The Lion King
Animation/ Adventure/ Drama
Critic’s Rating: 3.5 stars Principal Cast: [voices] James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, John Kani, J.D. McCrary, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, Shahadi Wright Joseph Director: Jon Favreau Duration: 118 minutes, 18 seconds Language: English (U)
You may at first wonder if there was any need to remake the 1994 Disney classic and more importantly if would ever match up to the original. However, as soon as the introductory scene flashes onscreen in all its high tech (with a budget of $260 million it better be good!) CGI glory, all doubts will be laid to rest. It's so realistic that you will easily mistake them to be real animals living in the various terrains of Africa.
The principal characters to focus on - the ones who bring to you the moral compass of this saga - are King Mufasa (Jones, reprising his role), Queen Sarabi (Woodard), Simba (McCrary as a cub, Glover as a grown-up), Nala (Shahadi and Beyoncé, respectively), Zazu (Oliver) Rafiki (Kani), Scar (Ejiofor, the most engaging character), Pumbaa (Rogen) and Timon (Eichner).
Without giving away any spoilers (in case you've not seen the 1994 flick), the essence of the story can be distilled down to Simba the cub's rite of passage from being proud, petulant and unable to spell the word 'humility' to that of maturity and accepting responsibility. Simba will in time learn how to respect rules and inculcate discipline from the school of hard knocks - learning from past mistakes, dealing with loss while casting away regret and being wise enough not to repeat those mistakes.
The other important and engaging story track is the relationship between Mufasa and his brother Scar. The former is the noble king for whom honour, loyalty, and honesty mean everything. The latter is the other side of the proverbial coin. We are introduced to a skinny Scar eking out a solitary existence in a dank cave, eating rodents and whose anger and frustration grows within him like cancer. After one heaty exchange between the brothers, Zazu (Simba's guardian) even urges Mufasa to banish Scar ("Every family has that one black sheep") from the Kingdom. Mufasa refuses as his brother has every right to be in the Kingdom.
Scar is calculative, cunning and manipulative and feels that his brother lacks intelligence. But Scar has some crucial flaws, which you will see in the film. Favreau has made these life lessons pretty easy to grasp for its core audience - children. There are plenty of amusing characters (Pumbaa and Timon with their Hakuna Matata, which quite frankly isn't as good as the old track even if reworked by the composer Elton John himself). On the whole, though, the score is a delightful mix of traditional African percussion rhythms and swathes of orchestral washes (the genius of Hans Zimmer's aural vocabulary is instantly recognizable), both of which add depth and emotion to the scenes they augment.
The underlying message of the film is to look within yourself and remember your roots, to look beyond what you can see. Some past incidents may hurt, but we can either run away from it or learn from it.
Disney has done well with this remake, for it utilizes the best of today's technology to introduce a much-loved and endearing tale to a new generation.
Reagan Gavin Rasquinha (for The Examiner)