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THE MOVIE GUY — New “Lion King” roars, just not as loud

"The Lion King"

 

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

 

Rated PG

2 ½ Stars

I am a huge fan of “The Lion King,” both the 1994 movie and the Broadway adaptation. I think it’s a superb melding of story, music and spectacle. That might explain why I was a little surprised when people started whispering bad things about Disney’s new, live action version of that film.

I’m pleased to say that I think these early naysayers are wrong. The new version of “The Lion King” is quite good, and the computer-generated images that make up the film are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Then again, I don’t think this new take measures up to the earlier stage and screen versions. The emotion and characters simply don’t resonate as strongly.

I think the biggest problem lies in the film’s gimmick itself — this is a story told entirely using photorealistic animals. Technically, this is a masterpiece. There is never a moment that looks false. You will absolutely believe that these animals are real and that they can talk.

The problem is that you won’t believe a lot of what they are saying because unlike the characters in the animated film, their faces don’t contort while relaying human emotions. That forces the filmmakers to only rely upon the actors for the performances, some of which fall flat.

This might be a bit unfair. Just as Will Smith was forced to act in Robin Williams’ shadow in the latest “Aladdin,” this cast is also hamstrung by the memory of the original film. For my money, Chiwetel Ejiofor suffers the most while playing the villainous Scar. He is a very good actor delivering a solid performance, but he’s nowhere near as notable as Jeremy Iron’s fabulously campy turn in the 1994 film.

The only one who escapes this dilemma is Beyoncé, playing the lioness Nala. Her character wasn’t a major figure in the original film and was only bulked up when the show went to Broadway. The role has been expanded once again in order to accommodate somebody of Beyoncé’s stature. The Bey Hive will be pleased seeing their queen in all her feline glory, but she doesn’t make as big of an impact here as she does when she’s releasing a new music video.

All of which might lead you to believe that I am panning this film. I am not. The music still soars and there is something magical in hearing it coupled with all those amazing images. It is a thrilling movie that only falls flat because the actors and characters can’t be as emotionally expressive as their animated predecessors.

I get that there is a bit of a cultural backlash against Disney these days. People complain that the Mouse House is only remaking these beloved classics in a cynical attempt to cash in at the box office. I won’t join in the critical pile on. I can’t imagine a family leaving the theater disappointed by “The Lion King.”

I still think the Broadway version is the most magical of the lot, but given ticket prices, this new film is a great, economical way to recapture the magic of “The Lion King.”

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.