They didn’t know what a big deal it was going to be. But Disney can be forgiven for knowing what it now has in “The Lion King,” 25 years after the animated classic came out, 22 years after the stage version became a Broadway sensation.
Thus, their “live action” (just as animated), pretty much note-for-note remake is more an event than a mere movie.
Stately, with beautifully-rendered digital animals on a gorgeous, largely digitized version of the African veldt, it may not cover much that we’d call new ground. It just covers it at a more regal pace.
Yes, the Donald Glover/Beyonce/Billy Eichner/Chiwetel Ejiofor/James Earl Jones version is a half an hour longer than the 1994 Matthew Broderick/Moira Kelly/Nathan Lane/Jeremy Irons/James Earl Jones original.
There’s a more elaborate “Wimoweh” (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) production number, and a lot more shots of (digital) nature piling on minutes.
Just, don’t let this get around among any huzzahs this King of the Movie Beasts piles up, but it is SLOW. Pretty, but slow.
Some characters have been given more to say and do, thanks to the stars taking on the voice-acting roles. To that end, Billy Eichner, taking over for Nathan Lane as Timon the meerkat, and John Oliver, replacing Rowan Atkinson as Zazu the Hornbill (bird) riff and wisecrack to beat the band.
Eichner shows off a not-unpleasant singing voice, and like Oliver, makes the character his own despite the fact he had MUCH bigger vocal shoes to fill.
“How are you? In as few words as possible?”
Classic “Billy on the street.
You’ll recognize Keegan-Michael Key as a comically (sort of) villainous hyena, but not Florence Kasumba, who is no hyena-queen substitute for Whoopi Goldberg.
Donald Glover and Beyoncé are more interesting as singers (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) than voice actors and Ejiofor (“Twelve Years a Slave”) is menacing enough, but not on Jeremy Iron’s level for vulpine, venomous villainy as Scar, the murderous brother and pretender to the throne of Pride Rock.
Is there any point reprising the plot, burned into generations thanks to the classic film this is remaking? Cub Simba is born to the Lion King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), is tricked into getting his dad killed by the villainous Scar, and runs off into exile where he meets two Native nihilists, Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog (Seth Rogen, whose singing is buried in the score, replacing Ernie Sabella).
Scar, meanwhile, with hyenas as his henchwomen and henchmen, takes over the pride. “The Circle of Life” is broken via greed, environmental degradation and cruelty.
Simba the cub must grow up and fulfill his destiny.
One big change, the meaning of “Hakuna Matata” has changed. It’s not just “no worries,” it’s “Who cares? Not my problem. Existence is fleeting.”
As Timon, “the brains of this operation” explains, there is no “Circle of Life,” just a “meaningless line of indifference.”
Very nihilist. Very 2019.
Oliver’s Kazu, promoted to giving the savanna “news” to the females of the pride (Alfre Woodard and Beyoncé are the two easily recognized voices), has plenty of zingers — “I say it again, cheetahs never prosper!”
“King Redux” has just a couple of more laughs than the first Disney cartoon, but being 30 minutes longer, that’s not much of a plus. The original vs. remake comparison is hard to get away from here, but I have to say I was moved just once by this remake — that lovely opening note of African song/chant still thrills.
The readier comparison might be the actual “live action” “Aladdin,” heading towards $1 billion at the box office, and yet an utterly indifferent experience as a movie. There’s little here that one could call “directing,” although Jon Favreau gets that credit. It’s more produced than directed.
And what do productions render? Product. This product will make bank, and how. And as a product, it makes a perfectly passable time-killer as a summer movie, nothing more.
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Cast: The voices of Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Florence Kasumba, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key
Credits: Directed by Jon Favreau, script by Jeff Nathanson, based on the Walt Disney animated film. Songs by Tim Rice and Elton John, “Wimoweh” by Solomon Linda, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss, Albert Stanton. A Disney release.
Running time: 1:58