Lion King 2019: The King Has Returned in Darker, Photorealistic Remake

4.5 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

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The original Lion King changed the game for Disney with its Shakespearean-inspired story, beautiful animation, and catchy songs that are still loved today.  So naturally, Disney chose to remake it using photorealistic animation (Meaning the lions and environments look like real lions and environments).  While most critics have labeled it a soulless cash grab, I realized sitting the theater that I would finally see this story on the big screen, filling me with more joy than you can imagine.  The Lion King retains much of its predecessors’ heart, humor, and emotional impact with stunning visuals and great performances that negate its few missteps.  The King Has Returned.

If you don’t know the story of this movie, either ask someone or experience this for the first time.  The same beats are hit (albeit without most of the cartoonish slapstick).  It’s Hamlet with lions.

The Lion King 2019 largely recaptures its originals’ greatness.  About 95% of the shots and dialogue are carried over, with additional lines added.  The new voice cast is exceptional, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor’s angrier, more threatening Scar.  Donald Glover sells Simba’s inner conflict, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are hilarious as Timon and Pumbaa, and James Earl Jones is James Earl Jones.  With one exception, the songs are well-sung and slightly modified for this version, and the animals’ expressive eyes coupled with the performances convey the emotion their faces can’t always muster.

The few flaws only stand out because of how good the film around them is.  Some of the dialogue delivery early on doesn’t have the right amount of emotion in it, but that dissipates after Act 1.   The love ballad “Can You Feel The Love TONIGHT” inexplicably takes place around 3 PM and isn’t as powerful.  Parents should know the wackier moments of the original are absent here, and the action scenes are significantly scarier given the more realistic look.  Several kids in my theater were crying, so know your kid before you let them see this.

The Lion King 2019 is a breathtaking, emotional retelling of its iconic source with amazing acting, gorgeous animation, and great humor.  Minor missteps aside, I highly recommend The Lion King for longtime fans or those experiencing it for the first time.  The King Has Returned.

Rated PG for Sequences of Violence and Peril, and Some Thematic Elements


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