The Lion King – A Regal Remake

Film remakes can be dodgy affairs. Those that don’t work get relegated to the mists of time, and those that succeed rise to the top. “A Star is Born” is enjoying its fourth incarnation, for instance.

Disney began mining its own vaults a few decades ago, and the latest effort attempts to further revitalize one of its most beloved stories.

“The Lion King” started in 1994 as an animated feature, and quickly was embraced by young and old. Famed zoologist Jim Fowler brought animals to the Burbank lot for the artists to animate as realistically as possible. A stage production directed by the visionary Julie Taymor followed several years later; the consequent productions continue to tour the globe.

Our daughters came along within a few years thereafter, and soon became part of the growing fanbase. A few family trips to the stage productions instilled not only a love for the story, but a lifelong appreciation of live theatre.

Most folks absorbed “The Lion King” via home video, and our daughters took a special liking to the 2004 straight-to-video “The Lion King 1½,” which cleverly retells the story from the meerkat / warthog (Timon / Pumbaa) perspective.

And the various soundtracks, original stage cast recordings and audio spinoffs provided plenty of road trip audio diversions.

All in, Disney successfully re-encoded our DNA to include “The Lion King.”

Hence, we were ready but with some trepidation to see the new ‘is it live action or animated’ version of “The Lion King.” The realism Fowler brought to the studio two decades ago has been supplemented by virtual reality technology.

The opening sequence of all versions of the story is one of the most inspiring in film, and the current version lives up the lofty standard. With no dialogue, the “Circle of Life” sequence is magnificent.

James Earl Jones is the thespian link between the old and new, reprising his role as the first in a series of Lion Kings portrayed in the story. Mufasa establishes the regal magnitude and large footsteps that the son Simba seeks to fill. In the latter role, Donald Glover does quite well. His playmate and future queen Nala is voiced with conviction by Beyonce.

Taking wonderful comic turns are Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and John Oliver (Zazu). The former steals most of the scenes in which he appears and the latter picks up the Gilbert & Sullivan nature of the somewhat obsequious character.

The coyly evil Scar was brought to life previously by Jeremy Irons, and those big shoes (paws) are not quite filled this time by Chiwetel Ejofor.

The latest in “The Lion King” franchise is testament to Disney’s skills in fusing art and commerce. Expect more box office records to fall.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.