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The Lion King

When Disney began rolling out their live-action remakes of a few of their most endearing classics, I certainly had some mixed feelings.

The most anticipated of all of the recent remakes, The Lion King debuted to the tune of almost $200 million at the box-office!

While I was intrigued by the possibility of witnessing a reimagining of stories that I had grown up with, there was also the nagging belief that such a blatant and unnecessary cash grab would only result in seething bitterness and colossal disappointment. My tune changed pretty quickly, however, with release of Jon Favreau’s THE JUNGLE BOOK. The film was a spellbinding take on the timeless Kipling tale, and the special effects were spellbinding. Since then, we’ve seen BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, DUMBO, and ALADDIN receive the live-action remake treatment and in July, perhaps the most anticipated of all, THE LION KING debuted to the tune of almost $200 million at the box-office.

Favreau once again finds himself at the helm of a Disney remake, and with this iteration of THE LION KING, he has crafted a film that is not only a technical marvel, but superbly satisfying in every way. While the recent remake of DUMBO strayed mightily in terms of storyline and characters from the original Disney vision, THE LION KING is a virtual mirror of the 1994 classic. There are some who have faulted Favreau’s film for not doing more to evolve the story, but I found myself on the opposite end of this spectrum. Despite knowing each scene and virtually every line of dialogue (although, admittedly, there are some major differences, particularly in regards to Timon and Pumbaa) it didn’t detract from the original for me in any way. In fact, I relished this familiarity (as I did when I saw the Broadway production) and found myself spellbound by its staggering technological achievements.

Despite whatever criticisms people had with its storytelling, there is no denying that the special effects in THE LION KING are revolutionary. Each character looks profoundly lifelike, to the point where it effectively blurs the line between animation and realism. While you can see their lips moving, and your brain will register this fact, it’s easy to believe that the actions perpetrated by the animals is actually unfolding in reality. Their movements and mannerisms are fluid and natural, and fueled by the exceptional voice talents behind each character, they pay homage to their predecessors while standing uniquely on their own.

Much like the original, this iteration of THE LION KING has moments of staggering beauty (the opening “Circle of Life” sequence), heart wrenching devastation (Mufasa’s slow-mo plummet), and laugh-out-loud hilarity (any sequence involving Timon and Pumbaa.) The dialogue exchanged between everyone’s favorite meerkat (voice by Billy Eichner) and warthog (voiced by Seth Rogen) are largely different from their source material, and these subtle tweaks provide moments of much needed brevity amidst the emotional turmoil that had unfolded prior to their introductions. As Zazu, John Oliver also delivers a number of laughs, bringing his biting trademark delivery to the stuffy and overzealous hornbill. Fellow cast members Donald Glover (Simba), Beyonce (Nala), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar) fill the formidable paws of the trio of felines that shoulder the lion share of the dramatics, and with the assistance of the incomparable James Earl Jones (who once again portrays the powerful and proud Mufasa) craft a family film that is far more emotionally resonant than most. There are whimsical moments involving these characters that tenderly project the importance of familial bonds and friendship, and then, moments later, scenes of devastating betrayal and horror that will shake virtually every viewer, regardless of age.

While it is a seemingly impossible task to match the profound impact of the original film, Favreau has crafted a satisfying, entertaining, and thrilling summer spectacle that will not only appease established fans, but will likely win over a whole new generation of moviegoers.

The Lion King

RATED: PG

RUN TIME: 1 hour 58 minutes

GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Drama

STARRING:  Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

Writers:   Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Brenda Chapman (story)

GRADE: B+

A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me attend this month’s film.   

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.