Coming to theatres from director Jon Favreau and Disney is the 1994 iconic animated story now come to life with The Lion King.
In case you come from another solar system I’ll give the story a run down. There is a young cub named Simba (Donald Glover) who is born a prince. Father King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) tries to teach his young son what it is to be a king. He is also learning side lessons from his jealous Uncle Scar (Chitwetel Ejiofor) that get him into a few scrapes.
Along with his best friend Nala, the two explore much to the fright of Mufasa, even if the royal bird Zazu (John Oliver) can’t keep up. Scar gets an idea enlisting the help of the hyenas and their leader Shenzi (Florence Kasumba) to take what he thinks is his.
Simba is caught up in a stampede that brings death and sadness to the pride and the young prince decides to run. He walks away and meets meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and faithful companion Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) who embrace Simba as one of their own.
In the meantime Scar is destroying the valley and Nala (Beyonce) knows it is time to get help. What she doesn’t plan on is running into Simba (Donald Glover) who is now fully grown. Explaining what has happened, Simba meets Rafiki (John Kani) who shows him why it is important to remember who he is and what it means to be a king.
Glover as Simba is a little less animated vocally than I would have expected. The younger cub prince was delightful and brought a bit of playfulness that made the little furry growler even cuter. Beyonce as Nala stayed in her lane so to speak meaning I had thought she would have song-wise taken over but instead they kept it easy and lovely.
Several characters that I enjoyed so much are Oliver as Zazu making me laugh several times with his antics, Kasumba as Shenzi with a tad less humor than her 1994 Goldberg counterpart but still very good and Ejiofor getting a chance to be the devious Uncle Scar.
Eichner and Rogen got all the silliness that made the animated version so much fun. I giggled so much as the antics of Simba’s smaller friends. It must be said that my four-year-old granddaughter couldn’t stop smiling when these two were on the screen.
Finally, James Earl Jones is the one and only Mufasa and having him once again accept the mantel of King was a wise choice. He is Mufasa and his presence at the beginning and at the most important point of the film’s emotion is something only his voice could capture. It also soothes the ruffled feathers of those not happy with Disney and its live action choices as of late.
Other cast include Keegan-Michael Key as Kamari, Eric Andre as Azizi, JD McCrary as Young Simba, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Young Nala and Alfre Woodard as Sarabi.
Now, let me get this out of the way – do I think The Lion King needed to have a live-action version? Nope. Am I a fan of live-action films? Not really. I just think it’s a huge waste of money when we could easily enjoy the animated versions of stories on the big screen and my family would love it. Plus, after seeing the trailer for Mulan and the latest Little Mermaid ruckus – I’m still not a fan.
THAT being said, I can’t fault The Lion King at all. From the moment the screen is lit up with a beautiful sunrise and music that continues to be recognized with The Circle of Life and I Just Can’t Wait to be King, this is absolutely how it’s done folks!
Favreau should be applauded on several fronts – first of all he stayed ever faithful keeping to the original 1994 story that has become so iconic and also allowed the songs to once again bring joy. I saw this on the faces of not just the children at the screening but the adults as well. Oh trust me when I say I caught a woman six seats down singing along to Hakuna Matata and thrilled to be doing it.
The cinematography in the live-action is colorful and lively to the point that it was easy to forget that these lions, hyenas, birds, and the rest weren’t actually real. From the look of joy in Rafiki’s eyes to the sadness in Simba’s eyes, everything that needed to be related emotionally is there. The humor is wonderful in the film and there is a moment between Timon and Pumbaa that gives a nod to a beast of another kind so listen for it.
In the end – the King has returned!