Based on the 1994 animated film, after his father is murdered, Simba leaves Pride Rock and goes on a journey of self-discovery. He returns home to take his rightful place as the ruler.
A visually stunning masterpiece, “The Lion King” is breathtaking in its technical achievements and panorama vistas of the African savannah.
The advances in computer-generated images to make the animals life-like is remarkable, and the details strong. However, that realism is one of the film’s sticking points because the animals don’t appear to express emotion.
That means the voices must convey all the feelings. And for the most part, the vocal talent is spot-on. James Earl Jones’ deep baritone and rich sense of authority in his voice makes his Mufasa regal and wise. He is the only voice returning from the landmark 1994 film.
Stealing the movie is Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as warthog Pumbaa and meerkat Timon. They are delightful – injecting warm humor and buddy bickering, and Eichner displays a strong singing voice. “Hakuna Matata” is a glorious centerpiece, and they deliver some of the best lines.
Also hilarious is John Oliver as the fussy red-billed hornbill Zazu, Mufasa’s assistant and flustered caretaker of Simba.
The youngsters in the cub roles of Simba and Nala are rambunctious – JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph, who played the daughter in “Us.”
So, it’s jarring to have the biggest stars, Donald Glover and Beyonce Knowles-Carter, be bland when they grow up. Her new song midway, “Spirit,” doesn’t really add anything, nor does Elton John’s over the closing credits.
Chiwetol Ejiofor is a menacing Scar, played more as a disturbing psychopath, whereas Jeremy Irons portrayed him as confident and cunning in deceit. After all, this is a condensed version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
The most disappointing character is the mandrill Rafiki, far more subdued than expected. He is voiced by John Kani, the king in “Black Panther.”
The movie will inevitably be judged through a nostalgic lens. The fondness for the animated film may override whatever perceptions are about this live-action remake.
Basically, all Disney’s animated features that are getting a reboot as live action are not better than its original, except for Jon Favreau’s “Jungle Book” in 2016 and Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” in 2015. Favreau understands storytelling and what makes the characters special.
Reinvented in 1998 as a Broadway musical, “The Lion King” endures on stage as the highest-grossing musical of all-time. Julie Taymor, whose vision brought the stage version to life, serves as an executive producer of this film.
There are several times I had goosebumps, and the signature opening number “Circle of Life” is magnificent. Surprising is the choice to feature “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” during the day.
For young children, some of the dark scenes of danger may be scary, especially the Elephant Graveyard. But as a family film, it’s a satisfying experience and is going to make a gazillion dollars, no matter what the critical response is.