THE LION KING

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jon Favreau

Stars: voices of Donald Glover, Beyonce, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Alfre Woodard, John Kani,, JD McCrary, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Amy Sedaris.

James Earl Jones, John Oliver, and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)

For many the thought of a frame by frame live action remake of Disney’s classic 1994 animated tale The Lion King would be unnecessary. However, short of actually filming live animals in the wild, the result of this hybrid mix of virtual reality locations and state of the art photorealistic CGI animals is quite stunning and gives unexpected depth to the familiar tale. Director Jon Favreau uses similar techniques employed in his live action remake of another Disney animated film The Jungle Book from 2016 to blur the line between animation and live action storytelling. How far the technology has advanced even in the two years since is amazing.

The script from Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, etc) remains reasonably faithful to the script originally written by Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverston, although he has tweaked a few scenes and extended the running time.

The plot centres around Simba, a newly born lion prince. He’s next in line to the throne, which upsets Simba’s jilted uncle, Scar, who plots to kill him. But when Mufasa is killed by the embittered Scar, Simba is forced to flee. He befriends the meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa in the jungle, and they form a strong bond of friendship. But then the lioness Nala calls him back to resume his rightful place and rid the kingdom of the evil despotic Scar, who has done a deal with the ravenous hyenas. They have overhunted the land, laying the landscape bare. But first Simba has to overcome his feelings of guilt over his involvement in the death of Mufasa.

Using locations shot in Kenya, the film is visually stunning with some spectacular widescreen cinematography from veteran Caleb Deschanel (Never Look Away, etc). It looks superb and deserves to be seen on the big screen. There is some superb production design from James Chinlund (War For The Planet Of The Apes, etc) that brings to life the dark and sinister elephant’s graveyard and the ravaged landscape. The scenes involving the hyenas may also prove a little scary for younger audiences.

Billy Eichner (from The Angry Birds Movie, etc) and Seth Rogen (Bad Neighbours, etc) provide plenty of comic relief with their largely improvised one-liners with their hilarious double act as Timon, the curious and wise cracking meerkat, and Pumbaa, the overly gassy warthog, respectively. James Earl Jones reprises his voice role as Mufasa from the original and brings majesty and gravitas to his reading. However, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who voices the villainous Scar, lacks that same sinister quality and cunning that Jeremy Irons brought to the character in the original. Tv talk host John Oliver provides the voice for Zazu, the bird who provides daily news updates for the animal kingdom, but he lacks the camp style provided by Rowan Atkinson.

The Lion King continues Disney’s trend of digging into their back catalogue of animated classics (Dumbo, The Jungle Book, etc) and reimagining them as live action movies for a brand new generation. However, while this technically superb new version of The Lion King looks amazing, it will hold more appeal to those unfamiliar with the original. There are a few flat patches in the first half hour or so, and it lacks the emotional punch of the original.

For some reason, the producers have also reworked the original Elton John songs – the Oscar winning Can You Feel The Love Tonight and The Circle Of Life – but the new versions are not very good. Like those cover versions of the classic songs there is something slightly off kilter about this remake.

★★★

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