Cast: Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodward, John Kani
Director: Jon Favreau
Rating: * * * and a half
People who haven’t seen The Lion King will persist in describing this remake of Disney’s same-named 1994 blockbuster toon, as a live action movie. Strictly speaking, it’s not. The South Africa savannah here is a CGI construct, as is the wildlife. But you can be excused for assuming this reboot is a live action film given the impeccable craftsmanship in replicating a real life setting.
See, the 2019 version is a technological marvel of photo-realism which, combined with VR and live action techniques, resulted in spectacular imagery and the absolutely lifelike simulation of that beautiful landscape called Pride Rock and its denizens. Which comprise the titular king of the jungle, his loyal subjects and some inimical beasties too.
Jon Favreau’s version stays faithful to the 1999 animated classic (with a few add-ons). All of the foot-tapping songs from “I can’t just wait to be king”, and “The Circle of Life” to “Hakuna Matata” and “In the Jungle” also remain, in cover versions sung by the beautiful Beyoncé among others.
The iconic Mufasa is voiced by James Earl Jones who reprises his role from the 1999 film. Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer is the other returnee; the rest of the solid, primarily African-American cast is new, with some characters hogging lots of screen time like the hornbill Zazu (John Oliver, sassy) while others like Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodward) and the shamanic simian Rafiki (John Kani) are underused.
DJ Mcrary and Donald Glover are spot on vocalising cute cub Simba, heir apparent to the throne which is coveted by Mufasa’s envious brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The ghosts of Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh were evoked for your reviewer as the murderous Scar tricks the naive and vulnerable cub to flee to a distant land. There, Simba is befriended by a droll duo; the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who provide comic relief while helping the royal refugee assimilate in his new homeland. And very happy Simba is there too until his childhood friend Nala (Beyonce) shows up and begs him to return and save the Pridelands which are in dire straits, thanks to the misrule of the wicked usurper Scar.
Will bravery, courage and friendship pave the way for Simba to fulfil his destiny? Older viewers of the 1999 original will miss the piquant charm that only a cartoon can offer. But new audiences will enjoy Favreau’s amazing 3D reboot, oblivious of (odious) comparisons.