Fancy technology and new CGI tools can’t save this dull, uninspired remake of Disney’s beloved animated musical The Lion King.
Directed by Jon Favreau [Iron Man (2008), The Jungle Book (2016)] this new photorealistic re-telling of The Lion King is mostly a shot-for-shot and almost word-for-word remake of the 1994 original animated film from Disney Animation. The filmmakers have provided us with a beautifully-shot nature documentary-style of film (with animals that speak English, that is…) that sacrifices art for realism.
The realism, while very well done, strips the story of one of the things that made it great in the first place—the incredible art and animation created by the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Without the art and heightened interpretation of the natural world as done by the Disney Animation team, the film just becomes an impressive but lifeless technological shell of its former self.
A major disappointment in choosing to follow the original script so closely is that the new vocal and musical artists brought on board (namely Donald Glover, the voice of grown-up Simba, Beyoncé, the voice of grown-up Nala, and music producer Pharell Williams) weren’t given anything new or interesting to do (Beyoncé gets half a new song near the end of Act II and is also involved with a Lion King-inspired album soon to be released but that’s it). I hate to be prescriptive here, but I was hoping for at least some new songs or some new material for these incredibly talented people to participate in that would make this re-telling more unique (think of what Disney did with the Broadway production of The Lion King).
The comic relief characters Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) are funny enough and, thankfully, get a new line or two that actually made me laugh, but still should have been given more to do as well. And, sadly, the great actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s interpretation of the villainous Scar can’t compare with the campy and scary performance of Jeremy Irons from the original animated film.
Every five minutes during the screening, I just wanted the projectionist to roll the 1994 original instead of this needless, uninventive rehash. I know that Disney is probably not going to stop with these remakes, at least not in my lifetime, but I sure wish they would just appropriately honor and re-release the original animated films on the big screen and focus their tremendous creative and financial resources in more original ways.
Woody gets reunited with Bo Peep and has to make some serious decisions about how he wants to live his life in Pixar Animation Studios’ brilliant and beautiful Toy Story 4.
The film’s main storyline picks up basically right where we left the toys after 2010’s Toy Story 3: Andy has gone off to college and Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (again voiced by Tim Allen), and all of Andy’s other toys now belong to a young girl named Bonnie. Woody and the gang now all play second fiddle to Bonnie’s existing toys. In fact, Woody gets played with less and less as Bonnie is preferring other toys over him.
When Bonnie reluctantly goes to her orientation day of kindergarten, she ends up making a rudimentary toy out of a plastic “spork” and names him “Forky.” Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) instantly becomes Bonnie’s favorite toy; however, Forky isn’t quite sure that he wants to be a toy or that he wants to stay in Bonnie’s room so he keeps throwing himself in whatever garbage container he can find. Because of Bonnie’s devotion to him and because Woody needs something to do since he’s not needed as much, Woody makes it his primary job to keep Forky safe for Bonnie.
Things really start to get interesting when Bonnie and her parents rent an RV and take a road trip during the last week of summer before school starts. At one point along the highway, Forky decides to throw himself away outside a window, so Woody feels compelled to follow him with a plan to meet back up with the gang at an RV campground a few miles down the road where the family is planning to stop for the night.
The delightful and thought-provoking adventure comedy that follows focuses mostly on the character arc of our favorite toy sheriff, Woody. Through an interesting series of events, Woody gets reunited with his former love, Bo Peep (voiced again by Annie Potts), who has made a new life for herself independent of any human child (or any human for that matter). Also in Woody’s path is a defective talking doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) who thinks that Woody has what it takes for her to get repaired and, therefore, wanted by a human child.
While he has to continue to save Forky from himself and his surroundings, Woody also is faced with some difficult questions about what the purpose of his life is (I’ll keep this review spoiler free…). Needless to say, the conclusions are satisfying and surprising.
All of the living character voices have returned from the previous Toy Story films (the film has a dedication to actor Don Rickles, the voice of Mr. Potato Head, who passed away in 2017). New to the cast are the carnival plush toys Ducky and Bunny, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and Canadian stunt motorcyclist Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves, who steals the show.
Director Josh Cooley and team have created another outstanding animated comedy and a worthy addition to the storied Toy Story films. Probably what I loved the most about this film is its intelligent script and Pixar’s exacting commitment to story, as has been the case with the three previous Toy Story films, too. While I wasn’t sure that we needed another Toy Story after the extremely satisfying and emotional ending to Toy Story 3, this new adventure with the Toy Story gang is so entertaining and so much fun, it made me question why I questioned the Pixar folks in the first place.
Leave it to the magicians at Pixar to create not only a very interesting continuation to the storyline and ideas from the previous Toy Story films, but to also create a film with so much heart and humor and with so much gorgeous animation that it takes your breath away.