Review: THE LION KING (2019)

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

The dust,  mixed reviews and responses to Disney’s Aladdin remake haven’t even had enough time to settle yet, and the studio is back with yet another redo.  This time Disney and director Jon Favreau have taken the Lion King story and have given it a photo realistic, computer generated make over.  The good news is, the filmmakers have delivered a gorgeous and visually striking movie that is certain to leave audiences awe-struck.  The not-so-great news is that the film really doesn’t offer anything else new.  With a few minor changes here and there, the new movie’s story and beats are pretty much identical. Don’t get me wrong, the new Lion King is an entertaining theatrical experience, but after all is said and done, I just don’t think the movie will have as good of a legacy as the original.

In Africa, lion cub Simba (JD McCrary) is set to take over the throne from his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones). However his uncle and Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) feels slighted and under appreciated.  Scar’s ambitions for power grow poisonous and the envious lion plots to eliminate both his nephew and brother.  With the help of a pack of ravenous hyenas, Scar hatches a successful scheme to take over the throne.  Frightened and ashamed, Simba runs away and eventually grows up under the care of meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog Pumba (Seth Rogen). Though he leads a moderately satisfying life, the adult Simba (Donald Glover) will have to return home to face Scar, as his poor leadership threatens to destroy the lives of his family and rightful kingdom.

Written by Jeff Nathanson, the screenplay seems like a carbon copy of the original film.  Favreau and company have nearly made a shot-for-shot remake with all of the same songs, same score, the same beats, and most of the same jokes. As I mentioned previously, there are a few changes, but nothing stands out strongly or makes this version superior to its inspiration. 

Pretty much the only reasons to see this movie on the big screen are nostalgia and to appreciate the breathtaking visuals.  The photo realistic CGI mixed with the gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel makes this version a visual masterpiece.  I was truly blown away by the look of this movie and for nostalgia sake, I enjoyed re-visiting the characters, jokes, songs and drama that make the original special.

As for the voice cast, everyone either  performs well or well enough. It’s no surprise that James Earl Jones is once again great as Mufasa.  As Zazu, John Oliver is pretty good, but not as great as Rowan Atkinson.  As little cub Simba, JD McCrary brings great energy and a fine singing voice to the character.  As adult Simba, Donald Glover is pretty good, but like Matthew Broderick in the original,  the character suffers from lackluster writing.  

As the villain Scar, Chiwetel Ejiorfor brings much passion to the character,  but lacks a sinister quality that Jeremy Iron gave Scar in the original.  As for Pumba and Timon, both Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen give great voice performances  that are actually just as good as Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. The movie also features adequate performances by Beyonce Knowles Carter, Alfre Woodard, Keegan Michael Key. Eric Andre, and Florence Kasumba.

So, if the question is whether or not to see this movie in a theater, my answer would be yes. It is a visual feast to behold and an entertaining movie to enjoy.  Now if someone were to ask me which version I would purchase for home viewing, my money would go to the original animated version.  Though not an outstanding movie, it is pretty great. And if one already owns the 1994 version, there really is no need to own both in my opinion.  The new version just doesn’t have enough originality or power of its own to distinguish it from its predecessor.

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