The animated classic receives a photorealistic update with The Lion King. The son of Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), young Simba (JD McCrary) is destined to one day become the king of the Pride Lands. However, Mufasa’s jealous brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots to usurp the throne for his own, with the help of the hyenas Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), and Azizi (Eric André). Castaway, Simba befriends Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), who live a carefree lifestyle in the jungle. However, when he is reunited with his childhood friend Nala (Beyoncé) and the wise shaman Rafiki (John Kani), the older Simba (Donald Glover) must fulfil his destiny and claim the throne on Pride Rock.
25 years after the original, Jon Favreau directs a new update of The Lion King, presented in a similar photorealistic CGI style as his 2016 update of The Jungle Book. Very little has changed plotwise with this version of The Lion King, though the film sports some very impressive visuals that bring the story to life. In addition, this new film reverses the whitewashing of the original film, with cast a cast of black actors, including Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Kani, and a returning James Earl Jones as Mufasa. The only white actors in the cast are John Oliver as royal advisor Zazu and the duo of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the carefree duo Timon and Pumba.
There are undoubtedly those who consider the original 1994 version of The Lion King sacred and would refuse to see this new version as a result. However, it is probably best to view this new version of The Lion King as a modern upgrade than a full-on remake. Even though the film does essentially retell the story shot-for-shot, the film is not a carbon copy of the original, as the story is somewhat expanded, resulting in the film being a full half-hour longer than the animated film. Then there are the scene-stealing performances by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who utilized a lot of improv in their voice work, which results in some very funny comic-relief moments.
Ultimately, if there is a reason to see this new version of The Lion King, it is to see the very impressive photorealistic visuals. While there are a few instances of the mouths not moving quite right, The Lion King is probably one of the most stunning films I’ve seen this year. Along with the score by Hans Zimmer and the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the film hits all the right emotional notes. While the original animated film will always be there for people to enjoy, this new version of The Lion King greatly succeeds in updated the film, without taking away what makes the story special.