The Lion King Review: No Worries, This Remake is a Roaring Good Time


The Lion King (2019) is the story of young Simba, a princely lion cub who dreams of ruling the African plains just as his loving father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) has done with respect and honor. When Simba becomes embroiled in a family tragedy, he flees his land forsaking his birthright and responsibilities. While away, Simba gains a new perspective on life through some carefree friends but ultimately realizes he must decide exactly who he is within the circle of life.

What works in The Lion King (2019) is the voice acting, the music, and the heart. Director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, Iron Man) has assembled a fantastic ensemble of vocal talent to breathe new life into the iconic characters—while wisely retaining the actual living icon of Jones, recognizing that sometimes you can’t top the original. Shining in particular is Donald Glover (Community, Atlanta) as adult Simba who has the ability to retain the youthful playful spirit of his younger animated counterpart and consistently conveys a range of emotions through both dialogue and song. This brings us to Beyoncé—voicing Nala, Simba’s best friend—who has the right combination of confidence, sympathy, and ferocity to give the character a fresh take. And finally, not enough can be said about Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogan) who repeatedly steal the show with expert comic relief and chemistry. While The Lion King (2019) is nearly a shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake, Timon and Pumbaa have the most modifications, thanks to Favreau insisting that Eichner and Rogan record all of their dialogue in the same room and giving them the freedom to improvise their lines as they saw fit.

RELATED: The Lion King: Listen To The New Song From Beyoncé

On that note, a major question with these Disney remakes has been—how much is actually going to be different, besides the visuals? Whereas Aladdin and Dumbo made attempts to update their narratives, The Lion King (2019) is easily the closest in terms of cloning its 1994 counterpart. Even camera movements and the staging of particular shots are replicated frame by frame. But what does feel fresh about this revival is the renewed sense of energy which radiates from talents’ collective new spin on the tale. For example, Scar’s (Chiewtel Ejiofor) motivations and lines are largely untouched, but the performance feels distinct and surprisingly deeper, thanks to Ejiofor has approached and embodied the antagonist. Favreau has pulled up a minor miracle in this—giving the core story a polish through character refine, but retaining the heart, soul, and spirit that makes the original film so beloved.

While The Lion King (2019) finds a way to bring back a classic with aplomb, the visual effects could be something of a divisive issue among watchers. It is true that the photo-realistic landscapes and animals are breathtaking and gorgeous, especially when one remembers that literally none of it is real—this is not a “live-action” remake, since everything has been animated with technology. However, animals’ mouths don’t move in the ways needed to speak the English language, let alone sing it. Favreau dodges around this issue by cleverly obscuring the beasts’ lips when necessary and keeping jaw movement minimal. It mostly works, but there are times where audiences might have trouble syncing what they hear to what they see.

The Lion King (2019) soars where other Disney remakes have struggled by finding the right balance of old and new. The songs and music are likely to give audience members goosebumps, and the majority of the experience is delightful thanks to a wonderful cast.

Recommended if you enjoyed: The Lion King (1994), The Jungle Book (2016)


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