The Lion King

 

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With its photorealistic reinvention of its 1994 cartoon classic, Disney hoists technology into a whole new art form.

 

The Lion King

Can you feel the love tonight? King Mufasa and Sarabi

  

The conceit of it. Disney’s 1994 animated classic, the first not to be based on a previous source, won the Golden Globe for best film, was the highest-grossing picture of the year, became the top-selling home video of all-time, spawned two direct-to-video sequels, two TV spin-offs and a Broadway show that has become the highest-grossing musical of all time. While Disney has been transforming its back catalogue of cartoons into live-action hits, The Lion King seemed a leap too far. How do you improve on a film that was so moving, so funny, so visually advanced and that several generations know by heart?

 

As the world celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the scientific miracle that was the Apollo 11 moon landing, the cinema now presents its own technological marvel, both a photorealistic reimagining of a cartoon classic and a recreation of an earthly paradise that is fast disappearing: the African savannah. Soon, the staggering beauty and infinite variety of this ‘prideland’ may only be available to us through the magic of animation.

 

The onerous task of overseeing this ambitious project fell to Jon Favreau, director of the Disney remake The Jungle Book (2016). It seems he knew what he was up against. He says, “I felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up.” Well, Sir, you didn’t.

 

Practically everybody on the planet must recall the breath-stealing prologue of the original film and here, after a handful of seconds of natural quiet, the first chords of Elton John’s music burst upon the screen, leading to one of the most awesome cinematic openings in recent memory. It’s hard to separate the real from the computer-generated and so when the lions start to talk in English, it takes a moment of readjustment. And they also get to sing Elton John songs, but the visuals are so potent and Tim Rice’s lyrics so sly (“Chimps are going ape, the vultures have a hunch...") that the seduction doesn’t take long.

 

The imagery alone should mark out Favreau’s The Lion King as a modern classic, but there’s that wonderful score by Hans Zimmer, the indelible characters, some ingenious segues and a story as old as time (partly drawn from Hamlet). With the material’s added realism, a number of scenes come with a new visceral force and the PG certificate (for “mild threat and violence”) should be heeded. Yet while the film is unafraid to present a bleak dystopia under the auspices of Simba’s Machiavellian uncle Scar, there’s lashings of humour, too. As the flatulent warthog Pumbaa, Seth Rogen brings his own inimitable talent (and laugh), and John Oliver as the pompous hornbill Zazu is a satisfactory replacement for Rowan Atkinson’s original reading of the role.

 

At the time of writing, Disney has brought us the five highest-grossing films of 2019. Now that The Lion King enters the box-office pridelands, the company has something that it can be really proud of.  

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Amy Sedaris.

 

Dir Jon Favreau, Pro Jon Favreau, Jeffrey Silver and Karen Gilchrist, Screenplay Jeff Nathanson, Ph Caleb Deschanel, Pro Des James Chinlund, Ed Adam Gerstel and Mark Livolsi, Music Hans Zimmer; songs by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics).

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Fairview Entertainment-Walt Disney.

118 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 19 July 2019. Cert. PG.