It has been a quarter of a century since the beloved Disney animation hit the big screen – and this live-action redux just about pays homage to the classic tale.
There’s no denying that director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) has played it safe with a virtually scene-by-scene retelling – just swapping impressive computer imagery for the tried-and-tested 1994-era animation – but that will do for most who wouldn’t want to fix what isn’t broken.
But for some familiarity breeds a little bit of contempt – as the one thing this hasn’t got going for it is imagination.
It’s a retread – with only a few comedic extras thrown in – and that could leave some feeling a bit hollow, kind of expecting something more that is missing.
What that is, is hard to put your finger on – as this still ultimately ticks all of the family boxes for summer entertainment.
Yes, there are still spine-tingling moments – even though Elton John has been replaced by Beyoncé and other songsters when it comes to the soundtrack. Which matters a bit, but not too much, as the essence of the music is still there.
You all know the story, after his father King Mustafa (James Earl Jones reprising his legendary voice role) gets killed, young lion cub Prince Simba (initially voiced by youngster JD McCrary, before Atlanta actor Donald Glover takes over when he’s older) flees his Pride Lands kingdom, feeling responsible for his death.
He then strikes up a friendship with the lovable duo of warthog Pumbaa (Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) – as Simba ‘finds himself’ far away from his former homestead, learning life lessons in the process.
But when Simba inadvertently bumps into his childhood lion friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph, then songstress Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), he learns that his Uncle Scar (12 Years A Slave’s Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor) is ruling his homeland – and after an iconic ‘magical’ chat with his deceased Dad via wise shaman of the Pride Lands, mandrill monkey Rakiki (John Kani), decides to fight for his rightful place as king.
All the other major players, Scar’s hyena henchman, and hornbill parrot Zazu, all add to proceedings along the way, as it all comes together in a satisfyingly familiar fashion.
But it just doesn’t have quite the same heart and colourful ‘gusto’ of the original. Take the ‘Hakuna Matata’ scene for example. By the end of the set-piece you’re just about ‘humming’ and ‘toe-tapping’ along – but it doesn’t hit you ‘right from the start’ as the first film did.
And that just about sums up this formulaic, but ultimately still enjoyable, live-action (if you count computer-generated graphics as that) remake – you ‘always get there’ in the end, but just a bit more slowly than the way the euphoria of the original hit you in the nineties.
Because we’ve ultimately seen it all before.
Which is definitely not a bad thing. Just a bit ‘ho-hum’ at times during intermittent spells, before the almighty roar of Simba and Mustafa still brings it home for Disney.
And the visual effects makes it worth watching alone – as it breathtakingly oozes royalty from every claw.
Cast: Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba, Jd Mccrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph & Alfre Woodard
Running Time: 1 Hr 58 Mins
Director: Jon Favreau
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