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Review: Disney's photo-real 'The Lion King' bores you to look a gift lion in the mouth

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

One place where Disney always is invariably savvy is the voice talent casting, which in addition to Jones and Beyonce includes such top names as Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen and John Oliver, each one adroitly matched to their role.

Voices also matter in the singing, where all the familiar musical numbers, from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to the Tim Rice-Elton John standards "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" benefit from fresh producing by Pharrell Williams with African vocal and choir arrangements produced by Lebo M.

There is also a rerecording of Hans Zimmer's Oscar-winning score, a new Rice/John song, "Never Too Late," sung by John, and Beyonce singing her new "Spirit." Calling the current film a musical would not be that much of a stretch.

Though this film is longer than the original, as written by Jeff Nathanson it's essentially the same story that's told in the Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton original screenplay.

So once again everything starts with a pre-title "Circle of Life" sequence, with lion pride leader Mufasa (Jones) and his mate Sarabi (Woodard) presenting their newly born cub and future leader Simba to the assembled multitudes.

Key players in Mufasa's inner circle include the primate shaman Rafiki (John Kani) and the red-billed hornbill Zazu (Oliver, making some of the same jokes Rowan Atkinson made in the original), a kind of majordomo.

 

Notably absent, it turns out, is Mufasa's jealous and manipulative younger brother Scar, a lion you definitely don't want to turn your back on.

Expertly realizing this pivotal role is Ejiofor, and though he is less theatrically evil than Jeremy Irons' animated Scar, he brings a strong level of credibility to the proceedings.

After Mufasa shows young Simba (JD McCrary) the lay of the land ("everything the light touches is our kingdom"), the youngster makes the mistake of listening to Scar, and soon enough he and his young female friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) make another blunder.

That would be wandering into territory controlled by hyenas, no friends to lions, and run by hard-nosed Shenzi (Florence Kasumba) with Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key) and Azizi (Eric Andre) providing comic relief.

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