Review by J.T. Johnson
When I left the theater after watching “The Lion King”, Disney’s latest live-action remake, I was very happy with the outcome. It looked gorgeous and retold the story beautifully. I also thought that the voice performances from the cast was pretty spot on and overall, the movie was fun to watch.
So, you can say that I was more than a bit surprised when I saw that the movie had a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes and that a lot of critics were complaining about the film. Most of the negative reviews seem to have two problems. First, they seem to think that the movie’s aim for realistic looking animals somehow takes away from the original film’s simpler animation and secondly, they think that the movie’s fidelity to the original story without adding anything new is also an issue.
Allow me to address these two concerns as I first look at the concept that the film is too realistic looking. All I can really say here is that I thought the visuals and the effects were absolutely breathtaking the whole way through. All of the trailers and TV spots suggested that this film was going to have a very realistic look to the animals, so I don’t know what the critics were expecting here.
Okay, so to the second point that the film sticks too closely to the original film’s storyline. I’ll admit that this is true and if you’ve seen the animated original, the plot of this film is not going to surprise you. However, the critics are forgetting one key element here. The original film came out 25 years ago and while it entertained us as kids, this new version is for the new generation. The kids I that I saw at my screening were entertained by what they saw in much the same way that I was when I saw the original in theaters with my Uncle James all those years ago.
The voice performances are also great. It was a good day when Disney revealed that James Earl Jones was returning to voice Mufasa and it was a treat to hear his iconic voice in the role once again. Chiwetel Ejiofor steps into the role of Scar, the film’s main antagonist, and he is appropriately sinister and you remember why you hate this character to begin with.
Then there is Donald Glover and Beyoncé and they are perfectly cast as both the adult Simba and Nala. It also helps that they are both professional musicians as well and they definitely make the old familiar songs their own. In addition to these two great performers, they are also joined by a strong supporting cast.
John Oliver is great as Zazu, making this particular character way more memorable than he was in the original film. Then there is Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as Pumbaa and Timon, the two breakout characters from the original film that were originally voiced by Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane. These two probably had the greatest challenge to make the characters their own and I thought they did a fantastic job and gave the characters their own unique traits.
As far as the music is concerned, Hans Zimmer has returned to do the score and he should be proud that he once again provides a powerful score for the story. As far as the songs featured throughout the movie are concerned, they’re fine but I’ll admit that I did kind of miss Elton John’s version of “Circle of Life”. The new version of the famous song was performed by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize and Lebo M. and while they don’t do a bad job, I was still waiting for John’s version to play at some point.
Now, I’m not in the bag for these films. Earlier this year, I thought the live-action remake of “Aladdin” had dropped the ball pretty hard. I’ll also be honest and say that I don’t know whether or not I like this version of “The Lion King” more than the original version. I’ll leave that up to the individual viewers out there. All I can say is that I thought that director Jon Favreau and his team did a fantastic job updating the story and it’s up there with “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast” as a successful live-action remake of a beloved Disney classic.