'The Lion King' Is 'Planet Earth' Minus David Attenborough Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Donald Glover, Beyoncé, John Oliver, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones
Published Jul 11, 2019The Lion King is about an impressionable youth who runs away from home, joins a squat, experiments with nihilism, becomes radicalized and then resolves to overthrow the government. It's the new family film from Disney.
This remake of the 1994 animated classic has been widely described as "live action," but that's not quite right. Rather, The Lion King has such dazzling CGI that it's nearly impossible to tell where real landscapes end and animation begins. The whole thing looks a bit like Planet Earth, with several long sequences devoted to dialogue-free shots of animals hunting and playing. All we need is a voiceover from David Attenborough.
But while the 2019 version of The Lion King looks very different from its earlier counterpart, the story and spirit are very much the same. With Jon Favreau in the director's chair, we're reintroduced to Simba (Donald Glover), a lion who is next in line to become the king of his pack. But when his evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) kills Simba's father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his original role), the youngster is forced to flee the Pride Lands.
If you've seen the cartoon, this reboot has all of the Hamlet-esque highlights you're expecting: Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner bring hilarious comic chemistry as the buddies Pumba and Timon, while John Oliver is delightfully manic as the loyal red-billed hornbill bird Zazu. Donald Glover brings relatable self-doubt and youthful gusto to Simba. And even though Beyoncé's voice role as Nala is relatively minimal, her singing makes the original song "Spirit" a joyful highlight.
Beyoncé, along with composer Hans Zimmer and producer Pharrell Williams, make the most of the film's fantastic selection of songs. "Hakuna Matara" gives Glover a chance to showcase the singing chops that sometimes take a backseat in his work as Childish Gambino, while "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (both written by Elton John) are just as catchy as you remember. And even though Seth Rogen mostly speaks his way through the songs, Billy Eichner has a surprisingly gorgeous voice.
So the big question: does The Lion King stand apart from the original? Not exactly, but it does manage to offer everything that made the original so enduring. Throw in some quirky, memorable voice performances and truly beautiful visuals — plus a runtime that's half-an-hour longer than the original — and it's enough to make this a worthy celebration of a childhood classic.