- Run Time
- 1 hour and 58 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
The wicked watch for the righteous, and seek to kill them.
Almost twenty-five years ago when I reviewed the animated The Lion King, I never thought I would be writing about a “live” version of the film. And yet here we are, thanks to the incredible advances in computer-generated special effects—and Disney’s eagerness to cash in on its treasure trove of classics. According to Wikipedia The Lion King is the 13th animated to live action movie that the Disney studio has released, with a list of a dozen more as “Upcoming.” By now it is probably moot to ask why remake a classic, the answers being first, commercial; second, a new audience will see the story on a big screen (and for extra bucks in 3D); and third, a classic is always open to fresh interpretations, as is the play that inspired the original Lion King, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.:
Jon Favreau, co-writer and director, stays close to the original, as can be seen in the IMDB short, “Shot by Shot.” One feels like returning to a familiar and pleasant haunt when the thrilling Zulu chant, “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba!”, opens the film, followed by the presentation of the newborn cub by Rafiki (John Kani) to the bowing animals at Pride Rock; Simba’s (JD McCrary) tutoring by Mufasa (James Earl Jones) with the song “The Circle of Life”; the scheming of Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor ) and the hyenas; the adventures of the young Simba and Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph); the murder of Mufasa and Simba’s flight; the meeting up with Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) and thence his growth into an adult; eventual discovery of Simba by Nala and Rafiki; and reluctant return to Pride Rock to confront the evil Scar—all are as before, with a few changes and obvious additions. The new film at 1 hour 58 minutes is 26 minutes longer than the original.
These changes start with the cast. Most people are pleased that far more African Americans voice the characters—and that James Earl Jones continues as Mufasa. And who would not be pleased by the casting of Beyoncé and Donald Glover, with their outstanding singing voices, as the adult Simba and Nala. Much of the extra screen time is given to Beyoncé’s Nala, including the stirring new song, the anthem-like “Spirit.: (Click on the title “Spirit” to hear one of the many posts on YouTube performed by Beyonce over a montage of Simba returning to Pride Rock.) Although we might miss Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, Billy Eichnor and Seth Rogen are just as capable of making us laugh at their antics and spouting of their nihilistic philosophy. Another loss is Jeffrey Iron’s over the top voicing of the villainous Scar: his replacement Chiwetel Ejiofor is certainly dark and menacing, but not enough to make me forget Iron.
One excellent enhancement leading to a little longer running time is the different way in which the shaman Rifiki back at Pride Rock learns that Simba is still alive. (You might recall that Scar had tricked the young Simba into believing that he was the cause of his father’s death, and so the guilt-ridden lion had run off to a far country, subsequently coming to grow up with Pumbaa and Timon as his companions.) A tuft of Simba’s mane is blown by the wind and picked up by a series of new owners—a bird catches the tuft of hair along with other material for a nest, but it is dropped by its mate; caught in a tree it is eaten with the leaves by a giraffe; then by a dung beetle; then by wood ants who are passing by Rafiki. He picks it up and smells it, soon recognizing Simba’s smell—and thus he starts out on his search for the missing prince. This reinforces the message of the circle of life.
Our daughters should be encouraged by the expanded role given to Nala. Though she is important in the original, urging Simba to return to claim his heritage, her new song “Spirit” emphasizes her call “to rise up in the sky.” People of faith will be intrigued by the line “And be one with the Great I am, I am,” this possibly being a reference to Moses’ call in Exodus 3:14 wherein God responds to the request for his name, “I am who I am.” She sings, “Your destiny is comin’ close, Stand up and fight.” The words apply to both lions, Beyoncé singing the song over shots of Simba returning to Pride Rock.
It is good for our children to take in the sound advice of the father-son scenes early in the film, such as Mufasa’s, ”Everything you see – exists together in a delicate balance. While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give.” Although how a lion can be of service to his prey is not explored, the sentiment is a good one. (As with most of Disney’s anthropomorphisms, it is best not to think too deeply about this fable.)
One sequence from the original that seems watered down is one that impressed me deeply in 1994. I wrote:
“A scene that will evoke memories in those who can remember World War II is that in which the villainous Scar stands atop a huge rock and reviews a torch-light parade of his hyena followers marching by. On the canyon wall the animators show the passing dark shadows of the marchers’ banners and bodies, recalling newsreel scenes of the giant Nazi Nuremburg rally.”
I am sure that the shots of the menacing hyenas in the new version are scary, but this time they did not evoke the Nazi torches of Nuremberg (nor their followers at Charlottesville Rally last year).
All in all, however, this is a fine film for families and religious groups to embrace and discuss. Even John Elton’s rocking end credits song* “Never Too Late” will send you out of the theater with its message of determination and perseverance, summed up well by its chorus:
“It’s never too late to fight the fight
Never too late to keep the night
Never too late to win the day
Never too late to break away.”
* You can hear it on YouTube.
This review will be in the August issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.