The Lion King

Jul 23, 2019

Obsessively remaking the original Lion King, this iteration has a photorealism and a couple of clowns to make it worth experiencing anew.

The Lion King

Grade: B

Director: Jon Favreau (The Jungle book)

Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can)

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 years a Slave), Donald Glover (Solo: A Star Wars Story)

Rating: PG

Runtime: I hr 58 min

By: John DeSando

Life is tough for animals in the African savannah because after all Darwin’s survival of the fittest fits best there. Eat or be eaten. Surprisingly the benign Disney empire covers its 1994 The Lion King, a brilliant but not so sweet story of the rise of a young lion, Simba (voice of JD McCrary), eventually to succeed his aging father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones).

Director Jon Favreau guides the animation through the most realistic depiction that could be hoped for, more photorealistic than his 2016 The Jungle Book. Although it seems every shot from the original is carefully reprised here, each eye movement, each facial tic is as if it were a photo made just bigger. Above that realism is the real key to The Lion King’s success, the humanity that exudes each utterance and each challenge.

It’s ironic because this is animation with animals who can’t disguise their human qualities of love, hate, compassion, forgiveness, and most of all attachment to home and its protection. Simba must find his way back home to protect it—it’s that simple, but the veiled Hamlet motif hints of family dysfunction, regicide, and the terrible toll of revenge.

Although lamentably Disney doesn’t update the story to align with contemporary and actual lion lore that lionesses are the major influences from nurturing and social engineering to getting food. It is a remake that reflects the patriarchal and masculine tradition of dominance that has ruled Western culture for millennia. Really though, look at how ready Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) are to share the combat load. Maybe in a makeover someday.

Then, they did change “Hakuna Mutata” from the early meaning of “No worries,” to a more modern “Who Cares.” Not the Disney I know but much more real. For new material, listen to Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner riff on warthog Pumba and meerkat Timon. They are a hilarious comedy team ushering in the very modern “What me worry”?

Anyway, a child returns home to love and conflict—so human and so Disney. Then Pixar does well in the family motif, too. It’s all the circle of life, Baby.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at