BUFFALO, New York — It’s like Disneynature and Walt Disney Animation Studios met and had a baby together. The Lion King is so astonishing in its realization of these animals, so flawless in gifting them with the power of believable speech while retaining their very authentic movement and behavior that this cinematic achievement deserves unbridled and awe-filled praise. 

But the application of that technology to this story may not itself be a complete success. Oh yes, it’s an amazing and astonishing piece of film-making, but the fidelity of the characters to real life animals works against the complete success of the film.  

John Kani in The Lion King (2019)
© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

He's probably thinking, "How can I keep from being Lunch today?"

For instance, when the mandrill Rafiki (John Kani, The Ghost and the Darkness, White Lion) take the newborn lion cub Simba (JD McCrary, Little, TV’s The Paynes – an older Simba is voiced by Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Martian) from his mother, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard, 12 Years a Slave, The Family that Preys) and goes off to hold the newborn cub out over a cliff for all to see, one cannot help but think that the lioness would have that mandrill for lunch for even touching her baby, let alone holding it out over a precipice.

Now, in a cartoon, the animation removes things far enough from reality that these thoughts don’t occur. But with this film’s incredible realism, the suspension of disbelief becomes an order of magnitude more difficult.

Oh, its not a movie-wrecker by any stretch of the imagination, but it does despoil any hope the film may have had of perfection.

For those of you readers who’ve never seen the original, Simba is a young lion cub who is the heir to the throne of The Pridelands. The current King, Mufasa (James Earl Jones, Dr. Strangelove, Star Wars: The New Hope) couldn’t be prouder of his son, even though Simba shows a tendency to be a bit overconfident and disobedient.  

Chiwetel Ejiofor in The Lion King (2019)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in The Lion King (2019)
Ph© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Yeah, he looks like a good uncle.

His Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kinky Boots, Serenity), wishing to eliminate both Simba and his dad so that he may assume the throne, manipulates Simba into going to a nearby gorge and has his hyena lackeys start a wildebeest stampede. Mufasa attempts to rescue his son, and succeeds, but Scar pushes his brother down into the ravine, killing him. He then convinces Simba that his father’s death is the cub’s fault, and Simba flees into the desert wilderness.

The Lion King is first and last a Disney film. So, the casting is spectacular, Jon Favreau’s (The Jungle Book) direction is phenomenal, and the music is wonderful.  

Seth Rogen, John Oliver, and Billy Eichner in The Lion King (2019)
Seth Rogen, John Oliver, and Billy Eichner in The Lion King (2019)
Photo by Photo by Kwaku Alston - © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This reviewer firmly believes that the Warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen, The Disaster Artist, Long Shot) is the role that Rogen was born to play. In fact, there are really only two things to quibble about, here.

First is the aforementioned problem with the film’s ultra-realism. The second is the fact that the film drags a little, just a little, here and there. Now, some of that may be due to the fact that there is a bit more detail about Simba’s development. (Favreau had said that he didn’t want to make a shot-for-shot remake.)

But there is so, so much that is just great about this remake that The Lion King will stand the cinematic test of time every bit as well as its 1994 predecessor. 

The Lion King roars and pounces on 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

The film is rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.

OK, what if you are in the mood for something a little edgier, a little more sophisticated? Well, maybe, just maybe, The Art of Self Defense might just be worth considering.

Basically, the film’s story is about guy who’s sick of being a victim, so he embarks on a course of self defense training. It’s billed as a dark comedy, and it’s got a great cast including Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, American Ultra) and Imogen Poots (Green Room, That Awkward Moment).

Imogen Poots in The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
Imogen Poots in The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
© Credit: Bleecker Street

The Art of Self Defense is Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.  I’ll be seeing it very soon.

So, hakuna matata…no worries about what to see at the cineplex. I’m Larry Haneberg, and I’m taking you 2 The Movies.


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