The Lion King (2019)


            OK, it doesn't have quite the emotional impact of the knock-your-socks-off original.  But this re-make is worth watching, anyway.  First, because the story is still endearing, and second, because the technology of making the animals “real” instead of animated is itself worth the price of admission.  Besides, there's an incredible cast of voices behind this version, and their collective talent makes for an impressive experience.

            Director Jon Favreau, dealing with a now-classic “circle of life” drama, keeps things from getting too heavy-handed with regular insertions of light-heartedness, from the young Simba, the lion cub, playing with his Dad, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) to the inane pronouncements of the Dodo bird, Zazu (John Oliver), to the comic antics of the meerkat (Billy Eichner) and the warthog (Seth Rogen).  But the star of the show is still Simba (Donald Glover), now full-grown, but hiding out from his responsibilities, and refusing to take the mantle of leadership that he knows is his.  His childhood friend Nala (Beyonce) encourages him, once she finally discovers where he is.  But many things have changed in the homeland of their “pride.”  Mustafa's evil brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has taken over, with the help of his henchmen, the wild hyenas.  Scar is cunning, deceitful, and manipulative, and unfortunately, it's the most interesting role in the entire production.

            Yes, it's a celebration of Africa, in an idyllic setting for the animals before humankind came along to alter the landscape. But “The Lion King” is also an individual morality tale, where the central character has to decide whether he wants to just waste his life doing as little as possible, or if he really wants to make something of himself.  That road, of course, is a lot more difficult, and fraught with many dangers.  But we revel in watching Simba becoming the best version of himself, and there's a bit of a challenge there for all the viewers, even if they aren't princes-in-self-imposed-exile.

            Yes, of course, it's family-friendly, because it's Disney, but remember that the evil is very real, and there is violence (though the action sequences fade before they get too bloody).  It might even be too “intense” for very small children.  But the re-imagining of a familiar favorite is definitely worthy of a viewing, if for no other reason than to enjoy the incredibly realistic imaging. Hakuna matata.



Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association