The drums beat and the call to Africa begins. The vistas, the vastness, the grace and beauty of the animals of all species roaming, gathering on the plain below Pride Rock. Simba is born, the circle of life continues; a young prince is crowned and “The Lion King “begins.
The story is a familiar one: a strong yet kind king rules a vast kingdom, his young son is curious and eager to be grown so that he may assist his father. The jealous and manipulative younger brother covets not only the crown but also the queen who rejected him for his brother. King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi are raising the young cub, Simba, to care for their people and think beyond themselves for the survival of the pride and the ecosystem that they protect. But he is strong-willed and curious about his world and wanders off exploring. He is confronted by his uncle, Scar. Scar encourages Simba to take risks and manipulates him to disobey his father’s rules. With his young friend, Nala, he wanders off, endangering them both. Scar’s plan to undermine Mufasa, using Simba as a pawn, continues until a tragic accident. Simba runs away, racked with guilt, to grow up, find himself and by remembering the lessons his father taught him become the leader he is meant to be.
This latest adaptation of “The Lion King,” produced and directed by Jon Favreau, is a technological marvel. Filmed in virtual reality, the film takes on the tone and look of a documentary. The lushness of the jungles, the brightness of the colors and the burning rising sun and glowing moon and stars in the sky all draw the viewer into the story. After only a few minutes, you become part of the story, part of the kingdom that is, as Mufasa says, “everything the light touches,” aware of the sounds of the jungle and plains and listening to the animals talk.
The masterful thing about this movie is that even though the voices of iconic James Earl Jones’ reprise of the Mufasa character and hilarious Seth Rogan’s Pumba are immediately recognizable, they are a vehicle to tell the story, not steal the film. Emmy Award winner Alfre Woodard (“Hill Street Blues,” “Miss Evers’ Boys”) is Queen Sarabi and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) is Scar. Comedian John Oliver is Mufasa’s advisor bird advisor Zazu, and Keegan-Michael Key is the hyena Kamari. It is probably Beyonce and Donald Glover that could be the best known contemporary voices. Both are Grammy winners, but surprisingly, their performances are not overshadowed by their reputations.
“The Lion King” made $535 Million dollars worldwide opening weekend, so it is not surprising that Disney is continuing the live action remakes of its cartoon classics. Coming soon are “Mulan” and “The Little Mermaid.”
Like many of the Disney classics, this is a tale that teaches many of life’s valuable lessons. Loving parents guiding their child without trying to be a best friend. Taking responsibility for your actions and learning from your mistakes but most especially having the courage to speak out against what is evil and wrong and confront those who promote it. I was pleased to see many 30-somethings explaining the story to their preschoolers and older children with the caveat, “This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid.” It would seem that “The Circle of Life” continues.
“The Lion King” is rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.