One of the crown jewels of the Disney animated vault gets the live-action treatment with “The Lion King.”
With director Jon Favreau behind the camera as director (he also directed the live-action re-imagining of “The Jungle Book”), this is an ambitious and faithful adaptation of the original that – no matter how hard it tries – falls short of capturing the magic of the 1994 classic.
If you have lived under Pride Rock for the past 25 years, “The Lion King” tells the story of a young lion prince named Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and Donald Glover) who goes into self-exile from his kingdom after the death of his father (voiced by James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the original).
When the king’s brother Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) ascends to the thrown, the kingdom is thrown into disarray – with Simba the only hope for restoring balance.
Instead of trying to completely redo “The Lion King,” Favreau makes the choice of pretty much matching the 1994 film shot for shot. It’s a decision that worked quite well for Favreau when he did “The Jungle Book,” but it has mixed results here.
The opening sequence, an iconic moment in film history, does bring a sense of nostalgia that really allows the audience a chance to settle into this update, but some of the shots that probably looked good on paper don’t quite have the same impact as its predecessor.
The best recreation of all is the stampede that results in the king’s death – an impressive sequence that brings a new spin to the material.
As for the voice cast, it’s star-studded, but that doesn’t exactly mean it’s better, either. Glover and Beyonce (as Nala) are fine, but they feel like big names attached to the major roles just for the sake of adding huge names to the cast.
Ejiofor is a good actor, but it’s tough to step into the role made so iconic by Jeremy Irons. John Oliver has some nice moments as the king’s right-hand man Zazu, but perhaps the newcomers who fare the best are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan as the fun-loving Timon and Pumbaa.
The duo’s musical number “Hakuna Matata” is the closest this update comes to matching the magic from the original – with Eichner and Rogan providing a much-needed jolt midway through that manages to get this “Lion King” to the finish line.
It’s enough to make “Lion King” better than other recent attempts to redo animated films – the dreadful pair of “Dumbo” and “Christopher Robin Returns” – but it’s still not enough to justify the film being remade.
Will it satisfy it’s fan base? Probably. But it’s a no-win situation because it’s hard to improve something that was pretty perfect to begin with. This “Lion King” proves something can work and still be slightly underwhelming and unsatisfying.