Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

For many, Disney movies are quintessential nostalgia trips — flashbacks to our childhoods when we played dress-up and insisted that our stuffed animals could talk. The live-action remake of “The Lion King,” directed by Jon Favreau, allows those who enjoyed the animated classic 25 years ago to return to their childhoods and watch a revamped, photorealistic Simba grow from headstrong cub to brave king once more. Featuring an all-star cast, stunning graphics and new, hilarious dialogue fused with old and beloved songs, “The Lion King” remake is every bit as appealing and emotionally engaging as its animated predecessor.

We all know the story of the original 1994 animation: Mufasa rules the Pride Lands, and his young, adoring son Simba, is eager to assume the mantle and one day become king himself. When tragedy strikes the Pride Lands, Simba must decide whether to run from his duties as the rightful king or summon the courage to restore the animal kingdom to the bright, hopeful place it once was. Disney kept the same plot for the live-action rendition but this time added an unbelievably star-studded cast, with Donald Glover voicing Simba, Beyoncé voicing Nala, James Earl Jones returning to voice Mufasa and Chiwetel Ejiofor voicing Scar. Disney also revived the original soundtrack; all songs from the original film are featured in the remake, and Beyoncé even released a new album to complement the film, entitled “The Lion King: The Gift.”

Skepticism always abounds in the wake of a live-action attempt, as it is easy to believe that “The Lion King” remake would not live up to the expectations set by its predecessor. However, it avoids the pitfalls that ordinarily plague a remake by adding something new to the already spectacular original. While much of the dialogue is, admittedly, identical to the original film, the live-action adaptation of “The Lion King” is more a tribute than a carbon copy, unlike what Associate Editor Jesse Weiner suggests in his review. The new film fleshes out once-overlooked side characters. The hyenas in the remake, Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Azizi (Eric Andre) and Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key) prove far more fierce and menacing than in the original film, while Nala is far more feisty and has a larger role than before — an ode to Beyoncé and the energy and power she exudes in her musical performances. Meanwhile, Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) receive new, punchy one-liners that perfectly capture 21st-century colloquialisms. The dynamic duo is certain to delight a new generation of fans and remind older fans exactly why this movie enthralled them when they were younger. While similar to the original film, “The Lion King” live-action adaptation is not a “shot-for-shot remake,” as Weiner suggests, but rather a newer, more modernized version of a film so many know and love.

There was also something extremely enticing about the idea of Glover and Beyoncé voicing the main characters in the film — two notable singers and actors playing two beloved Disney characters. Glover shines as Simba, while Beyoncé, now one of the highest-paid actresses of 2019 thanks to this role, is fiery and courageous as Nala. One of the many reasons “The Lion King” remake is worth watching, Glover and Beyoncé’s performances should be commended as captivating and true to the characters of Simba and Nala.   

One of the greatest aspects of “The Lion King” was Favreau’s decision to have James Earl Jones reprise his role as Mufasa. Mufasa’s benevolence, wisdom and untimely, tragic ending have enraptured fans for decades, so it is no wonder that Jones, who so perfectly captured Mufasa’s honorability, was the ideal candidate for the remake. Twenty-five years later, Jones’ role as Mufasa has come full circle. Among the myriad of other reasons to see the film, I recommend seeing “The Lion King” remake in order to witness the grace and passion with which Jones delivers Mufasa’s lines, as his words are enough to reduce old, sentimental fans of the original film to tears. 

Classic remakes are currently at the forefront of the Disney film industry. Despite the perpetual fear that these remakes will fall flat, “The Lion King” live-action adaptation proves that, if done correctly, room will always exist for a Disney remake. Other adaptations like “Dumbo,” a mess in the form of not-so-great CGI, or “Beauty and the Beast,” which offered nothing new in the 2017 live-action adaptation, failed in that they lacked the magic of the original animated films. “The Lion King,” however, preserves the wonder of the original film and diverges from the initial depiction of characters, thus leaving room for a 21st-century take on the movie.

Though “The Lion King” live-action adaptation kept the original plot points of the 1994 animated film, new portrayals of certain characters afford the film a fresh, more nuanced appearance certain to engage new viewers and evoke a sense of nostalgia in old ones. Uplifting, emotionally charged and unforgettable, the new “Lion King” adaptation reminds us all that our favorite Disney films will never go out of style.

 

Grade: A