Disney’s The Lion King Animated vs. Live-Action

Morgan Montgomery, Business Manager

Disney has made multiple live-action moves from their animated films, one movie being The Lion King. While the live-action is good for what it is, the animated movie is so much better.

Young Simba, played by Jonathon Taylor Thomas in the animated film, was full of life and very playful. He’s cocky and is sure he’s going to make a great king, and he’s going to do whatever he wants. In the live-action film, young Simba is played by JD McCrary and he does a good job of bringing out the character; however, Thomas has more personality and innocence. Overall, Thomas voices the character better. Thomas’s singing is good, but I think McCrary’s voice is better as he has a better tone and voice quality, which makes him sound more professional than Thomas did. 

Young Nala is very carefree, but at the same time, she’s cautious and worried about her and Simba’s safety. In the animated version, Niketa Calame-Harris voices young Nala while in the live-action, she is voiced by Shahadi Wright Joseph. Both have great voices and both have great chemistry with their counterpart. Joseph does feel a little bit more genuine in playing the character though because it seems that more emotion comes through in her voice than it does in Harris’.

Scar, played by Jeremy Irons in the original and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the live-action, is one of the most essential characters in the film. In the live-action, Scar looks much too mangey. While he is supposed to look dirty and decrepit, the live-action went a bit too far with the end result being more creepy than mangey. The song ‘Be Prepared’, in the original, was executed very well and the colors that are presented in the animated version gave the song a visual edge. While it needed visual assistance, Irons’ voice needed no help giving the song vocal edginess. In the live-action, however, it’s not a full song and, quite frankly, it’s a sad attempt at the scene. Ejiofor rarely sings, and when he does, it’s awful. Ejiofor rarely uses the right tone when he’s delivering critical lines, which also makes him wrong for the role.

Rafiki, the not-as-lunatic-as-we-always-thought monkey who we all know and love, is played in the original by Robert Guillaume. Guillaume gives the character spirit and personality. In the live-action, John Kani plays Rafiki, and he doesn’t give the character enough spirit. The character in the live-action actually makes some sense and does normal things that Simba could understand, which isn’t what we know the character to be. Overall, Rafiki, in the live-action, wasn’t as crazy as he should have been.

Timon and Pumbaa, in the live-action, weren’t as funny as the originals. Billy Eichner, who plays Timon, isn’t funny and is rather annoying most of the time. That being said, he does have a phenomenal voice. In the original, Nathan Lane voiced Timon and was hilarious. Pumbaa, in the original, is voiced by Ernie Sabella and is very comedic and does a phenomenal job with the character. Seth Rogan, Pumbaa in the live-action, also does a great job with the character. Rogan’s comedy makes up for Eichner’s annoyingness. The hula scene at the end, when they distract the hyenas, was improvised, and it was funny. In the live-action, they instead sing ‘Be Our Guest’ from Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, which could be clever, but it’s not executed as well as it could have been.

Adult Nala is voiced by Moira Kelly in the animated version and Beyonce Knowles in the live-action. The only real difference between the two is the emotion conveyed through their voices. Kelly is more raw and genuine, sincere, whereas Knowles sounds like she’s just reading a script. That being said, Knowles does an overall good job with the personality aspect of Nala. She may not sound as appealing, but the little things she does, such as the giggles, really shows the character and personality of Nala. Knowles has a better vocal ability though as she is a professional, Grammy award-winning singer, so her voice is much better than Kelly’s.

Matthew Broderick voices Simba in the animated version. Broderick does a good job of portraying the raw emotion in Simba’s voice and the overall naivety of Simba. He’s an innocent character who shoulders the guilt of something he’s never done, and the viewer sees that in the animated character, he’s raw and real. Donald Glover, musically known as Childish Gambino, voices Simba in the live-action version. While Glover has a phenomenal voice, he doesn’t feel as real. It feels to the viewer as though he’s saying it because he has to, not because it comes from his heart. For instance, in the end, Simba says “give me one good reason I shouldn’t tear you apart”, and Broderick says it with conviction and anger, whereas Glover says it angrily, but not with any conviction or passion. 

The visual aspect of the live-action movie was good. While the animated version is charming because of the animation and the amazing scenes they’re able to create, the live-action also has some charm of its own. They were able to recreate the scenes almost perfectly, save Timon and Pumbaa’s living quarters. Because Timon and Pumbaa live in a tropical paradise that is full of shapes and colors, it didn’t look as good in live-action, it was less mystical and magical in the live-action. Other than that one scene, the live-action film was very visually appealing most of the time. 

The original has a lot on the live-action. The live-action is much too real, part of the charm of The Lion King is the fact that it’s not completely accurate and it is an emotional story, and making it so real takes some of that charm away. The hyenas don’t have near as much personality in the live-action either, it makes them feel less important and just minions to Scar who can’t make their own decisions, and although they’re bad, I don’t want to see them get hurt, and with the CGI, the viewer does see that. The chemistry between the characters in the animated is also more present than it is in the live-action. The only one up the live-action has is the musical talent and the notable cast.