When Disney began making movies with their newer techniques, I wasn’t completely on board. I love animation but I wasn’t sure how the new technology would change the story or what it would add. However, I was curious about what differences would show up in The Lion King, how their photo real technology would look on the big screen. After watching the new film, I found the realism enhances the movie for me. The darker undertones are more menacing, the story feels more complex, and the film making is richer and full of depth.
Directed by Jon Favreau, the new version follows Simba (Donald Glover) as he hopes to follow in his father Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) footsteps. When his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tricks him, his father ends up dead by Scar’s betrayal and Simba is forced to flee. Simba manages to survive with the help of Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogan). But left behind, his mother Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) and his friend Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter) must contend with Scar. Simba must find a way to fight his past and come take back what is rightfully his with the help of his friends.
A big part of what I enjoyed about this film was the photo realistic animation techniques. The animals appeared as realistic as animals in the wild, down to their behaviors. The appearance of the wildlife and vegetation of the African Savannah and jungle was breathtakingly believable and stunning. When we see the hyenas, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre as Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi, they are far more menacing, creepy, and dark than in the first film. In addition, Scar also has far scarier overtones and is far more threatening with the change in the film. I love the appearance of both Zazu (John Oliver) and Rafiki (John Kani). Both the characters were more realistic in this film’s portrayal.
One of the key elements that helps keep the overall story themes alive is keeping James Earl Jones as Mufasi. Not only does his talent shine through in the character but his lines about the circle of life, the connection of all living things, is one of the prevailing themes of The Lion King that is key to the story. The filmmakers also chose to maintain the majority of the original story, keeping it about Simba’s need to fight his past and grow up. While there are slight changes to add nuance, scenes with certain characters like Scar and Nala, the overall story is what most young people fell in love with.
The other key factor to the film being a success is the acting talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor bring such complexity to the character of Scar, such depth to his betrayal and a much darker tone. He is completely menacing and frightening at times as Scar. The casting of Donald Glover as Simba is a perfect choice. He has depth when it is needed but also can carry the humor when Simba is with Timon and Pumba. Beyonce is fierce as Nala. I love her performance when she meets with Simba after they’ve been apart. Alfre Woodward can do no wrong as Sarabi. But it is the performances of the hyenas that truly is compelling. Florence Kasumba as Shenzi is now the leader of the pack and she is scary in that role, but just steals her scenes. Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre as Kamari and Azizi are equally disturbing but in good ways, adding humor but in a twisted way. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan add hilarity as Timon and Pumba, as funny as the original Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. There are some moments with the pair that made the entire audience laugh.
Overall, I really love the music, especially the opening number, “Circle of Life”. It was like returning to the original film when you hear this song. I also really enjoyed some of the music during the credit and Simba’s “Can’t Wait to be King.” Those numbers were especially good and helped make the film shine.
The movie isn’t perfect. There are some of the musical numbers that left me feeling rather underwhelmed, especially Scar’s big number with the hyenas. I wish this would have been bigger and more impressive. While overall I liked the music, I wished it would have all been equally good. I also wished there would have been more original storyline. While I like that there are some subtle changes and some nuances to the performances that aren’t there in the first film, there also wasn’t much new to this version. The technology is what is new and improved, though, and that more than made the movie a thrill for me.
Overall, if you are expecting a new story, don’t. What makes this movie interesting is the amazing technology, the incredible photo realism of the animals, the darker tone to Scar and the hyenas, and the fantastic acting of an amazing diverse cast. Children will love the animals, especially the babies. The adults will love the acting and everyone will love the humor and comedy of Timon and Pumba. There are some really funny moments and all of the actors shine in the new The Lion King.
Rating: 4 out of 5 roars.