Disney’s new version of “The Lion King” directed by Jon Favreau opens like the 1994 animated musical, setting the stage with an uplifting vocal of “Nants' Ingonyama” ...
Disney’s new version of “The Lion King” directed by Jon Favreau opens like the 1994 animated musical, setting the stage with an uplifting vocal of “Nants' Ingonyama” played over the presentation of young Simba to the kingdom of Mufasa, held up at arm’s length by the shaman Rafiki. But, where the two differ, of course, is that the new movie is a lifelike computer animated version (not live-action) rendered with an amazing amount of detail and attention to physical attributes.
Acting as a bridge to the two versions is the soothing and authoritative voice of James Earl Jones, reprising his role as Mufasa. So, those who grew up with the movie played over and over until the VHS tape wore out can feel reassured this is the same story. Yes, it’s the same, but something was lost in translating it from flat 2-D animation.
Two-dimensional animation has the advantage of adding exaggerated facial expressions to any creature, thereby helping to visually bring the story to life. That’s why they are often called cartoons. This is especially important for movies directed toward a young audience. The new “Lion King,” however, adheres so strongly to the animal characters’ true anatomy that facial expressions are difficult to convey. The reason is that an animal’s ability to “emote” is really a full-body combination of tail wagging, wing flapping, jowl wobbling — that humans generally interpret as emotion. So, even though the characters go through the same motions as in the 1994 version, their ability to “act” is hampered.
It isn’t a total failure, though. The effort put into the new version is very commendable, depending on your point of view, especially in its attempt to ground the story in African tribal music and traditions, an influence clearly related to Julie Taymor’s Broadway stage production of the story that employed a rich and vivid tableau. Favreau’s movie does the same but with a largely African-American voice cast including Donald Glover (as Simba), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), John Kani (Rafiki), and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala). Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon), and John Oliver (Zazu) also appear. And, although the lion’s share of the soundtrack music is attributed to Hans Zimmer, there are tribal rhythms and vocal arrangements that set the film in the African savannah.
The story, if you mentally squint hard enough, may provide some contemporary resonance to some audiences. Think about it: It’s about a beloved and wise leader who is replaced Macbeth-style by an envious greedy despot who immediately surrounds himself with scavengers who set about over-hunting and over-grazing the kingdom until it’s a devastated landscape. Add to that his menacing approach to dealing with the female members of his pride. Maybe it’s just me.
While the movie is faithful to the original and created with amazing talents and cutting-edge skill, there remains something to be desired. Just pay attention to your kids while watching the movie. You can tell if they are engaged or not. That’s where its real success will be judged.
Tempo grade: C-
“The Lion King” is rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
All is True
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material and laguage
Taos Community Auditorium
Kenneth Branagh’s film is a portrait of William Shakespeare during the last three years of his life, as he leaves London and returns to his family in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The film follows Shakespeare as he strives to bridge the distance between himself and his wife and two daughters, recover from the loss of his son, and come to terms with his legacy as an artist. Branagh and screenwriter Ben Elton start with the known facts about Shakespeare’s life during that time and attempt to fill in the gaps with what Shakespeare seemed to reveal about himself.
The TCA Film Society is hosting a discussion of this film following the first screening. Everyone is welcome.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (July 21) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (July 22-24) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
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