How does Disney tell the story of a lion becoming king in 2019? Well, largely the same way it did in 1994, but with photorealistic computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Jon Favreau’s remake of “The Lion King” (in theaters Friday) brings Simba, Nala, Scar and the whole pride back to the big screen with new voice talent but much of the original plot intact. Fans of the animated classic get those moments they love: Simba’s sneeze, the cub’s presentation to the kingdom, Timon and Pumbaa’s vulture-kicking entrance. Even much of the dialogue is identical to that of the 25-year-old movie.
But there are some changes that add a half-hour of running time to the story. Here are a few notable updates, aside from the obvious fact that the animals no longer look like cartoons.
This time, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) doesn’t so much croon “Be Prepared” as deliver his signature song ike a dark, militaristic monologue. In place of a catchy chorus and humorous digs at hyenas for having “powers of retention ... as wet as a warthog’s backside” is a terrifying spiel about overthrowing Mufasa’s regime. It’s half the length of the original tune, but twice as scary.
But if fans want to hear more ballads, they’re in luck: Beyoncé performs the new uplifting song “Spirit” to go with Simba’s triumphant return home. (Good luck trying to sing along to the sweeping track that showcases the singer’s incomparable pipes.) Elton John contributes a new song as well, ”Never Too Late.” It’s an upbeat dance-in-your-seat song that plays during the end credits.
Scar has a few other updates, too, including a new reason to be bitter.
New for 2019: Scar has a thing for Simba’s mom. In this version of “The Lion King,” Scar references the fact that long ago Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) chose Mufasa over him. He’s not over it, and she objects to his advances.
Favreau says Shakespeare inspired the new love triangle in the film, because “in Hamlet, there was the mother of the murdered father going with the uncle.” The new plot point also works to undo what some considered the first movie’s “queer coding” of the flamboyant Disney villain. (Some accuse the animation studio of giving its baddies — including Scar, Hades and Captain Hook — stereotypically homosexual traits.)
Another major change: Scar looks rougher than his animated predecessor, with a bite taken out of his ear and a matted mane.
Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato says his team gave Scar a violent history: “Our made-up story was that he got into a lot of scraps and fights because he’s kind of a jerk, so he probably got scarred up.”
The new actors do their own singing. Duh, that’s why you cast Beyoncé and Donald Glover.
Beyoncé (who voices Nala) sings in this movie, of course. She and Donald Glover (Simba) perform a memorable “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” duet. They’re in perfect harmony, all right. And Beyoncé’s not shy about adding several riffs and runs to the Oscar-winning classic. Don’t worry: Glover gets to show off on the end of “Hakuna Matata.”
Speaking of, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen (Timon and Pumbaa) sing the feel-good anthem onscreen and add a few new comedic asides, including the F-word: farted. Rogen sings it hesitantly, before asking “Are you gonna stop me?” Eichner retorts: “No, I’m not. You disgust me!” This new movie is PG, after all. In the G-rated animated movie, Pumbaa never gets to say “fart.”
The hyenas have new names and Rafiki has a more sensible tail.
The only hyena who has the same name as she did in the original movie is Shenzi (Florence Kasumba). This time around, she’s scarier and intimidates two new hyenas (replacing Banzai and Ed): Azizi (Eric Andre) and Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), whose roles felt like a buddy comedy. “We were given a lot of license to do what we wanted, and I think that we got to develop a little more nuanced relationship than you saw in the original film,” Key said.
As for Rafiki, the mandrill has a short tail in this movie (as opposed to his strangely long one – uncharacteristic of mandrills – in the animated movie). And instead of singing about a “squash banana,” he has a new dialogue.
“I bring in my own songs, my stories,” says voice actor John Kani, who incorporated sounds from indigenous languages into the character.
Nala gets more to do in this ‘Lion King’
After the young Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) gets more lines to sing in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” the adult Nala also gets more to do. In the new “Lion King,” there’s a scene where Nala has to sneak away from Pride Rock (and Scar) to try and find more food for her family. She also gets a moment where she summons the lionesses to fight Scar, asking, “Are you with me?” Of course, they are.
Contributing: Andrea Mandell and Alex Biese
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