The Lion King (AU - PG/UK - PG/ US - PG)

In A Word: Familiar

The Lion King

King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and his son Simba (JD McCray).

 

"This film is everything you would expect: visually stunning, musically authentic and faithfully familiar with its script. However the massive success of both the 1994 original and the Broadway show was due to how far they exceeded all expectations. The artistry, energy and imagination of those shows are merely reflected in this photo-realistic mirror image of the past."

From the blockbuster success of the original animated tale in 1994 to the Tony award-winning Broadway musical in 1997, The Lion King has earned its place as one of the most beloved stories in Disney’s catalog. Now, 25 years after its debut, The Lion King returns to the screen in this photo-realistic rendering of the classic tale.

At its heart, The Lion King is a coming of age story. The young prince Simba (JD McCray) in his eagerness to prove his bravery ends up demonstrating pride, foolishness and gullibility. This leads to the demise of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role from the 1994 film) and the rise of the treacherous Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Guilt turns to selfish apathy as Simba grows to adult size (now played by Donald Glover). Only when challenged by the brave lioness Nala (Beyonce) does Simba face the responsibilities he has previously run away from and learns what it mean it means to be a leader.

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Jungle Book) has proven himself a master of visual effects with the creation of an ultra-realistic menagerie that is a marvel of modern technology. Every creature is rendered with stunning detail, from the smallest mouse to the largest elephant. It would be easy to mistake the images on screen with a nature documentary, as the only difference is that these animals speak and sing.

All of the Elton John/Tim Rice songs are back in this retelling, with a few additions including He Lives In You from the Broadway show and a new Beyonce/John song titled Spirit. Other changes involve a deeper exploration of young Simba's story and a tongue-in-cheek reference to Beauty and the Beast. All these changes add an extra 30 minutes to the running time compared to the sleek 88 minute run time of the 1994 original. While some of the changes are welcome, the additional length and familiarity of the story does weigh the overall experience down.

Part of the enduring success of The Lion King is the source material it draws from. The original filmmakers were inspired by the Biblical characters Joseph and Moses, as well as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Stories like this have been told and retold for generations in book, stage, song and film. The core message that there is strength in compassion, courage in leadership and new life born out of death are all welcome themes to be told.

2019’s The Lion King continues the tradition, this time with the power of computer-aided special effects and big name pop stars. This film is everything you would expect: visually stunning, musically authentic and faithfully familiar with its script. However the massive success of both the 1994 original and the Broadway show was due to how far they exceeded all expectations. The artistry, energy and imagination of those shows are merely reflected in this photo-realistic mirror image of the past.