The Dove Take:
Even when we trade animation for stunning CGI “realism,” the nobler aspects of this Disney Classic still shine through.
After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
The surprise in Disney’s 2019 remake of its 1994 animated classic, The Lion King, isn’t in the story, which remains the same even though it takes 30 more minutes to tell it this time. The surprise is in the computer-generated imagery (CGI), which even when you know to expect it, can still take your breath away with its attention to the smallest details. It raises the bar on CGI in movies to the extent that, for brief spells, you might actually believe that lions can hold casual, philosophical conversations about kingly responsibility, overcoming your past and assuming a lion’s rightful place in the great circle of life.
There are no spoilers that 25 years of the animated classic and Broadway shows haven’t already unveiled by now. King Mufasa (voiced by the always regal-sounding James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) have a young cub named Simba, who is presented to the animal kingdom as heir to throne, much to the dismay of Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whose appearance is more subtly sinister than in the animated version. What follows is how young Simba learns to step into the larger-than-life paw prints of his father.
Simba is a direct threat to Scar’s ambitions, so Scar plots to get rid of him and Mufasa. Scar sets up a stampede of wildebeest—an iconic, tear-jerking scene in the original, animated version. Here is where the heightened lifelikeness of the CGI-driven project is a two-edged sword: The bared teeth come across sharper, the horns more pointy and scary, and because of that, the whole episode comes across more intense, more realistic and therefore perhaps more frightening to the young eyes for which it’s intended.
Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog combo voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, provide some off-the-cuff comic balance to all that intensity, even if they have to resort to mild toilet humor to do it.
Simba goes into exile, taking the blame for causing the events that led to Mufasa’s demise. It haunts Simba, who’s presumed dead, until his adulthood, when he realizes, with some ghost-in-the-sky help from his departed father and some chiding from his childhood friend-turned-adult romantic interest Nala (Beyoncé), that he has to go back and face his past. He must, because facing the past is the only way he can honor Mufasa in the present. Plus, it becomes apparent that the Pride Lands need somebody to rescue them from the reign of death resulting from Scar’s coup.
The movie leans hard on its music, familiar numbers which sound as strong as ever, with Elton John and Beyoncé leading the way. All in all, the 2019 adaptation of this classic has much more positive than negative going for it, and thus remains Dove-Approved for All Ages.