The Lion King

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Lion King
dir Jon Favreau
scr Jeff Nathanson
prd Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Jeffrey Silver
voices Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, John Kani, JD McCrary, Alfre Woodard, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Shahadi Wright Joseph
release US/UK 19.Jul.19
19/US Disney 1h58

glover knowles-carter ejiofor
See also:
The Lion King (1994)

simba, pumbaa and timon
Another remake of a classic, this version swaps hand-drawn images for skilfully rendered digital animation. It looks glorious, advancing the art with its attention to grand scale and tiny detail. But much of the film is a shot-for-shot restaging, which leaves it feeling eerily familiar, offering little that's new to fans of the original. At least there's a slight nod to African culture and some freshly baked humour.
As young cub Simba (McCrary) is learning what it means to be the heir to the kingdom of his father Mustafa (Jones), his power-hungry uncle Scar (Ejiofor) is plotting to seize the throne. Scar murders Mustafa, and Simba flees into exile, blaming himself. Far away, he is befriended by meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa (Eichner and Rogen) and taught to enjoy his new carefree lifestyle. Eventually, his old friend Nala (Knowles-Carter) finds him and begs him to return to free the kingdom from Scar and his evil hyena henchmen (led by Kasumba).
The spectacular imagery resembles a high-definition nature documentary. Animators have outdone themselves in this sense, resisting pressure to anthropomorphise the critters: they never smile, for example, but find more complex ways to express emotions. This is accomplished largely through eye-widening plus lighting and musical cues, which means that it's not very easy to identify personally with the animals on-screen. There are moments of humour, horror, romance and drama, but it's never properly moving.

Voice work is superb, most notably from Ejiofor, who provides purring menace without tipping over into mad-villain mode. Glover and Knowles-Carter are also enjoyable in the focal roles, even if their dialog feels somewhat stiff. And the show is stolen by three comical characters who feel refreshingly improvised. Oliver offers hilarious asides as royal majordomo hornbill Zazu. And as before, the whole show is stolen by the riotous riffing between Timon and Pumbaa, whom Eichner and Rogen play with extra doses of attitude.

As seen in The Jungle Book, Favreau clearly isn't very comfortable with musical numbers. Circle of Life and Beyonce's new Spirit add some soaring moments as voiceover songs, but of those sung on-screen, only Hakuna Matata comes to life, thanks to its amusing lyrics. And The Lion Sleeps Tonight is a terrific set-piece. Others look good, but never quite reverberate within the story. In this sense, the original is far more powerfully resonant. But for those who haven't seen that version, this ravishingly beautiful film still has a kick.

cert pg themes, violence 15.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall