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Watch ‘The Lion King,’ Then Watch These Movies

We recommend movies to watch after you see Disney’s latest live-action-style reimagining.
The Lion King
By  · Published on July 19th, 2019

Disney’s remake of The Lion King is dividing critics. Some see it as a perfect reimagining of the 1994 animated feature of the same name. Others see it as a useless, cash-grabbing copy of the original masterpiece. Fans are storming theaters for the live-action-style redo regardless. Advance ticket sales have been booming for the highly anticipated adaptation, and now audiences will make up their own minds. Or, perhaps some will just stay home and re-watch the 25-year-old version, which still holds up on its own.

This week’s edition of Movies to Watch After is mainly inspired by the 2019 version, but many of the curated titles are also fitting to watch after the animated classic.

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book

Before directing The Lion King, Jon Favreau helmed this Disney movie that similarly reimagined one of the studio’s animated classics as a live-action feature. While nothing was physically filmed for The Lion King, this Rudyard Kipling adaptation does have a single human character, Mowgli, played on screen by a real child actor (Neel Sethi). The rest, like The Lion King, is pure illusion. The magic of making the animals and settings seem genuine earned the movie an Academy Award for its visual effects. Favreau has said The Jungle Book was like a test run for the even more technologically impressive The Lion King, so we can expect the guys to repeat at the Oscars.

African Cats (2011)

African Cats

So many reviews of the 2019 version of The Lion King compare it to Disneynature documentaries, among which African Cats is obviously the most fitting. Samuel L. Jackson narrates the feature (Patrick Stewart in the UK version), which narratively anthropomorphizes its lions and other large felids of a wildlife preserve in Kenya. The animals don’t talk let alone sing in the way that they do in The Lion King, but they are personalized as characters of a scripted story about two families, one of them a pride of lions and the other a coalition of cheetahs. There are also warthogs, though they’re looked at as food for lions, and villainized hyenas on screen, as well as a banished cub. They coulda just re-released this with the voice actors from The Lion King dubbing over the footage.

White Lion (2010)

White Lion

John Kani, who plays Rafiki the mandrill in the new Lion King, stars in this South African film that doesn’t pretend to be a true nature film on lions nor a fantastical tale about singing animals. It’s your basic fictional film that follows mostly animal characters played by real animals, a la Homeward Bound and The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Only unlike those, this one is not about easier-trained domestic animals. As the title implies, White Lion is about a rare white lion born to a pride that sends him off on an adventure of survival. But he doesn’t befriend warthogs or meerkats while in exile, he joins up with another lion instead. There are human characters, too, such as the one played as an older man by Kani. He’s actually kind of like Rafiki in that he’s responsible for looking out for the young lion.

The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos (2008)

The Crimson Wing: Flying

Due to all the comparisons between The Lion King and Disneynature films, here’s another one of the latter. The first to be commissioned and produced by Disney, actually, although the Planet Earth spinoff Earth came out earlier. The Crimson Wing relates more to The Lion King in that it was shot in Tanzania, one of the countries where Disney’s new movie seems to at least partly take place. Just imagine you’re getting to see a spinoff following the flamingos seen during the opening montage of both versions of The Lion King. There are also villainized hyenas in this, too. Whether fiction or narrativized nonfiction, those beasts bear a lot of unfortunate vilification.

The Lion King 1½ (2004)

Lion King Retold

Disney’s 2019 remake isn’t the first time the studio has reimagined the animated classic. This essentially direct-to-video sorta sequel to The Lion King — sometimes titled The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata, — is set neither before nor after the events of the 1994 movie. Well, some of it is set earlier, as it depicts the backstories of Timon and Pumbaa, how they met, and even how they learned about “Hakuna Matata,” and then the events of the original movie are retold through their point of view. Yes, there’s more farting in this version. But considering Timon and Pumbaa are the favorites of the new remake and considering the Hamlet inspiration on The Lion King, which makes The Lion King 1½ kind of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to the original Lion King, there’s much to appreciate with this brief cartoon movie.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.