The Lion King’ To Begin Journey With Around $50M - Reviews & Predictions

In theaters: July 19, 2019
Cast: Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Beyoncé, John Oliver, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Jon Favreau
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Genre: Family and Kids
Topics: Friendship, Music and Sing-Along, Wild Animals
Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Humility, Perseverance
Run time: 118 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Last updated: December 02, 2018

The story of THE LION KING remake is nearly identical to the 1994 original: King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) of the pridelands have a baby cub they name Simba (JD McCrary) and present to the other animals as their future king. As a young cub, Simba is adventurous and allows his jealous Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to convince him to engage in risky, life-threatening behavior, like venturing into hyena territory and practicing his roar in the vicinity of a stampede. When (spoiler alert!) Mufasa is violently killed after saving Simba from the rampaging wildebeests, Scar encourages Simba to run away and then ascends to the throne himself with help from the hyena pack. Meanwhile, Simba befriends a comedic duo: feisty meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and his warthog best pal, Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who have a "no worries" approach to life. Later, as a nearly grown lion, Simba (Donald Glover) is reacquainted with an old friend who forces him to confront whether he can return home and challenge Scar.

With its impressive visuals and well-cast voice ensemble, this remake is charming but darker and more Shakespearean than the original. Disney's live-action adaptations have yielded mixed results, but this one benefits from the legendary music, the gravitas of Jones' voice as Mufasa, and a stand-out cast across the board. Ejiofor's performance as Scar is particularly wonderful, which is no surprise, considering his classical dramatic training. Glover and Beyoncé have good voice chemistry in the final act of the movie, and she -- as you'd expect -- is perfectly fierce sounding. And Eichner and Rogen are quite funny as the latest incarnation of Timon and Pumba ... until it's time for Rogen to sing, and then audiences might wonder why an actual singer wasn't hired. Since a big part of the joy of the movie is the musical performances, Rogen's casting is a bit of a head scratcher. But he mostly makes up for his lack of singing prowess with his comedic timing and banter with Eichner.

The realistic animation is technologically astounding, but it intensifies the violence to an unexpected degree. The snarling hyenas are positively creepy, even though they, too, occasionally have lighthearted one-liners. And there's a greater horror in seeing Mufasa's demise unfurl here than in the original animation. This remake is also more overtly Shakespearean, with its Hamlet-like themes and characters. Bottom line? While entertaining and enjoyable, this remake doesn't offer much memorable original content aside from Beyoncé's new song, "Spirit," and a few lines of dialogue. Despite its stunning effects and all-star cast, the movie doesn't fully live up to the hype of modernizing the classic for a new generation.

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