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An Honest Review Of 'The Lion King'

Save for a few updates here and there, it's pretty much the same as the 1994 version!
PHOTO: The Lion King/Walt Disney Pictures

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

In the grasslands of Pride Rock, lions are accepted as its leaders. Mufasa, the patriarch, is the beloved lion king (a-ha!), and a stern but loving father to young Simba. 

The cub looks up to his father as a role model, while the father tries to be deserving of this respect. Plenty tender father-son moments are shared as Mufasa tries to instill the right values in his son.

All appear well until Scar comes in, the younger brother of Mufasa. It is revealed that his nephew, Simba, will take his place in the line of succession to be king. It soon becomes clear just how much Scar wants to take over. 

Scar wants to be the king and he will stop at nothing! With the help of his gang of overeager hyenas and a horde of panicked wildebeests, he puts a plan in motion to get rid of the two directly in his way.

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His plan appears to work. With both the lion king and his son gone, Scar then becomes king of Pride Rock.

Simba, meanwhile, remains oblivious to Scar's betrayal and is merely determined to get as far as he can from the place he once called home. As he runs away, he meets an unlikely pair of new friends.

And here begins the grand adventure. What will become of Simba? Will he stay away from Pride Rock for good? And what will become of Pride Rock in the hands of a selfish, power-hungry dictator? 

The Short, Honest Plot 

Save for a few updates here and there, it's pretty much the same as the 1994 version of The Lion King. Some scenes were even remade shot for shot!

The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

Donald Glover as Simba

He recently starring alongside Rihanna in a musical film called Guava Island. He's also widely known as rapper Childish Gambino.

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JD McCrary as Young Simba

While this 12-year-old performer already has several TV roles under his belt, his most recent notable appearance was at the 2018 Grammy Awards when co-star Childish Gambino brought him up on stage to sing alongside him!

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Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala

She's Beyoncé.

Shahadi Wright Joseph as Young Nala

You might have seen her in the Jordan Peele-directed horror film, Us. She played two roles, as Zora and Umbrae, the two versions of the same daughter of the haunted family.

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James Earl Jones as Mufasa

If his voice sounds familiar, it's because he also voiced Mufasa in the original cartoon. You might also recognize him from the Star Wars moviesthe original, as well as the reboots. He voices Darth Vader in literally all of them!

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar

You might remember him fairly recently playing Mordo in Doctor Strange. He has also just made his directorial debut with a film called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

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John Oliver as Zazu

He is the host of nightly political comedy show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

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Billy Eichner as Timon

You'll see him walking around the streets of New York asking questions and yelling at people while still making viewers laugh (often with superstar guests) in the web comedy show Billy on the Street.

Seth Rogen as Pumbaa

This funny man's most recent major role was darker than usual, as part of the cast of the new Twilight Zone.

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Did You Know?

1. James Earl Jones was the only original cast member of The Lion King to return.

2. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen improvised a lot of their performance together! Director Jon Favreau, said, "We actually acted it out in like a rehearsal theater space and recorded their voices, so that what you're seeing is a much more natural improvisational performance."

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3. Both JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph have never done voice acting before. Their roles as Young Simba and Young Nala are their first!

4. Beyoncé curated and produced a new album called The Lion King: The Gift. It features an impressive roster of musicians and collaborators including hubby Jay-Z, fellow castmate Childish Gambino, and even her own daughter Blue Ivy! It was inspired by the movie and released shortly after it premiered.

What My Friend Thinks:

"The visuals are just too close to perfection, and the crossover between NatGeo and every Spanish telenovela out there felt refreshing on the big screen! I only wished they paid as much attention to the songs because that's what '90s kids like me will always remember and look for. I would have wanted for Beyoncé to put stress on stronger gender roles as a lioness, but hey, at least she has a new album coming up!" Kris Guico

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What I Think:

As someone who saw the film as a kid, to say I didn't have my biases going into this remake would be a lie, but I was definitely a lot more open to changes and much less protective of the original than some people around me!

That being said, I actually really enjoyed the movie.

Being that the animals and the scenery are now CGI, it felt bigger somehow, more dramatic. In both a literal and figurative sense, it felt more real. 

But while it was certainly effective in making me want to jump into the screen and play with the big cats while somehow still allowing me to believe that these animals were feeling all these very human emotions, it fell behind in what is most crucial in any musical: the music.

If you compare it to the original, I could go so far as to say the music sucked. But in the interest of fairness, let's just say that, on its own, it was okay

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I feel this is partly due to the fact that although Pharell Williams is a talented producer, his skill set isn't quite right for musicals. (He produced some of this movie's songs, including a lot of the favorites.) He seemed to have stripped them of whatever theatrical, emotional oomph they once had.

Thankfully, most of the other updates went over well. There weren't many but there were a few new additions that added to the depth of the story. There were new punchlines more fitting for today's audience. They changed up the characters some and it mostly worked!

Most of the cast was amazing. Relative newcomers JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph worked together well as Young Simba and Young Nala. Chiwetel Ejiofor gave us an angrier Scar and I was living for it! The hyenas (Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric André) were altogether terrifying, annoying, and hilarious. James Earl Jones? Still just as regal as ever! And Zazu (John Oliver) was adorably snarky, while also still sort of pathetically naive. 

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As for Donald Glover and Beyoncé…well, let's just say you can tell they didn't record together. They were...okay.

If you're going to watch for one reason onlyor rather twomake it for Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner stole the show and Seth Rogen was right there with him. Their chemistry was palpable. Every time they were onscreen, you knew something good was going to happen. And once they left, you couldn't wait to see them again. (My fingers are crossed for outtake videos on YouTube someday!)

Ultimately, it was a good, fun movie but it was an okay, near-forgettable musical. So, go watch it for the entertainment and the view (and Timon and Pumbaa) but don't expect a mind-blowing musical experience.

I'd Recommend It To: 

  • Animal lovers!
  • And yes, I would still recommend it to the OG Disney fans, but I would remind you to keep an open mind and hopefully be able to enjoy it for what it is!
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