the voice of Timon & Pumba respectively. Giving them the Mumbai street lingo is the reason behind some of the film’s funniest moments.
Both Shah Rukh Khan and son, Aryan, aren’t bad in their portions. There’s a moment or two, where Aryan does sound like his famous father, especially when he says ‘Baba’. There is a weariness in Shah Rukh Khan’s voice, as he carefully lists out his ‘lessons’ for young Simba, that works perfectly for Mufasa’s omnipresence in the film.
In the end, Jon Favreau’s The Lion King feels like an indulgence on the part of one of the world’s biggest studios. They made it because they could afford it, and not necessarily because they had something to say. Just like The Jungle Book, even this one might end up raking in a billion dollars at the box office, leaving no one richer with the experience. Except Disney, of course.