For the uninitiated, ‘The Lion King’, is the story of Simba, a lion cub, who is dispossessed and made to feel responsible for the death of his father Mufasa, by his treacherous uncle Scar.
The cub’s birth is announced in the opening sequence of the film called, “It’s the circle of life”, an evocative collaboration of music and animation that shows all animals of the African veld gathering to hail their future king. The cute little cub is held aloft from a dramatic spur of rock, and the future minions below hail him as “the future King of Pride Rock”, in a staging that looks like the jungle equivalent of a political rally.
Of course, this coming together of all the wild beasts harps on the uncomfortable fact that many of these animals survive by eating one another. As King Mufasa tries explaining to his son, “We are all connected to the circle of life,” the narrative, all through the film, performs a balancing act between the fantasy of the story and the reality of the jungle.
Early scenes show Simba as a cute trusting little tyke who believes that life is beautiful. It is fun to watch him sing, in a lower and less-pantomime key, “I just can’t wait to be the king.” His enthusiasm and curiosity soon get the better of him and he lands in the wastelands, far from his kingdom. How he comes back to claim his stake as the Lion King forms the crux of the narrative.
The Shakespearean plot has dark corners, frightening moments and ancient archetypes like the crime of regicide. Some of the musical comedy numbers like, “I can’t wait to be king”, “Circle of life” and “Hakuna Matata” break the mood and are a hit among the audience, but the rest of the songs are far from memorable.
The voices of the ace star cast hit the right pitch and match the characters to perfection. Donald Glover as the grown Simba, Beyonce as his childhood friend Nala, James Earl Jones as King Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Alfre Woodard as Simba’s mother Sarabi, Seth Rogen as the Warthog Pumbaa and John Oliver as the goofy hornbill Zuzu have their moments of glory.
Visually, director Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” is fascinating and awe-inspiring, thanks to veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and visual effects supervisors Robert Legato and Adam Valdez, who previously collaborated on Disney’s, “The Jungle Book”. With 3D Computer animation, each of their frames appear so realistic that the effort could pass off as a live-action film. Some scenes are just brilliant, and among the effects, the lustre of lion fur simply stands-out.
The film has all the trappings of the Disney template and is a fine remake of the studio’s traditionally animated 1994 hit of the same name, nut the fact is after the initial attraction and moments of fascination in watching the extraordinarily life-like animals talking and relating to one another as human beings do, the novelty factor wears off. By mid-point the narrative meanders and the pace drags till we hear the song, “A wee wee bum bum wae,” which is the cover of The Tokens’ ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ Thence, the momentum picks up.
By the end, however, the predictability of the tale begins to wear you down. The 1994 edition had a run-time of 88 minutes, while this one lasts for 118 minutes. You feel the stretch.