‘The Lion King’ review: Live-action version delivers exactly what you’d expect

By now, if you’ve read any reviews of the live-action version of The Lion King, you have an idea of what to expect from the movie: it’s almost beat-for-beat the original Lion King, but without the joy and pizzazz of the animated version.

Most critical response has been the same — that by making the characters live-action, Disney has robbed them of expression and emotion. This is mostly true, but the new Lion King is still heartwarming when it should be, and the emotional scenes still ring true, even if the live-action characters don’t necessarily emote along with us.

How does the movie look?

Visually, it is stunning. Throughout the film, the recurring thought, “Is that real? There’s no way they could animate that!” continually ran through my mind. Aside from the always-weird mouth animation on live animals, it’s a seamless production, with sweeping views of Africa and at-times breathtaking shots of the Savannah.

It feels like you’re watching a very in-depth National Geographic special.

How about the voice casting?

For the most part, it’s spot-on. Child actors JD McCrary (Simba) and Shahadi Wright Joseph (Nala) are dead ringers for the original voices, and James Earl Jones (of course) returns as the powerful patriarch Mufasa. As the characters age, it gets slightly more stilted, with Donald Glover’s adult Simba and Beyoncé’s adult Nala coming off as scripted in certain moments.

The show-stealers are Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and the hilarious Billy Eichner as Timon. Featuring original dialogue plus some new jokes to freshen up the script, the pair delivers laughs in every scene in which they appear. The twosome is the very heart of the movie, providing much-needed relief from the stiffness surrounding them. John Oliver’s Zazu is also a crowd-pleaser.

Is this basically the exact same movie as the 1994 version?

It’s nearly identical in terms of script and storyline, but Disney has added some new brief scenes that won’t be spoiled here. The dialogue is nipped, tucked and necessarily modernized for the kids of today.

For kids who haven’t seen the original Lion King, this one will entertain just as much — after all, this is meant for them and they’re a far less discerning audience. For the adults in the theatre who’ve seen the original so many times it’s practically memorized, the epic scenes (Mufasa dying, Simba realizing his true self, his reunion with Nala) may still trigger tears or a swelling heart.

So what’s the bottom line?

A heartwarming story for both kids and adults — as it has been all these years — The Lion King is the same movie you know and love, just in live-action. With slight variations here and there, the film is modernized for 2019 but still feels like a classic.

And yes, you’ll be humming Hakuna Matata in your head for hours afterwards.

‘The Lion King’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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