I’m hoping there’s no ‘spoiler concerns,’ for readers as this is a remake 25 years in the making and as far as reboots go, this one is…acceptable. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the animated version, music and all. But, with the reboot, I wasn’t as happy. Maybe it was too real? Watching Simba and Scar go at it in animated form is a lot different than watching ‘real life’ lions going at each other (kinda scary). The whimsy and folly of the original soundtrack takes a reboot here as key lyrics are changed (some for the better, some for the worse). Even with Elton John back in the music fold to help out, I still felt as though the rebooted tracks were lacking. The standout exception is the Beyonce, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen rendition of ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight,’ this one still gave me goosebumps like the original.
So, the plot you know, right? Young Simba is born into a great responsibility of caring for the African Prideland. Young, rash and easily impressionable he unwittingly becomes a pawn in his Uncle Scar’s plans to take over the Pride by murdering Simba’s father, Mufasa (still voiced strongly and so well by James Earl Jones). Ashamed of his role in his father’s death and chased out by his Uncle, Simba starts a new life in the wilderness and meets two animal friends who eagerly usher him through the new landscape. With Timon (Billy Eichner) the Meerkat and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) the warthog Simba learns to dismiss his upbringing and Pride responsibilities in favor of a carefree life. When life within the Pride reaches destitute means, the lioness’ led by Simba’s former childhood friend Nala (Beyonce) leave the Pride for help which is what circles Nala back to Simba and a reminder about his real place in the ‘circle of life.’
So lets get to what matters, right? Will you enjoy this film and will it frighten your young ones? The simple answer is yes, on both counts. It’s the ‘Lion King’ and the story has endured for 25 years via sequels, Broadway iterations and even an amusement park ride! You’ll enjoy it because its essentially the same story as the original with some enhanced tidbits embedded throughout. It is dark, and by that I mean, it’s a bit scary. The elephant graveyard, the hyena’s and of course the penultimate fight scene in the 3rd act. Remember the animated hyena’s? They were funny, obviously bad guys, but far from what you’ll see here. Shenzi (the lead hyena played by Whoopi Goldberg in the original), doesn’t so much seem like a member of the core trio, as an all-encompassing leader that would probably kill her own kind to get her means to an end. Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is obviously the bad guy, but his digitally animated form is not the ‘bony, barely there’ animated kind – it’s a harsher and more jaded face that starkly reminded me of the tiger Shere Khan from 2016’s ‘The Jungle Book.’ The rest of the voice talent within is serviceable. Beyonce as Nala is incredibly underused, and outside of needing her voice for the key love song – she has no real presence. The standout, for me, was Zazu (voiced ably and on par by John Oliver), and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). The rest of the voice talent carries the film, but none transcend.
This film is rated PG not G like the original and it is a rightly designation. Keep your kiddies close as the story draws out, they’ll be reaching for your hand at some point. Running Time: 2hrs. – Grade, B-