FILM REVIEW – THE LION KING. With Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones. Written by Jeff Nathanson. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements. 118 minutes.
THE LION KING is the third “live action” version of a Disney animated classic to be released this year, and some of the reactions indicate they might want to slow the pace, particularly with “Pinnochio,” “Mulan,” and “The Little Mermaid” remakes in the pipeline. Some of the complaints have been that this follows the original so closely that it’s unnecessary.
Well, yes, that has been the point of these “live action” remakes with some taking greater liberties than others. Here there is an unexpected shout out to another Disney classic, but otherwise it pretty much follows the original. For those who are so invested in the animated “Lion King” (1994) because of how old (or young) they were when they saw it, then no, there’s no reason to see this. Pull out your DVD (or VHS cassette) and watch it instead.
For the rest of us, this is another successful adaptation in that it brings a lot of talented people together committed to making an entertaining movie rather than a cheap knock-off. Jon Favreau was the right choice as director, having made the highly-praised 2016 adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” showing he could handle the ironic paradox here: this “live action” film is largely animated. It’s a mixture of live action and CGI (i.e., computer animation) with the intent of making it seem real.
The story remains the same: Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the original) proclaims the birth of his son Simba. His evil brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) murders Mustafa and causes Simba to run away. Simba is taken in by two slacker animals, the warthog Pumbaa (perfectly voiced by Seth Rogen) and the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner), but as an adult is called back to battle Scar by lioness Nala (Beyoncé) and his former tutor, a hornbill named Zazu (John Oliver).
The reason these remakes continue to work is because Disney has attracted top talent who are there for more than the paycheck. Besides Favreau and the voice cast, the new film has veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel behind the camera and brought back Hans Zimmer to do the film’s score. (Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs are used as well.) The notion that a 25-year-old film is so sacrosanct it should not be remade will come as a surprise to those who have made a hit of Julie Taymor’s creative stage adaptation.
“The Lion King” is not the landmark that the animated original was, but it is an entertaining film in its own right. It should please viewers who either unfamiliar with the original or didn’t see it so many times growing up that any other version borders on the blasphemous. We don’t complain when there’s a new film of, say, a Shakespeare play that has been filmed before and while the Disney canon may not be Shakespeare, they are also open to fresh stagings. However, three such remakes inside of four months may prove to be a bit much for audiences.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.