Lion King spoilers ahead–for both versions!
On July 19, the “live-action” remake of The Lion King debuted in U.S. theaters. “Live-action” is in quotation marks, because really, it’s still animated–only with photorealistic CGI instead of being drawn by hand like the original.
And one of the main criticisms about this remake is that the finely detailed, realistically-rendered characters have less emotional range than their rubbery, hand-drawn counterparts. And if that’s true, then what purpose does the remake serve, other than to look pretty?
Despite the mixed reviews from critics, the movie did gangbusters at the box office, netting $185 million over the weekend. And this trend of remaking Disney’s classic animated canon shall continue unabated. Lady and the Tramp (November 12 on Disney+) and Mulan (March 27, 2020) are next. Lilo and Stitch, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pinocchio, and more will follow suit.
How faithful is the new Lion King to the old one? We noticed the following 25 small changes. And if you liked this gallery, you might also enjoy our live-action Lion King review, and our gallery about the 20 differences between the live-action and animated Aladdin.
1. Fruit or Root?
The opening “Circle of Life” sequence is a near shot-for-shot remake of the original. The only obvious difference is a shot near the end of the song. In the original, Rafiki breaks open a fruit and smears its juices across Simba’s forehead. In the new version, there’s a root instead of a fruit, and when Rafiki rips it apart, it emits a fine red powder, which he then spreads on Simba’s brow.
2. Scar Loved Sarabi?
In both the original and new films, Scar does not attend Simba’s presentation ceremony. Mufasa goes to Scar’s lair to confront him, and in the new film, we learn two interesting things. The first thing is that Scar apparently desired Sarabi, even though Mufasa was the one betrothed to her. “As you know, I have tremendous respect for the queen,” Scar drawls. It’s suggestive, but not concrete; later in the movie, we get our suspicions confirmed.
3. Scar Challenged Mufasa
The second thing we learn, via Zazu, is that Scar should have been banished from the Pride Lands years ago. Apparently, he once challenged Mufasa’s rule, but lost. Despite this, Mufasa could not bear to exile his brother, which is why Scar still lives in the kingdom, albeit at a distance. It gives Scar’s self-deprecating line about Mufasa’s superior “brute strength” some additional, interesting context.
4. Slightly Less Entitlement
In the original version, Simba is gawking at the Pride Lands and exclaims, “And this will all be mine?” and Mufasa responds, “Everything.” In the new version, Mufasa is a little less arrogant; he corrects his son and says that the land does not belong to anyone. He frames the lions as protectors rather than owners of everything that the light touches.
5. A Rite of Passage?
When Scar uses reverse psychology to convince Simba to visit the elephant graveyard in the new film, he takes things one step further. He says that every grown lion has been there before, thus framing the elephant graveyard as a rite of passage from child to adult. This becomes one of the main reasons why Simba visits; he thinks that if he does, no one will treat him like a child anymore, since he will have completed the rite.
6. Realistic To A Fault?
Depending on how much you value realism, you’re either going to love or be disappointed in this movie. The “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” sequence has no vivid fantasy colors, and none of the signature animated bits you remember: the birds in the crocodile’s mouths, the animals forming a massive pyramid, the cubs riding on the backs of ostriches.
The same is true for the other musical numbers; the photorealistic animals are constrained by real world limitations, which means they’re singing while running on all fours. Animals that would walk on all fours in real life, like Rafiki (baboon) and Timon (meekrat), do so for the majority of the movie. Even during the iconic opening sequence, when Rafiki presents Simba to the kingdom, he’s sitting on his haunches instead of standing on two legs.
7. Shenzi and Her Clan
The original film had a trio of “main” hyenas: Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed. This new one positions Shenzi as the clear alpha female, which mirrors hyena clans in real life. Banzai and Ed have been replaced by Kamari and Azizi, who serve as Shenzi’s second- and third-in-command, and are obviously her subordinates.
8. Angrier, Hungrier Hyenas
Much of the humor of the original hyenas–the wisecracking puns, the light jabs at Scar, the internal squabbling–has been largely eliminated. Rather than being slightly sympathetic villains in the original, who were banished from the Pride Lands to the Shadow Lands, the hyenas in the new movie consumed and destroyed their current home, and now want to consume the Pride Lands as well. They are a menacing, obviously destructive force.
When we first see the hyenas interact with Scar in the original, they treat him as a near-equal, and with a considerable degree of friendliness and humor. In the new one, they are constantly angry; they seem one snide remark away from eating Scar on sight.
9. “Be Prepared” Gets Cut Short
The entire “Be Prepared” sequence has been gutted. There’s no Nazi goosestepping hyenas (a homage to Triumph of the Will in the original film) and no massive sulfur explosions. All of the verses have been eliminated in favor of a single new verse, and the final refrain of the chorus. Below are the new lyrics, for your enjoyment (or disappointment):
“Mufasa is yesterday’s message,
A clapped-out, distracted regime
Whose failings undoubtedly presage
The need for a different dream.
Yes, leonine times are a-changin’
Which means that hyenas must too.
My vision is clear and wide-ranging
And even encompasses you.”
10. Finding His Roar
In the original film, Scar tricks Simba into the stampede gorge by saying that he planned a surprise for both him and Mufasa. In the new film, Scar invents another rite of passage: Simba must come to this gorge to “find his roar,” like every young lion before him. Rather than saying that Mufasa will meet up with him, Scar says that he will return to the gorge to check on Simba later.
11. Zazu Gets Help
In the original, Zazu sees that Simba and Mufasa are in trouble, and says to Scar that he’s going to get help. Scar backhands him against a rock, which knocks him out and prevents him from doing so. In the new movie, Scar encourages Zazu to get help from the rest of the pride; he manages to kill Mufasa and banish Simba before the reinforcements arrive.
12. Hyenas Don’t Confirm The Kill
The original hyenas know that Simba survives, but assume that he’ll die out in the desert; they yell after him that if he ever comes back, they’ll kill him. In the new version, the hyenas see Simba go over a cliff, not knowing that he simply fell onto a lower rock shelf. They assume he’s dead from the fall, and they leave rather than checking for the body.
13. More Animal Outcasts
In the oasis where Pumbaa and Timon live, they are not the only outcast animals who thrive there. There’s an entire ecosystem of other animals who also live there and are afraid of Simba’s predator status.
14. Pumbaa Farted!
Back in 1994, it was somewhat naughty for Pumbaa to say “farted” during “Hakuna Matata.” The new movie has a meta joke about this; Pumbaa says the entire word instead of being interrupted, and when Timon doesn’t cut him off or cover his mouth, Pumbaa is shocked that he’s allowed to say it.
15. Circle Or Straight Line?
The movie spends a brief time interrogating the “Circle of Life” dogma that is central to both films. Timon states (correctly!) that the Circle of Life is the rationalization of an animal hierarchy, which places apex predators, like lions, at the very top. Timon instead claims that the animal kingdom is a straight line–everyone in the Pride Lands has to be concerned about being eaten except for Simba, who has the luxury of acting and doing as he pleases.
16. Queen Sarabi?
In the new movie, Scar directly propositions Sarabi to be his queen after Mufasa’s death. And when Sarabi declines, Scar says that unless she says yes, the hyenas will get to eat before the lions. There was a similar, deleted plotline in the original film, in which Scar propositioned Nala. This would have explained why Nala was in the oasis; she had been banished for refusing her king’s advances.
17. Sneaking Out Of The Pridelands
We get a new stealth sequence in the new movie, during which Nala sneaks away from the Pride Lands to get outside help. Zazu catches her out of bed, and after some initial protest, he helps create a distraction for Scar and the hyena guards while Nala gives them the slip.
18. No Implied Lion Sex
There’s a suggestive sequence in the original film, in which Simba is on top of Nala, and Nala gives Simba a pretty telling look (seen above). The movie cuts away once they start necking each other.
In the new movie, the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” sequence takes place during the daytime. And Timon and Pumbaa are watching the two lions throughout, so the audience knows for certain that there’s no hanky-panky going on.
19. The Long and Winding Road
In the original film, Simba’s hair flies on the wind to Rafiki, which is how the baboon finds out that Simba is alive. In the new film, the hair goes on a much more involved, complex journey; at one point, it’s eaten and then pooped out by a giraffe.
20. Subtle Mufasa Ghost
In the original film, Simba sees a vision of Mufasa as a big lion in the clouds, with a moving mouth and vivid colors. In the new film, the effect is much more subtle; you hear Mufasa’s voice and don’t actually see him. But when lightning strikes, it illuminates the clouds to look vaguely like Mufasa’s face.
21. New Beyoncé Song
Beyoncé’s new song, “Spirit,” was originally going to be played during the end credits, but has instead been incorporated into the film. It appears during a montage sequence right before the resolution, when Simba is running back home to the Pride Lands to reclaim his throne.
22. Be Our Guest
In the original film, Timon and Pumbaa serve as bait for the hyena guards; Pumbaa sticks an apple in his mouth, and Timon wears a grass hula skirt and sings a song. In the new film, Timon sings the opening lyrics to “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast before running in terror.
23. Caught in His Lies
In the original film, Simba forces Scar to confess to the lionesses that he murdered Mufasa.
In the new film, the lionesses figure it out on their own; earlier in the movie, Scar mourned that he couldn’t get to the gorge in time to save Mufasa and Simba. This contradicted what he later said about seeing the fear in Mufasa’s eyes.
24. Nala and Shenzi Fight Scene
At the new film’s climax, there is a violent confrontation between Shenzi and Nala, who are positioned as rivals. It ends when Nala tosses her opponent over the cliff. Shenzi survives and later gives her clan the order to kill and eat Scar.
25. Simba’s Missing Judo Flip
In the new film, Simba wrestles and swipes Scar until he falls off the cliff. This is completely different from the original film, in which Scar pounces towards Simba, and Simba redirects his motion and judo throws him off the side.
Typically, the classic Disney films diffuse the hero’s culpability as much as possible. In Tarzan, for example, Clayton inadvertently kills himself by hanging. The new Lion King film places more responsibility for Scar’s death on Simba’s shoulders–even though in both film versions, it’s the hyenas who deliver the killing blow.