Ready yourself to travel back to the great savanna of the Pride Lands, and feel the emotion well up inside of you because the majesty of The Lion King has returned to the big screen once again and it is an utter triumph.
Disney’s “The Lion King” journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Regarded as one of, if not the greatest Disney film of all time, The Lion King is a piece of cinema that truly speaks to audiences with its epic storytelling and musical genius and now noted director Jon Favreau reinvents it for a whole new generation. Favreau’s task is utterly monumental and the director approaches it with sincere love and enthusiasm and this really shows through in the finished print. Favreau really builds out the emotion here in The Lion King, and his directorial eye and talent for narrative completely brings his audience inside this grand tale.
Captured in beautiful photo-realistic detail, you absolutely feel the pull of Mother Earth here, and the visuals are a thing of sheer beauty to look upon. Favreau’s vision is like that of a Richard Attenborough documentary come to life, and great detail is captured here from the mighty stride of Simba to the individual shades of grass that make up the Pride Lands, every part of this film builds the sense of a thriving and lush natural ecosystem. This lavish presentation of the Pride Lands and the creatures that occupy it also pull audiences into the central theme of The Great Circle Of Life, and there is a real reverence given to just how special the natural world is, and how important it is to keep this natural balance in order. It’s one of the most important issues of our time and it’s fabulous to see it being communicated here through The Lion King and its message is sure to make an impression on audiences both young and old.
Leading The Lion King is the supremely talented Donald Glover, and this lauded performer gives an amazing performance as the once and future king. Glover has a great balance of both the fun and the dramatic here, and he takes audiences on an incredible journey through as Simba on his quest to be king. Glover’s vocals are given great space here and he really finds the soul at the heart of who Simba is. Simba’s journey to become King is filled out with emotion, and Glover’s strong auditory performance really builds out the strength of character that Simba develops along the way. Fans of the actor’s Childish Gambino persona will also be pleased to know that Glover lets his musical voice sing out here as well. His impressive ability to carry a tune really sets the cinema alight and audiences are sure to be grooving.
Standing next to Glover’s Simba is the ever fabulous Beyonce as his childhood best friend and eventual love interest Nala, and she brings substantial grace to the role. It’s through Nala’s presence that Simba is once again enticed to return to his sacred duty, and Beyonce really sells this home to a young lion who has grown selfish and lost all sense of duty. Beyonce’s power really shines through up on the big screen, and this incredible artist also gives audiences plenty of musical charm with her duet alongside Glover of the classic “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, along with giving Disney audiences a fabulous new song in the form of “Spirit”. They say behind every great King, there’s an even greater Queen and that certainly is apparent in Nala thanks to the performance and talent of Beyonce.
Bringing a sense of venomous dread to The Lion King is the sensational Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, the ravaged and spiteful brother of King Mufasa who has his own ideas as to how the Pride Lands should be ruled. In my opinion, Ejiofor completely steals the film with his performance, and his commanding, almost Shakespearian quality that he gives to Scar makes for a very scary villain. Ejiofor’s rich voice is really on display here, and director Jon Favreau coaxes a terrifying performance from the actor, which is lead by the actor’s baritone range that expresses itself through “Be Prepared”. Every hero needs a worthy villain to fight against, and Scar’s tyrannical power struggle tests Simba’s will at every turn and is a true testament to Ejiofor’s abilities as an actor.
It wouldn’t be The Lion King without a good dose of humour and stars Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner bring plenty of laughs to the big screen as the ever lovable duet of Timon and Pumbaa. These two are just a barrel of laughs up on the screen, and each actor absolutely complements the other. Eichner’s wisecracks as Timon will have you in fits with his somewhat snarky delivery, and Rogen’s perfect comedic timing as Pumbaa is a real joy to watch. Rogen and Eichner make the perfect team up on screen, and their hilarity and energy really bring out the joy in The Lion King. Audiences will absolutely go nuts for these two, and they sure do deliver plenty of giggles.
Finally, the great James Earl Jones returns to this beloved film as the ever-wise King Mufasa, and his vocal presence and important life lessons are sure to fill your heart with joy. With a vocal delivery that implies respect, command and kingly might, Jones is once again the philosophical voice of The Lion King that we have long loved him for being. His lessons of fatherhood and responsibility will again be welcomed by audiences, and having not heard him speak these words in such a long time it’s certainly great to hear him impart these important life lessons. Favreau gives tremendous authority to the presence of Mufasa in this film, and some of my favourite moments of this film were led by his performance.
With great visuals and a stunning narrative also comes the presence of plenty of incredible symbolism on the part of Favreau. The theme of destiny carries real significance to this film, and this is expressed through the presence of the wise seer Rafiki, played with great reverence by the one and only John Kani. Kani’s performance as Rafiki has an almost grandfather delivery to it, and he gives the film much of its soul. Rafiki’s presence also gives The Lion King a real spiritual dimension and coupled together with the idea of the natural world and The Great Circle of Life, and the way in which Favreau expresses it through this film, The Lion King really impacts audiences on a far more deeper, meaningful level.
Thematically, The Lion King again follows the key narrative structure of Joseph Campbell’s The Heroes Journey, and Simba’s journey is one of accepting himself, his destiny and the responsibility of what it means to be a king and to serve a higher calling. Favreau’s understanding of narrative is very deliberate here, and the way in which he illustrates Simba’s journey to rise from that of a cub to a king is very meaningful and thought-provoking. This structure at the heart of The Lion King shapes the film into a piece of cinematic opera and there are plenty of grand moments that take your breath away in the illustration of these bold themes.
Just like the previous 1994 film, music also plays a very integral part to The Lion King, and this new score and soundtrack certainly fills the film with plenty of incredible emotions. With both timeless and classic songs such as “Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, alongside bold new tracks such as Beyonce’s “Spirit”, there’s a tremendous musical consciousness on display here and you absolutely feel it deep inside your soul. Of all the film’s tracks, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner’s rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” really sang out to me with its comedic musings and it’s incredibly fun to listen to.
As a cinematic experience, The Lion King is phenomenal in every sense of the word and I loved every moment that played out on its grand canvas. This film holds a very special place in my own heart as it was the first piece of cinema I was ever witnessed more than 25 years ago, and just as then, it still moves me deeply. At the heart of all of us is a deep sense of childlike magic and nostalgia, and all of that is on display here in Jon Favreau’s The Lion King. It is an utterly triumphant piece of cinema and I was moved even more so after watching it again more than 25 years later. The magic of Walt Disney truly lives through this piece of cinema and it certainly touched my heart.
The Lion King is a bold and breathtaking piece of cinema that will absolutely make your heart sing out. Narrative, visuals, performance and theme all come together to craft an utterly unforgettable piece of cinema and you’ll certainly cheer and clap in triumph at this one.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures