Film review ‘THE LION KING’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Jon Favreau appears to be the go-to guy for hyper-real, CGI animated films about anthropomorphised animals. He did a wonderful job with his remake of The Jungle Book, bringing adventure, excitement and moving pathos to Kipling’s story. Now, he helms the re-imagining of much loved Disney classic The Lion King. Unfortunately, while this film has a few remarkable moments it doesn’t recapture the magic of The Jungle Book or the original Lion King.

Favreau has, however, studiously followed the original movie’s plot template itself an update of Hamlet and as some writers have suggested the Indian epic The Bhagavad Gita. Once again, the film depicts the royal destiny of lion cub, Simba (voice by the multi-talented Donald Glover as a young adult and JD MCrary as a cub). Son of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and heir to the throne of African Savanah Kingdom Pride Lands, Simba retreats to the wilderness after his evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) convinces him he is responsible for a tragedy. Growing up in a kind of animal hippy commune with his quirky new besties wart hog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and the smart-ass Meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) Simba learns he must return to Pride Lands and stage a coup to win back the lion throne from usurper Scar.

This film features possibly the most astonishingly realistic and detailed CGI ever seen. Only slightly floaty movement and talking creatures separates this film from a David Attenborough documentary or possibly Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. This is a mixed blessing, while the film is a technical marvel, this animation style has been drained of much of traditional animation’s other-worldly charm. It often feels as if we’re simply watching an exercise in technical dexterity rather than a film inhabited by flesh and blood creatures about whom we should care.

The realism also makes the creatures a little less cute and more intimidating. Consequently, some of the lion fights and hyena attacks will prove rather intense for youngsters. Added to this, Favreau injects occasional menace through his use of Hans Zimmer’s powerful Wagnerian score. Not surprisingly, the film has a PG rather than a G rating. For those hoping or fearing that the original film’s songs would once again feature, they do but they’ve been slightly reworked with contributions from Beyoncé and while nicely performed the songs don’t integrate with and enhance the narrative as well as they did in the original film.

Film’s such as this are heavily reliant on the voice cast’s performances and here it’s a mixed bag. The movie benefits from having one of the greatest voices in cinema history, James Earl Jones return to give Mufasa his majestic tone. Chiwetel Ejiofor also makes Scar convincingly evil and sneaky although he doesn’t quite have the gleeful menace of Jeremy Irons who voiced Scar in the original film. Donald Glover and Beyoncé respectively make Simba and love interest Nala amiable characters but not indelible ones. The rest of the cast aren’t exactly memorable and we have to worry when Seth Rogen is one of the stand-outs.

While there’s still a feint pulse in this film it feels too much in the thrall of a graphics program and this Lion King is unlikely to prove the enduring and beloved family film the original has become.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Animated adventure.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Jon Favreau.

Release date: 18th July 2019.

Running time: 118 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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