Lion King in 4DX Rocks... Literally!

by Todd Pickering, contributing writer

The CGI-generated non-animated "live action" remake of The Lion King opened in select Regal Theatres across the nation over the July 20 weekend, and I got experience it with my 9-year-old viewing companion in a Regal Theatre equipped with 4DX.

It was both of our first time watching a movie presented in this enhanced 4DX format. If you remember Captain EO or Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! at Disney parks, this 4DX experience was not unlike that. Your seats move up and down, and there are air and water effects built into them. Although there was a button that could turn off the water effect, we opted to leave ours on. There are also special effects built into the theater such as bubbles and fog, lightning, and even scents. The air effects that appear near your face are at adult level, so a 9-year-old cannot experience those. There were some air effects at your feet but they were much less frequent and didn't seem to go along with the film. This is not to be recommended if you experience motion sickness, as these are no massage chairs and they do jolt you around a bit.

The opening sequence of this film is identical, shot for shot, from the original animated film. As Zazu the hornbill swoops down onto Pride Rock, our seats moved back and then dipped forward. It made for a nice feel and eased us into the movement of the chairs. Director Jon Favreau keeps this new version very close to the original, with no new music except for an end credit song. Not to say that there is nothing new here but with extended scenes such as the hyenas chasing young Simba and Nala through the elephant graveyard and a lot more time with Pumbaa and Timon, this film is a half of an hour longer. With the 15 minutes plus of previews, this is not a great film to take the little ones along. For the 4DX experience, I recommend adults that enjoy theme park rides looking for some nostalgia and adorable computer-generated animation, especially with amazingly adorable lion cubs.

The movie has assembled an amazing cast. No one could be more perfect that the original Mufasa played beautifully by James Earl Jones. Having him return to voice Mufasa really is a fantastic choice, as that voice cannot be beat. Our chairs vibrated and shook with that mighty roar of the king of the lions, and this effect was ever pleasing.

Jeremy Irons played the original Scar with such dry, acerbic wit, and a twinkle in his eye. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar in this film was a wonderful new take on the role.

The lions in this version had a bit more of a human look to the way the smiled and expressed their mouths. The design of Scar, with sickly matted fur and a realistic painful-looking scar really went along nicely with a cold and calculating vocal performance by Ejiofor. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen seemed to have a wonderful chemistry that was akin to the original Timon and Pumbaa, yet they truly made the roles their own. Their performances seemed easy and comfortable, and I couldn't help but wonder if they got a lot of time to riff and try different things that ultimately made it into the film.

The heart of the voice acting, however, goes to Donald Glover's Simba. Without that role being spot-on, the film wouldn't work. The naturalness of delivery and simplicity of truth came through the screen, even with less expressiveness due to the use of "real" lion features.

"I Just Can't Wait to be King" is the first song where the 4DX chairs really started to rock. The intention seemed to be easing into feeling of the motions as it really seemed to simply keep the beat with the time to the stomping of the animals as the cubs try and escape Zazu. John Oliver was amazingly droll as Zazu, but speak-sings this song, and therefore "The Morning Report" was reduced to a non-singing and much shorter scene. When the cubs are chased by the very ferocious and terrifying hyenas, the theater chairs really got moving. It is jerky, exciting and fun, and did go on for a bit. This sequence works much better during the wildebeest stampede. It seems like the film and the movement were matched perfectly. Not only was the hyena scene a bit long, but the 4DX seemed to get tedious, taking away from the punch of the stampede.

When the adult Nala comes upon the scene, it does seem odd to use such a powerhouse name and performer as Beyoncé to play this character. One of Disney's most treacly ballads is "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and it seemed like there should be more for this supe star. Perhaps Nala's song from the Broadway version would have been nice, but with the extended scenes this would have probably bottomed out the second half of this film. To director Favreau's credit, though, Nala is played with intensity and true connection to Glover's performance of Simba, making Beyoncé not a diva but rather a part of an ensemble cast. 

The most delightful extended scene and song along with the 4DX special effect is indeed "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." In this version, more of Timon and Pumbaa's pals keep joining in on the song and this time, the theater chairs started to move along to the beat. When critters are added, the chair changed its beat and added a whisp of wind. The crowd was giggling and perking up. It makes me wonder why this wasn't done at least one more time in a film that was indeed a musical. Sheer joy. No spoiler alert, but Pumbaa and Timon spoof another classic Disney movie later on that is a new treat from the original.

The sweeping effect with the chairs that is so effective at the beginning of the film gets used over and over again, to the point where it just felt like your annoying child is moving your car seat back and forth, and one almost wants to shout; "Enough with the up and down. We get it!" The smells only seemed to happen a few times, and the water effects seemed to be just misty, if at all, so there was no danger of getting soaked this evening.

When all is said and done, with the 4DX, you may ask, "Do we really need this effect to enjoy the film?" With all of the movement, you may all but forget the 3-D element of the film with the focus more on movement. It certainly is a fun thing to experience and I would heartily recommend it for the wildebeest and "Lion Sleeps Tonight" segments alone. I would say it's a more adult experience and wouldn't want to spend too much on younger kids. It also begs the question, do we need a remake of every Disney movie? Whatever opinion that any critic can have, these remakes are not going to stop.

The new interpretations from the actors truly seem to be the highlight, to experience a beloved story and a beloved memory with our new favorite performers seems to be the reason to go. I think it is best summed up by the woman carrying a Lion King purse and wearing a leopard skirt and little lion ears on who was waiting behind us to buy popcorn. She simply stated: "I want some lions to sing to me tonight."