Director Jon Favreau
Starring Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Running time 118 minutes
Verdict A visual effects safari
While the cats at the top of the food chain are distracted by a brutal power struggle, a slacker warthog and a mouthy meerkat steal this photo-realistic remake of Disney’s animated 1994 classic.
Sweet, funny, mutually supportive — Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) elevate friendship and fart humour to a whole other level.
Their winning bromance locates a sweet spot somewhere between artlessness and self-awareness — perhaps best captured by a throwaway quip, during the showstopper Hakuna Matata, in which the pair acknowledge that Simba has grown 500 pounds during the course of the song.
This idyllic sequence, in which the boy-cub transitions to young adulthood, also neatly integrates the moment in which Simba begins to find his mature voice — by letting Donald Glover loose in the final refrain.
Shortly afterwards, Simba is serendipitously reunited with the now fully-grown Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter) for a romantic duet — and their version of Can You Feel The Love Tonight is a cracker.
As he did in his game-changing remake of The Jungle Book, director Jon Favreau succeeds in contemporising The Lion King while remaining faithful to the tone of the original film — in which a cub-prince runs away from his pride after being convinced by his Machiavellian uncle that he is responsible for his father’s death.
There’s a visceral new energy to the sequences that have been recreated, pretty much shot-by-shot, from the original film and a topical emphasis on the subject of environmental degradation.
After Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor with Shakespearean relish) seizes the throne, the once-abundant Pridelands swiftly become a wasteland.
Simba’s dad, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), was a wise and compassionate leader who hunted with restraint — this is reflected in the animation; though strong and powerful, his ribs are clearly delineated (Mufasa is no fat cat.)
His gaunt, bitter, selfish, power-crazed brother, on the other hand, has no investment in the wellbeing of future generations, and as his army of hyenas henchmen shamelessly admit, their bellies are never full.
Part visual effects safari, part nature documentary, Favreau and his team make full use of the technological advances at their disposal to deliver an eye-popping, hyper-real impression of the African savanna and its exotic ecosystem.
Giraffes lope past lonely acacias, mystic mandrills dwell in ancient boabab trees, dung beetles are as lovingly realised (in extreme close-up) as the flamboyant pink flamingos.
Long ago, Disney turned anthropomorphism into an art form. The Lion King future proofs the studio’s crown.
The Lion King in cinemas from Wednesday, July 178