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Lion King, The (2019)


Stars: Voices: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyonce, James Earl Jones

Director: Jon Favreau,

It's third time lucky for Disney this year.

After the studio's less-than-wonderful remakes of Aladdin and Dumbo, director Favreau, armed with Jeff Nathanson's strong screenplay (based on Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton's 1994 script) delivers a visually stunning remake whose computer-generated imagery is worthy of all the awards going.

Favreau's animated vision of East Africa is fascinatingly realistic. I should know, having grown up in Kenya where-– in a country without television - Nairobi residents would drive into the game reserve at weekends to watch lions in their natural habitat.

Favreau’s extraordinary visualisation of a (largely parched) East African landscape adds potent - and credible, if a tad over-baked - force to his animal-driven revamp of (conveniently, Shakespeare's classic has long been out of copyright), which finds bad lion Scar plotting to kill his brother Simba, the son of Mufasa, the king of all lions, who replaces him as heir to the throne. When Mufasa is killed in a wildebeest stampede, Simba is conned into believing his is responsible and he runs away, leaving Scar to become king.

Don't worry, though. This is Disney and a happy ending is guaranteed.

This is one of the very rare remakes that not only works but actually outdoes the original, thanks in large measure to the superb computer animation that recreates (an inevitably Hollywood style) its vision of Africa so convincingly that I half expected the cinema to fill with dust as customarily happened in the arid reaches of East Africa.

Vocal casting, too, is first rate. Glover makes Simba appealing without overplaying the character's inherent cuteness, Ejiofor is suitably villainous as Scar, Beyonce sings Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Jones returns in suitable magisterial tone as Mufasa and Rogen and Oliver are genuinely funny as the zany warthog and daffy hornbill comedy duo.

Having already triumphed on film and on stage, this Lion King reborn and revitalised is surely headed for success too. I admit it - visually I felt quite homesick at times (although there were no animals that spoke American when I was growing up). But, that said, I had a ball.

For once, a remake that is really worthwhile.

To coin a phrase - 'Mzuri sana'.

Alan Frank

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Disney. Colour.
119 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Jul 2019