Adventure Animation

Review: A Beloved Animated Classic Glows Up in ‘The Lion King’

July 18, 2019Ben MK

Call it the great circle of life, but perhaps a full-on redo of Disney's beloved 1994 classic, The Lion King, was inevitable. Still, no matter what you might think of the studio's strategy of turning its library of animated films into lavish, live-action spectacles, it's hard to argue against what director Jon Favreau's reimagining sets out to accomplish.

Much like its 25-year-old counterpart, the story begins with a gathering of animals at Pride Rock, where the lion King Mufasa (once again voiced by James Earl Jones) and his wife, Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), are preparing to present their newborn son Simba to the feathered, furry and four-legged populace of the African savanna known as the Pride Lands. But whereas other Disney remakes have ventured off the beaten path in terms of narrative, the plot points here remain largely familiar for fans of the original.

That is to say baby Simba soon grows into a fearless cub (JD McCrary), whose inquisitive ways are abruptly curbed after his calculating uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arranges for Mufasa's murder and lays the blame squarely on his nephew. Consequently, Simba flees from the rest of the pack, eventually falling into the company of a meerkat and warthog duo by the names of Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who take it upon themselves to educate the young lion (now voiced by Donald Glover) about their carefree life philosophy.

Of course, Simba eventually learns the truth about his father's death. And as he's joined by Nala (Beyoncé), Zazu (John Oliver) and Rafiki (John Kani) in facing off against Scar and his army of hyenas, viewers will find themselves in constant awe of how visually stunning and lifelike the result is, while audience members who are more enamored with Elton John and Tim Rice's timeless music for the original will find themselves equally pleased with the cast's renditions of such familiar songs as "Hakuna Matata," "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," a sentiment that also rings true for Beyoncé's new addition to the soundtrack, titled "Spirit."

It all adds up to a solid but nonetheless mildly uninspired remake, which is to say that while there's nothing egregiously wrong with this 2019 glow-up, it also doesn't add much more beyond its albeit spectacular visuals. Ultimately, though, this is also what makes The Lion King worth catching on the big screen — the wonder of seeing one of the most beloved animated films of all time brought to life like never before.

The Lion King releases July 18th, 2019 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 58 min.

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