‘The Lion King’ Review: Cherry at the Movies

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Beyoncé, John Oliver, Billy Eichner, Keegan-Michael Key, and Seth Rogen are some of the famous voices that take you on an African journey.

I saw the new “The Lion King” and was impressed with how life like the animals were almost all voiced by Hollywood stars. It was uncanny how I felt like I was watching the latest Earth Documentary on Nat Geo with anthropomorphism taken to the next level with singing interludes. The film opens on July 19thand I am sure will wow audiences of all ages.

Will they love it? Well it depends on the person. If it’s the first time seeing on the big screen I think they will be blown away. For parents wanting to take a nostalgic trip down memory lanes with their kids, parents, friends and loves well your hearts will swell to bursting. If you are fascinated on how technology is changing entertainment you will analyze every blade of grass and how the animals moves and be impressed. But if you want to be wowed on all senses especially you might now be as in love since Jon Favreau had one job. It was to make the movie his own putting a personal stamp on it but instead he pretty much replicated the original. That’s neither bad nor good just not as exciting as I would have hoped. 

What I found incredibly distracting about the film is that the famous cast whose voices are easily recognized did NOTHING to change their voices. I assume that was his choice or at the direction of Disney but for me it took me out of the film every time they opened their mouths. I watched and thought how much more enjoyable the movie would have been with more fresh ‘voices’ in the roles that could disappear into the animation or at least having them work with a voice coach to get more emotions since they were not able to rely on a raised eyebrow or facial expression. Instead it’s a movie that sounds like most of them were reading the script with some emotion but not enough for me to connect with the movie. I must admit I love animation from movie to tv to shorts I love a VO actor who’s able to do multiple voices and uses it as a finely tuned instrument. 

Mufasa (James Earl Jones) reprises his role and is the moral center of the film. I have to say he’s irreplaceable and brings the emotional connection I felt seeing it for the first time. Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) and Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph/Beyoncé) are the soul and they did a good job. I must admit young Simba and Nala were phenomenal and did a great job emoting mischievousness, yearning for parental approval and pushing boundaries. I found Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Bllly Eichner) to do an OK job but their voices were so recognizable that every time they spoke I pictured them and I lost connection with the movie. I had the same issue with Zazu (John Oliver) an important role that connects the two tribes ‘management’ and he just didn’t have the ability to bring the necessary emotion to the role. I did love Scar (Chitwetel Ejiofor) he made my spine tingle with how he was able to bring out a threat in the most benign a phrase especially when he teamed up with his army of hyenas led by Shenzi (Florence Kasumba). That’s one pack of canines I would not try to pet!

I don’t want to say that the film isn’t beautiful nor a solid addition to the Disney vault goldmine of turning beloved classic animated films into ‘live action’ or reimagined. It’s technically a beautifully well and done animated film. It just didn’t have any surprises for me and since the animation looked so realistic the anthropomorphism felt a little off. Lions are NOT a benevolent Monarchy led by a King. They are the top of the carnivore pyramid!

I wish they had added more songs and allowed the ones used the fullness they deserved. When the opening chords of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight …” with Donald Glover and Beyoncé singing well that I wish had gone on MUCH longer. I wish they had a more international cast of VO actors able to connect emotionally with me to transport me to the African Plains. I just wish that Jon Favreau (Director) and Jeff Nathanson (Writer) had ripped apart the playbook and made a new Lion King for this generation. This one is a 4 and what I wanted was an X.

The Lion King: Rated PG. It’s a tale as old as time and one that Jon Favreau doesn’t turn into his own.  

Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes.

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jeff Nathanson

Stars: Beyoncé, Keegan-Michael Key, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Billy Eicher, John Oliver, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Eric Andre, John Kani, Florence Kasumba, JD McCray

Rating: PG

Running Time: 1h 58m

Genres: Animation, Adventure, Drama, Family, and Musical

Let me know what you think!

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