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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Lion King is an extremely realistic computer-animated remake of Disney's beloved 1994 original. Because of the realism (you'll likely forget you're not watching real animals some of the time), the violence is definitely more intense and potentially upsetting here than in the more cartoony classic. The insatiably hungry and scavenging hyenas, the terrifying and tear-jerking wildebeest stampede sequence (which ends in a tragic death), and the claw- and teeth-filled fight scenes are undeniably scary, even for those who know what to expect. That said, there's plenty of humor, too, including potty jokes from Pumbaa and Timon (the original movie's implied "farted" is said loud and proud in this version of the pair's "Hakuna Matata"). And it has clearly positive themes and messages: Parents and kids can discuss issues regarding family, friendship, loss, responsibility, and community. The all-star voice cast includes Donald Glover (adult Simba), Beyoncé (adult Nala), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon), and the venerable James Earl Jones reprising his inimitable role as King Mufasa.
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What's the story?
The story of THE LION KING remake is nearly identical to the 1994 original: King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) of the pridelands have a baby cub they name Simba (JD McCrary) and present to the other animals as their future king. As a young cub, Simba is adventurous and allows his jealous Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to convince him to engage in risky, life-threatening behavior, like venturing into hyena territory and practicing his roar in the vicinity of a stampede. When (spoiler alert!) Mufasa is violently killed after saving Simba from the rampaging wildebeests, Scar encourages Simba to run away and then ascends to the throne himself with help from the hyena pack. Meanwhile, Simba befriends a comedic duo: feisty meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and his warthog best pal, Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who have a "no worries" approach to life. Later, as a nearly grown lion, Simba (Donald Glover) is reacquainted with an old friend who forces him to confront whether he can return home and challenge Scar.
Is it any good?
With its impressive visuals and well-cast voice ensemble, this remake is charming but darker and more Shakespearean than the original. Disney's live-action adaptations have yielded mixed results, but this one benefits from the legendary music, the gravitas of Jones' voice as Mufasa, and a stand-out cast across the board. Ejiofor's performance as Scar is particularly wonderful, which is no surprise, considering his classical dramatic training. Glover and Beyoncé have good voice chemistry in the final act of the movie, and she -- as you'd expect -- is perfectly fierce sounding. And Eichner and Rogen are quite funny as the latest incarnation of Timon and Pumba ... until it's time for Rogen to sing, and then audiences might wonder why an actual singer wasn't hired. Since a big part of the joy of the movie is the musical performances, Rogen's casting is a bit of a head scratcher. But he mostly makes up for his lack of singing prowess with his comedic timing and banter with Eichner.
The realistic animation is technologically astounding, but it intensifies the violence to an unexpected degree. The snarling hyenas are positively creepy, even though they, too, occasionally have lighthearted one-liners. And there's a greater horror in seeing Mufasa's demise unfurl here than in the original animation. This remake is also more overtly Shakespearean, with its Hamlet-like themes and characters. Bottom line? While entertaining and enjoyable, this remake doesn't offer much memorable original content aside from Beyoncé's new song, "Spirit," and a few lines of dialogue. Despite its stunning effects and all-star cast, the movie doesn't fully live up to the hype of modernizing the classic for a new generation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence and scariness in The Lion King. Does the realistic animation affect the impact/intensity of the violence? Why or why not?
Why doesn't the idea of "hakuna matata" or "no worries" always work? Can anyone get through life without a little worry and conflict?
For those familiar with Hamlet, what did you think of the story's Shakespearean elements? Does Scar's English accent add to that sense? Why do you think only a couple of characters have English accents?
How do Mufasa and Scar represent two opposing kinds of rulers/governments?
- In theaters: July 19, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 22, 2019
- Cast: Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Beyoncé, John Oliver, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard
- Director: Jon Favreau
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Music and Sing-Along, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Humility, Perseverance
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
- Last updated: October 21, 2019
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