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Long Live The King! | Disney’s THE LION KING (2019): Review

THE LION KING | (C) Disney 2019

As one of the greatest animated features of all-time, when it comes to pop-culture, Disney’s THE LION KING (1994) is one of the most beloved and respected franchises. As a frame-of-reference, in some way – even if you haven’t seen the animated feature – you’re still familiar with it. ‘Hakuna Matata’ here, there, everywhere! The music and characters dominated the mid-90s, and rest assured 25 years later that ferocious roar will be heard again.  

In 2016, Jon Favreau’s THE JUNGLE BOOK wowed critics and audiences. Utilizing up-to-date tech to tell the story in a modern and immersive way, the experience was unique and cinematically triumphant. I didn’t even have to think it before seeds of “imagine” were planted.  (“If THE JUNGLE BOOK movie came off looking amazing, imagine what can be done with THE LION KING?”) As luck would have it, Disney was/is on a remake frenzy. Chatting it up with the Mouse Mafia months after feeling inspired while on a safari trip in Africa, Jon Favreau’s crosshairs were on remaking THE LION KING in live-action form. The House of Mouse approved, it’s finally here, and now getting ready to reawaken its kingdom with another roaring experience at the movies.  

As the story goes, Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) idolizes his dad, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his won royal destiny. But it doesn’t go without challenge! Not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the cub’s arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother – and former heir to the throne – has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is drenched with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

THE LION KING | (C) Disney 2019

Visually, THE LION KING (2019) is a spectacle. Favreau directs the sh*t out of this movie! Alongside screenwriter, Jeff Nathanson, this version doesn’t steer away much from the original. It’s a bit longer, but new scenes are sporadically blended throughout its run. However, it doesn’t do away with iconic scenes we know: Pride Rock intro, wildebeest stampede, Simba’s encounter with Timon and Pumbaa, etc. The new look adds dramatic depth and a more relatable feeling. For example, Mufasa’s death scene carries so much weight, it’s hard not to build a lump in your throat. The same can be said for scenes that entail battle. Although not gory, the intensity rides higher as violence ensues. This is all made clear based on sound and visuals during climactic battle scenes between hyenas and lions, and even a bit harsher during Simba’s battle with uncle Scar. From start to finish, the film’s look is breathtaking. Almost with a NatGeo Wild-like approach, kudos to Disney for not sugarcoating life in the wild. It is what it is. The circle entails life, death, and the in between realities of survival.

The voice cast is pretty good, but I wasn’t really impressed with Donald Glover and Beyonce. Perhaps an unpopular reaction, but their voice work was simply OK. Honestly, the kids who voiced young Simba and Nala cubs were a lot more effective and endearing. That said, if I had to choose standouts… In a good way… It’d be Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, as Timon and Pumbaa. Those two are fun, funny and fantastically cast. Whenever on screen, their humor elevated the mood in such a joyful way, it was great to watch them “steal” scenes even during moments that carried lots of drama. Second to them would be John Oliver (Zazu), followed by Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre as the hyenas. But of course, no one stands next to, or anywhere near, James Earl Jones. The man’s majestic vocals are the glue that binds THE LION KING as a classic! No one else could have voiced Mufasa.

When it comes to music, nostalgia will hit! Audiences will be singing or humming along once again to their favorite tunes. Upgraded a bit as well, but still as impactful as the originals. For added pleasure, Hans Zimmer returns to score the film, and audiences can also expect two new songs courtesy of Beyonce (“Spirit”), as well as Elton John and Tim Rice, who return with a new songl titled “Never Too Late.” While it can’t compare to the feelings generated by the original, overall, the movie provides the same beats and formula and ferocious emotions as its animated predecessor – and it worked! (At least I think so.) Look, truth is, some will love it. Some will hate. And some will feel indifferent about it. It always happens. But I truly had a great time with it. I don’t think this (or any) remake is necessary, but if it’s done right, why not? Therefore, I conclude, going out to watch THE LION KING. For sure it’ll spark up old feelings and will most likely wrangle in a new fanbase. It’s the cinematic circle of life!

THE LION KING | (C) Disney 2019

Grade: A- / Genre: Family, Adventure, Remake / Rated: PG / Run Time: 1:48

Starring voices: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Elchner, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael key, Beyonce Knowles Carter, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, John Kani, Eric Andre, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph

Directed by Jon Favreau 


(C) Disney 2019