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The Lion King

animation, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Even the most Disney agnostic of cinema audiences are likely familiar with The Lion King. The 1994 animated feature remains one of the House of Mouse’s most beloved works, and is a masterclass in storytelling, style and emotion. That’s not a bad effort for what essentially amounts to Hamlet retold with some songs and cartoon carnivores. Since Disney seems intent on turning all of their animated features into “live action” concerns, it was inevitable that we’d get to this mane event, and the studio seemingly failure-proofed it. First up, director Jon Favreau – the bloke who directed the surprisingly solid live action The Jungle Book in 2016 – helms the piece. Follow that up with a staggeringly excellent voice cast that includes Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, Beyonce Knowles-Carter and freakin’ James Earl Jones and you’ve got a sure winner on your hands, right? So why is the end product so weirdly flat?

For those not in the know, The Lion King tells the tale of Simba (JF McCrary/Donald Glover), a young cub who leaves the Pridelands – the domain over which he is destined to one day rule – after the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Not realising he has been manipulated by his jealous uncle, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) into believing Mufasa’s death was his fault, Simba slinks off in disgrace and becomes a shiftless hippie with Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner). You can probably guess where it goes from there, and to be honest there’s nothing really wrong with the story; it worked in 1994 and it works now. No, The Lion King just feels… off. The animation, while competent and slick, never manages to graze very far outside The Uncanny Valley, and it’s difficult to connect emotionally with furry animal friends who look just a bit too stiff and dead-eyed to be credulous.

Worse still is when the animals, who all look borderline photorealistic, burst into song, which feels more like an acid trip gone horribly wrong while watching a David Attenborough doco than a joyous expression of musical exposition. It’s not all bad, mind you, Pumbaa and Timon manage to inject a little fun into the proceedings and James Earl Jones’ vocal delivery has lost none of its gravitas. And yet, for all of the many positives attached to this project, it just doesn’t take off and consequently feels like an overlong slog through the savanna. Maybe kids will find something to latch onto here, but most of the adults attending will sadly not be feeling the love tonight.

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Dragon Ball Super: Broly

animation, Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The latest feature-length instalment of one of the most ubiquitous, beloved and memeable anime franchises out there, Broly is basically a best-of-both-worlds situation. It takes the endearingly goofy tone of Battle of Gods and the large-scale action chops of Resurrection ‘F’ and combines them in a way that retains all of the positives and burns away most of the negatives.

The sense of humour on display here is so on-point, it’s staggering. Not since the legendary DBZ Abridged series has this material been able to generate this many belly laughs, largely thanks to Sean Schemmel as the ever-loving goofball Goku and Jason Douglas as Beerus, the destroyer god who just wants to nap without being interrupted. It’s all character-derived stuff, leaning less on the BoG slapstick, and through that, it turns out effective as well as melding well with the more action-oriented moments.

When it comes time for Goku and the eponymous Broly to start throwing down (the bulk of the film is that fight), it results in glorious displays of widespread destruction. The intensity and high-flash line work in the animation is on the same tier as Asura’s Wrath, right down to the amount of terrain-scorching that goes on; looking like the result of two gods brawling with each other. It can get quite hectic in places and admittedly a little difficult to entirely make out, but between the raw strength at work and the adaptability of the fighters involved, it makes for well-earned chaos.

It even features solid dramatic touches connected to Broly’s character. Shown through an impressively-nimble flashback sequence, which gives plentiful background history for the characters and story at large, he is depicted as a rather tragic antagonist. Born with immeasurable power, exiled out of jealousy and raised to exact revenge, Broly’s first official entry into the franchise sets him up as the yang to Goku’s yin.

Both are exceptionally powerful, both were sent away from their home planet, and both have a natural tendency for friendship rather than aggression. But because of their different upbringing, what we get is a rather point-blank depiction of the classic ‘nature vs. nurture’ dilemma, showing how Broly being raised as a weapon of vendetta turned him into a psychologically-scarred and damaged soul. It adds an unexpected touch of unease to the action scenes, knowing that Broly was pushed into them by intents other than his own. It’s kind of sad in its own way.

Considering this and the previous films exist out of a potential need for creator Akira Toriyama to redeem his own franchise after the baffling Westernisation of Dragon Ball: Evolution, this represents the absolute accomplishment of that goal. A very funny, very thrilling and even occasionally moving effort that gives the long-time fans more of what they love, and a sufficient entry point for newcomers to get in on the fun.