Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Disney's new "Lion King" is a spectacular carbon copy

Jul 12, 2019 03:08PM ● By Dan Metcalf

JD McCrary and James Earl Jones in The Lion King - © 2019 Disney.

The Lion King (Disney)

Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.

Starring (voices of) Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, James Earl Jones, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Penny Johnson Jerald, Amy Sedaris, Chance Bennett, Josh McCrary, Phil LaMarr, J. Lee.

Written by Jeff Nathanson, based on Disney's The Lion King (1994) by Irene Mecchi

Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton.

Directed by Jon Favreau.



As Disney’s trend of recreating updated *live-action versions of its animated classics marches on, I wonder how long it will be before they run out and resort to making original content, like in the “old days,” circa 2010. Will they keep doing it until the remakes become classics themselves, thus perpetuating a never-ending cycle of recycled content. We could be stuck in an infinite Disney loop, with the same movies being remade over and over again, perhaps with the hope that the older generations will memory-hole films made less than twenty years prior. The latest remake grabbed from the Disney vault is The Lion King, in theaters on July 19.

(*The new version is not a “live action” film, but a fully computerized work that utilizes “live-action filmmaking techniques with photoreal computer-generated imagery.” In other words, no actual scenery, animals or motion capture techniques were used in the film, and production never left the confines of digital space.)

It should be noted the new Lion King is a near carbon copy of the 1994 version, matching scenes almost shot-for-shot, right down to the ants carrying leaves across the foreground of the opening “Circle of Life” production number. All of the music is the same, with a few varying additional lines and a new song from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (who also provides the voice for the adult Nala, Simba’s love interest) that plays during Simba’s montage return to the Pridelands immediately prior to the film’s climactic conclusion. Simba is voiced by Donald Glover as an adult and JD McCrary as a cub, while the cub version of Nala is voiced by Shahidi Wright Joseph). The only returning voice talent from the original film is James Earl Jones as Mufasa. Other notable voices are Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Alfre Woodard as Simba’s mother Sarabi, John Oliver as the hornbill royal advisor Zazu, John Kani as the baboon and royal spiritual advisor Rafiki, Seth Rogen (who, for some strange reason gets second-billing) as Pumbaa the warthog, and Billy Eichner as the meerkat Timón. Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre as play the trio of dubious hyenas who assist Scar in his Prideland takeover.

If you’ve seen the 1994 original, you’re pretty familiar with The Lion King’s main plot, a Shakespearean riff on power, duty, leadership, and the complications of royal life. Scar kills Mufasa and tries to eliminate the king’s heir Simba, who then runs off to live a carefree life away from all that royal drama. He’s thrown back into the fray when he rediscovers his sense of duty and royal heritage, stepping up to challenge his evil uncle who has abused his power to gut the African plain of all its precious resources.

So, the good news is that the new Lion King hasn’t done anything to diminish or ruin the classic nature of the original hand-drawn animated feature. Even more, I’m happy to report that The Lion King is an incredible technological feat, delivering walking, talking, singing animals that looks exactly like the actual creatures, right down to the hairs on the warthog.

The voice acting is also on par with the original, with new additions Eichner and Rogen capturing the comedic essence of Timón and Pumbaa and anchoring a fresh perspective on two very lovable characters.

The only possible negative I have to offer on the new Lion King is that other than a few new laughs and impressive visual achievement, it is still the same movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for originality or like to be surprised, there is none to be had in this remake. If your kids haven’t seen the original, they may latch on to it as “their” Lion King, but for those adult parents who first experienced the 1994 version, the retread may not get preferred status.

As for Disney, I wonder if the studios will ever run out of things to recycle and get back to Walt’s inspirational vision of leading the way with new, innovative content. The Disney era of remakes has been riddled with hit-or-miss films, but as long as they keep making money, I’m sure the Disney machine will keep going as long as people keep reproducing.

"The Lion King" Trailer