By Jessica Marie Nardo
The sun rises from the African Savannah horizon as a Zulu wail hits our ears. The sunlight hits the eyes of the a nearby antelope as the morning continues to awaken all the animals. We all know the scene and if you don’t get goose bumps when this happens, you have no soul (and not like I have no soul, you legit have no soul). The announcement of the live action version of The Lion King has had everyone in a major buzz especially after announcing the exceptional cast that was reintroducing these Disney familiars to a new generation: Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover), Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph/Beyonce Knowles), Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Timon (Billy Eicher), Pumbaa (Seth Rogan), Zazu (John Oliver) & Mufasa (well technically this one is not a reintro as James Earl Johns still holds the character). Disney has not been able to perfect its live action formula with Dumbo getting lukewarm reviews yet Aladdin being received very well, but this is the closest they have gotten so far.
The film follows the path of Simba as he “Just Can’t Wait to be King” almost beat for beat as far as the plot goes. Why reinvent the wheel? Yet this one is not without its tweaks and additions that keep it fresh. Without any spoilers, the music has its moments of change that were greatly appreciated, especially in “Hakuna Matata.” There are also different ways as to how they bring other familiar elements of the movie as far as story line and even objects that will give you a nice, “Oh I see” moment as you are watching. The voice actors of the film did a magnificent job breathing new light into the 25 year old tale. I was especially joyous at the sound of young Simba and Nala with newcomers McCrary & Joseph harmonizing the true growing up favorite as well as Glover & Knowles making us “Feel the Love Tonight” just as well (Listen, I am going to pun the hell out of this review because let’s face it, it fits). Eicher & Rogan held down the hard laughs as Timon and Pumbaa but Oliver really brought his own take on Zazu with still keeping him true to the original character. Having been able to view this film in IMAX, I truly suggest seeing it in a specialized theater because the sights and sounds of Africa can only be felt this way for there to be an elevated sensory explosion.
Now, as much as it pains me, there are some small issues with the film. For one, I agree that the dialogue needed to be a little different so it’s not word for word but there was a handful of times where it either sounded weird, looked weird or simply didn’t fit. The small exchange between adult Nala & Shenzi (voiced by Florence Kasumba, who truly did one of the best jobs in the film hands down), fell flat considering what was going to happen. Also, during the sequence of “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” there were moments were the mouths did not really match up to the song (however, this could have been a theater issue). In addition, Scar’s anthem about overpowering Mufasa in “Be Prepared” just did not live up to its potential even though it can be understood why they went a different route; however, it just didn’t hit. Lastly, it would be nice to see Mufasa in the clouds for just a little bit longer (blink once and you’ll miss it).
Putting such small critiques aside, the film is beautifully made, wonderfully casted and holds up to the ambitions of the continued works of John Favreau. The musical styling of Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams should also receive nods for its wonderous rebirthing of such idolized Disney hits. The Lion King continues to bring joy, tears and the upmost important message that we are all apart of “The Circle of Life” but you should always know who you are. With that being said, “Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm…” and well you know how that goes.
Stars: 4 out 5