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Movie review: ‘The Lion’ Ka-Ching

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    CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES
    Computer Generated Imagery was used to create the animals in “The Lion King” remake.

Published August 14. 2019 02:40PM

 

I went to see “The Lion King” prepared to not like it.

Try as I do to not read or hear reviews before I see a movie to review, it was difficult to avoid the buzz for “The Lion King.” Publicity about the movie, which opened with a near-record $185 million at the box office in its first weekend and has grossed $473 million to date in the United States, was everywhere.

Call it “The Lion” Ka-Ching.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with the billing of “The Lion King” as live-action, the Disney remake makes the original 1994 “The Lion King” animated feature film look like a cartoon.

The computer generated imagery of the lions and other animals of Africa in the remake appears to be as real as a Disneynature film. The big difference is that the animals in “The Lion King” 2019 talk and sing. They do so with a minimum of fuss. The mouths open slightly. Well, maybe not for the hyenas. They’ve got some mean choppers.

The animals are incredibly realistic. While certain liberties in characterizations were taken with some of the animals’ features, the Disney animators mostly played it straight.

That goes for the songs, too, which are integrated seamlessly into the storyline and action. The song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” sung by Donald Glover (“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” 2018; his hip-hop music persona is Childish Gambino) as Simba and Beyoncé as Nala, is presented as interior dialogue, rather than having Simba and Nala baying at each other. To emphasize this perspective, Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) observe that the lion and lioness don’t even realize they’re in love.

There are similar subtleties in what is a gorgeous, authentic-looking, often-thrilling and sometimes humorous feature movie. While realistic-looking scenes of a stampede, lions fighting and hyenas attacking may frighten children ages 5 and younger. (The scenes were scary enough for this adult.) “The Lion King” can be recommended for nearly the entire family.

“The Lion King” is a masterful achievement in photo-realistic CGI animation. It can’t be overstated how true-to-life are, not only the animals, but flora, fauna, rocks, sky and, well, everything on the screen. The film was seen in 2D for this review. Paying the premium price for the 3D version might be worth it, but isn’t necessary.

Director Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book,” 2016; “Chef,” 2014; “Iron Man” and its sequel, 2008, 2010; ”Elf,” 2003) gives the film a peaceful, relaxed and elegant feeling. When action is called for, Favreau directs with a flair for dramatic pace and intensity.

The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” 2017) based on a story by Brenda Chapman and characters by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton, has dollops of humor, groaner puns (which I love), a mouse and lion scene (homage to The House of Mouse, aka Disney Studios) and a “Be Our Guest” snippet reference to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) animated feature film classic.

The voice casting is excellent, including Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), John Oliver (Zazu), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari) and Chance the Rapper (Bush Baby).

The soundtrack includes songs, “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata,” from the original “The Lion King,” in new arrangements and with new singers, many produced by Pharell Williams. The score by Hans Zimmer is luscious, uplifting and exciting.

The 2019 “The Lion King” stands alone, atop Pride Rock. It’s state of the art animation. You can enjoy “The Lion King” anew, and still enjoy “The Lion King” of old.

“The Lion King,” MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements; Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy, Musical; Run time: 1 hr., 58 mins.; Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “The Lion King” includes “Never Too Late,” a new song by Elton John, music, and Tim Rice, lyrics, that is sung by Elton John. There’s also a new song, “Spirit,” co-written and sung by Beyoncé.

Box Office, Aug. 9-11: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” continued racing around at No. 1, with $25.4 million, $108.5 million, two weeks, scaring back “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” opening at No. 2, with $20.8 million, as “The Lion King” again dropped one place to No. 3, $20 million, $473.1 million, four weeks.

4. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” $17 million, opening. 5. “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” dropped two places, $11.6 million, $100.3 million, four weeks. 6. “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” starring Allentown’s Amanda Seyfried, $8.1 million, opening. 7. “The Kitchen,” $5.5 million, opening. 8. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” swung down four places, $5.3 million, $370.9 million, six weeks. 9. “Toy Story 4” dropped four places, $4.4 million, $419.5 million, eight weeks. 10. “Bring the Soul: The Movie,” about BTS, the South Korea boy band pop group, $2.3 million, weekend, $4.4 million since opening Aug. 7.

Unreel, Aug. 16:

“The Angry Birds Movie 2,” PG: Thurop Van Orman directs Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Awkwafina, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish in the animated comedy. The birds still can’t fly and the pigs are still green. The pigs can’t fly, either. And the birds are still angry.

“Good Boys,” R: Gene Stupnitsky directs Jacob Tremblay, Molly Gordon, Lina Renna and Will Forte in the comedy. Three sixth-grade boys skip school and get in a passel of trouble.

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” PG-13: Johannes Roberts directs Nia Long, Sistine Rose Stallone, John Corbett and Brianne Tju in the thriller sequel to the 2017 movie. Four teen girls confront a deadly shark species. Didn’t they learn the first time that it could only lead to a sequel?

“Blinded by the Light,” PG-13: Gurinder Chadha directs Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra and Aaron Phagura in the comedy. In this based on a true story film, it’s 1987 and in Britain, an Indian teen becomes infatuated with the music of Bruce Springsteen. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a No. 1 hit in 1977 with “Blinded by the Light,” from Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” PG-13: Richard Linklater directs Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer and Laurence Fishburne in the comedy. A mother splits from her family in an attempt to discover her true self.

Four popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.

 

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