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"THE LION KING"
(2019) (voices of Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Musical/Drama: After being scared away by his treacherous uncle, a young lion must decide whether to return to his home and fight for his position as king of the animals.
PLOT:
Born to King Mufasa (voice of JAMES EARL JONES) and Queen Sarabi (voice of ALFRE WOODARD), young lion cub Simba (voice of JD McCRARY) is the heir to the throne as king of the animals in the Pride Lands. While he enjoys playing with fellow cub Nala (voice of SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH), he really wants to be like his dad, but is unaware of the disdain both he and Mufasa receive from the latter's brother, Scar (voice of CHIWETEL EJIOFOR). Knowing that if he can get rid of the father and son he'll inherit the throne, Scar ends up conspiring with the hyena queen, Shenzi (voice of FLORENCE KASUMBA), to make that happen, despite the best efforts of Zazu the hornbill (voice of JOHN OLIVER) to keep the cub safe.

Following a planned tragedy, Scar lays enough of a guilt trip on Simba that he runs off and ends up in the desert where he's discovered and befriended by the comedy duo of Pumbaa (voice of SETH ROGEN) the warthog and Timon (voice of BILLY EICHNER) the meerkat. Those two quickly teach the young cub about the no worries lifestyle of "Hakuna Matata" and it's not long before Simba (voice of DONALD GLOVER) is a carefree young lion with nary a worry in the world.

But back in the Pride Lands, Scar and the hyenas have turned the place into an apocalypse of sorts where nature is out of balance and the animals that are left have lost nearly all hope. That is, except for Nala (voice of BEYONCE) who manages to sneak off to try to find help. When she happens upon Simba, she tries to convince him to return home and take on Scar for his rightful place on the throne.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Some things simply have to be replaced. Take food for instance. Beyond a few rare examples, most such edibles have an expiration date and for good (and obvious) reason. Other items simply wear out eventually, such as clothing or vehicles, and beyond the expense involved (particularly for the latter), most people accept that as something that happens.

When it comes to art, however, some folks get bent out of shape when something they originally love is modified in one way or another, and more often than not that involves movies. Some people hate when their favorite novel is turned into a movie. Others despise when old black and white films are colorized, or when old movies have parts updated (such as the special effects in "Star Wars') or are remade from start to finish.

A subcategory of that involves taking animated movies and turning them into live-action remakes, and no one has been busier of late doing just that than Disney. While the Mouse House occasionally dabbled in that in the past -- such as 1994's "The Jungle Book" and "101 Dalmatians" two years later -- they've been cranking them out of recent.

Since 2010, they've given us live-action remakes of "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book," "Beauty and the Beast" and both "Dumbo" and "Aladdin" from earlier this year. Still in the pipeline are "Lady and The Tramp," "Mulan," "The Sword in the Stone," "The Little Mermaid," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Lilo & Stitch," "Pinocchio," and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

Gee, did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, the biggest animated film of all time, or should I say king of the animated movies..."The Lion King." Adjusting to today's ticket prices, its domestic gross is north of $800 million, and the film earned four Oscar nominations (one for score, three for the songs) and won two. In short, it's an animated classic near-universally beloved by all, which I guess is why its remake is drawing some flak, criticism and even downright hatred from certain film critics who are giving it below-average grades.

I'm not one of them, although I do have issues with it. That said, I'll throw out the usual but valid "it didn't need to be remade" argument. The original hand-drawn effort, while amazing at its time of release, does look a bit clunky a quarter-century later.

So, it's not necessarily a bad idea to update things and thus Disney has enlisted director Jon Favreau to handle this offering. Yet, unlike his "Jungle Book" remake that combined live-action with impressive CGI spawned critters, this one is entirely computer created. But if you didn't know that, you'd swear you were watching a live-action, nature documentary showing real animals and their natural environs.

That is, until the animals talk, let alone sing, and Favreau and his effects crew obviously faced a dilemma. While hand-drawn animation can easily make lions, hyenas, a warthog, meerkat and more appear natural in speaking and belting out the tunes, real animals obviously aren't that good at that and thus that part of the effects work just doesn't look natural.

In fact, it's a bit distracting, which also holds true -- albeit to a far lesser extent -- for the decision to visually castrate the male lions. If you've ever seen them in person or in a nature show or documentary, you know that's a fairly obvious part of the anatomy, and thus the photo-realism is dinged a bit by such omissions.

I guess they did that for the kiddos who naturally will be a big part of this film's audience, and parents should know that the life-like visuals make the various perils, animal fighting moments and a very pivotal death far, far more realistic than what kids might be used to seeing if they're familiar with the original film.

And that latter point is perhaps my biggest criticism of the overall effort. While Favreau and writer Jeff Nathanson haven't created an exact shot-for-shot or line-by-line remake of the earlier offering, so much is close and the plot is the same that anyone's who's seen the original might have too much of a déjà vu reaction.

Yes, that obviously occurs if you re-watch any film, but while the likes of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" made changes here and there, this one far more adheres to the source material and thus there are few to no surprises in store, therefore reducing the "wow" response the 1994 flick elicited. In fact, while I was dazzled by the visuals, I felt emotionally distant from the story and its characters.

In terms of that, and as far as I could tell (it's easily been a decade and a half since I saw the earlier offering), the plot is pretty much the same as found in the original. Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) is the heir apparent to the king of the land, Mufasa (James Earl Jones, the only vocal talent returning from the first film), and enjoys playing with his lion cub friend, Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph).

But his Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor, making the role his own, even when having to follow in the vocal footsteps, if you will, of Jeremy Irons) would love to see the little one and his dear old dad meet their demise, so after one failed attempt he conspires with the queen of hyenas (Florence Kasumba) to make that happen. Long story short, Mufasa dies in a stampede and Scar lays enough guilt on Simba that the cub runs off, never to be seen again.

That is, except by the traveling comedy duo of Timon the meerkat (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa the warthog (Seth Rogen) who realize having a lion as a friend could come in handy and thus befriend and teach the young lion all about the "Hakuna (no worries) Matata" lifestyle. They also bring some needed life and levity to the proceedings and are certainly the highlight of this film.

In Simba's absence, Scar has taken over the throne, let the hyenas run rampant and ruin the ecosystem, and essentially forced a now grown-up Nala (Beyonce) to search for help. And who does she run into but a certain other lion (now voiced by Donald Glover) All of which leads to the brand new duet version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" between the two and then a return to reclaim the feline throne.

Anyone who hasn't seen the original will likely be enthralled both visually and by the story, but for some reason I wasn't as emotionally engaged or as blown away as I thought I'd be, perhaps due to the overall familiarity of it all. Visually stunning, "The Lion King" is good, but not great and rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed July 10, 2019 / Posted July 19, 2019


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