In the past I’ve complained of the overabundance of reboots and sequels occupying movie theaters. For the rest of my days I will continue to rally for Hollywood to provide more original content, despite the fact many of these reboots/sequels are entertaining and fun.

That little rant brings me to the latest in the reboot extravaganza - The Lion King, the live action remake of the 1994 classic that boasts an immense budget of a rumored $260 million. Jon Favreau, the director who kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with Iron Man, and previously directed another Disney live action remake in The Jungle Book, serves as director of a project written by Jeff Nathanson. The cast includes Donald Glover as Simba, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Billy Eichner as Timon, John Kani as Rafiki, John Oliver as Zazu, and Beyonce Knowles as Nala. James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa, and Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre voice the three hyenas Shenzi (an original character), Kamari and Azizi (both new characters), respectively.

King is still a musical that includes many of the original songs, but since this is live action it's more grounded. That means some numbers are given a makeover (and even shortened) which, if you’re familiar with the original, may yield less impact.

In addition, some subplots are fleshed out to fill in some blanks, which add about 30 minutes to the running time (1994’s running time is roughly 88 minutes). Whether or not the new scenes are necessary (I’m okay with some, not okay with some others) is up to debate since obviously peoples’ tastes differ.

This King, regardless of the original, is fantastic. It’s entertaining and emotional and provides simple but lasting life lessons. It stresses the importance of honesty and begs for individuals to discover who they are. All of that is represented in Simba, the young lion cub who we also see as a grown lion, who’s lost without his father’s guidance. Glover, who voices Simba (Matthew Broderick was the voice in 1994), is fantastic and earnest, and you can tell he’s inspired by the original. The fact that Glover is also a musician was not lost on Disney when they cast him, because much of the cast sings, too.

So that’s a major difference from then and now – 1994’s King cast professional musicians to sing the musical numbers. Today, though, for continuity (and because of talented people like Glover and Beyonce who act and sing), this voice cast gets to belt out some classics. That means Rogen and Eichner team up to sing “Hakuna Matata,” likely The Lion King’s most iconic song. So if you’re already annoyed at the sound of Rogen’s voice, you may actually have to cover your ears when the tune starts.

The same goes for every actor voicing roles here, but I have to point out Rogen because I know many people who find him irritating (sorry, Mr. Rogen!).

Caleb Deschanel, a six-time Oscar nominee, serves as cinematographer. I have to mention him because this is gorgeous. It looks a lot like a National Geographic documentary, and the “circle of life” theme is beautifully driven home through his photography. I won’t be surprised if he’s nominated for his work here – it’s that impressive.

For me, one of King’s drawbacks lies with the animals talking. I should be used to it since there exist other films (and especially television ads) with talking animals. But I realized early on that I found talking animals more believable when the animals are animated. That may be my reverence for the original talking, but that’s actually the point I’m trying to make.

2019’s King, in my opinion, lacks the magic of the original and there are times when the new version rang hollow. It felt like a cash grab, but Favreau did a good job most of the time hiding that motive. And honestly, this is almost a shot-for-shot clone of the original, whereas James Earl Jones' return feels like a move that lacks confidence in regards to making this stand apart from 1994's King. Ultimately, my feelings towards 2019’s King will never match that of 1994’s King because, frankly, I believe the original to be a masterpiece. That may be a generational thing (we'll know soon enough), but the magic I feel is lacking in 2019’s King really is there, just only visible to children. So watching with my adult eyes may be doing the film a disservice.

Regardless, The Lion King is an excellent film that can become a modern classic simply by taking a ‘hakuna matata’ approach to it. And, who knows, maybe in 25 years the 'circle of life' will be completed once again with another reboot of this classic Disney tale.

4 stars out of 5


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