The voices and visuals work, but this remake doesn’t laugh in the face of danger.
I sympathize the opinion of Disney remakes being such cash grabs, and this year alone, “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King” have all received mixed reviews. I like first two remakes I’ve mentioned for their abilities to take risks, and they offer such interesting elements that make them watchable, despite their implausibilities. But I wasn’t all that enthralled with “The Lion King.”
The original 1994 animated “Lion King” was emotional, comical, and dazzling. My favorite characters would be Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog with the “Hakuna Matata” phrase, which means “no worries.” And the music and score from Elton John, Tim Rice, and Hans Zimmer gave the animation and characters such a magical vibe. Thus making the movie so courageous.
The remake is a twisted pretzel for me, because it has some decent voice actors, dazzling visuals, and charming covers, but somehow, it loses the roar as the film’s reel keep running. If you’ve seen the original, and that’s a stupid thing to say, then you won’t be missing much in the plot.
What Jon Favreau does best with his own Disney remakes of “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King” is getting the professional team of special effects to bring the animals to life. They look like lions, birds, hyenas, and warthogs, and that’s gripping.
You know the story, inspired by “Hamlet.” Musafa is the king of Pride Rock, his brother Scar murders him in order to take the throne, and sends Mufasa’s son Simba into exile. And while Scar and the hyenas rule, Simba lives the life of freedom with Timon and Pumbaa, until Simba’s childhood friend Nala reunites with him, and informs him of Pride Rock’s depression.
I’m mixed about the choices of the voice actors, because there are some I liked, and others who feel inferior to the original iconic voices. The dialogue tries to be iconic, but not as strong as in the film’s past life.
Donald Glover (adult) and JD McCray respectively voice Simba, and they’re charming on their own levels; Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps the character vein, but he lacks the Jeremy Irons vocals as Scar; Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen both do their best to live up to Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa ; Keegan Michael Key and Eric Andre are both flexible as two hyena henchmen; John Oliver is no Rowan Atkinson as the majordomo hornbill Zazu; Beyonce (adult) and Shahadi Wright Joseph (“Us”) have individually radiant voices of Nala; Alfre Woodard has the Madge Sinclair voice of Simba’s mother Sarabi; Florence Kasumba (“Black Panther”) has the stern voice as the hyena leader; John Kani (“Black Panther”) is peaceful as the wise mandrill Rafiki; and James Earl Jones is the only returning voice actor as Mufasa.
The music covers I did enjoy are “The Circle of Life,” “I Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Even Beyonce’s new single “Spirit” keeps things bouncing. They’re all given the voices and lyrics they deserve. But the worst cover would be “Be Prepared,” because the movie’s version is too short, and without Iron’s voice, it becomes dull.
Favreau’s “Lion King” is an ambitious remake, complete with covers, voices, humor, and faithfulness; but it ends up feeling short in its length and narrative. It just goes to show that in these cases, animation is more powerful than live-action.