This lion is no King
Walt Disney Pictures gives one of its most beloved animated features a modern-day spin in The Lion King, from director Jon Favreau. The voice cast includes Donald Glover (Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala). And reprising his role from the original version, James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa. As with the original film, I wasn't too fond of the remake.
Lion Mufasa and his mate Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) rule over the animal kingdom in Africa's Pride Lands. Parents to a newborn son, Simba (JD McCray), Mufasa enjoys guiding the cub into the journey of kingship. Mufasa is unaware that his younger, envious brother Scar wants the throne for himself. After murdering Mufasa, Scar tricks Simba into a survivor's guilt and advises Simba to leave the pride lands. Simba does so, and soon he meets Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa, who teach the cub the joys of a carefree life.
When an adult Simba reunites with his childhood friend Nala, he decides to return home to reclaim his throne. From the moment The Lion King starts, the film is a visual wonder. I will commend the remake for the digital effects and the realistic looks of the animals. There are moments in the movie where I felt as if I had VIP access to a zoo, as everything from the animals' eyes to the fur has excellent detail. However, once the animals begin to speak The Lion King becomes a cash grab film.
The film's supporting cast are all fine, with Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and Chiwetel Ejiofor standing out. All three actors provide a natural flow to the character voices of Pumbaa, Timon, and Scar. There was never a moment in their voiceover work where I felt the actors were just reading a script. The sentiment doesn't hold true for Donald Glover's Simba or Beyoncé Knowles-Carter's Nala. Donald Glover is a vast talent. However, his voiceover work as Simba is monotone and amateurish.
In one particular scene where Simba faces off with Scar, Glover is no match for Chiwetel Ejiofor. During the scene, I found myself rooting for Scar as oppose to Simba. The announcement of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala was met with massive disdain from fans of the original film. I was in the minority as I was generally optimistic about her casting choice. Sadly, Queen Bey let me down as Nala.
Like Glover, Knowles-Carter line delivery comes off as amateurish and border-line dress rehearsal. It's crystal clear that both Glover and Knowles-Carter were cast to get butts in seats. Personally, I would have liked to see Disney cast unknowns in the roles and find new stars. Given The Lion King franchise's popularity, Disney could have gone this route and still had a hit film on their hands.
One of the critical components of the original Lion King is the film's songs. During my seventh grade year of middle school, my chorus class performed songs from the soundtrack. Die-hard fans of the original will find some critical changes to a few of the big musical numbers. "Be Prepared," "I Just Can't-Wait to Be King," and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are all changed from their original presentation.
Ironically, the studio makes the odd choice to simplify the musical numbers, which, while giving the film a more realistic approach, lacks the magic which made the songs memorable in the first place. I was with a sold-out audience did not seem to mind, though, as there were applause and singing during these moments. Similarly, throughout the film, the audience was filled with laughter and even tears during crucial moments.
My stance on The Lion King franchise remains the same. In my eyes, it's still nothing more than a mix of "Hamlet" and Kimba the White Lion. While I personally didn't care for The Lion King remake, I recommend seeing the film for the nostalgia and if you have kids of your own.
Final Grade C-