by SC Reviewer Shelby Larsen; photo by SC photographer Chuck Larsen
Just kidding. No spoiler alert. Nothing here to spoil. This is The Lion King, a movie of a stage play of an animated movie of a loose adaptation of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, a play by William Shakespeare, about fratricide and power, a theme Biblical in its antiquity (see Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel).
The bottom line is that if you are looking for a movie with twists, turns, and unusual characters, you are in the wrong theater.
This is The Lion King. The characters are archetypes, it’s just the setting that is different. You know the beginning, the ending, and the in-between before you set foot in the theater.
So why go? Because this story is told and retold in all its variant forms, throughout human history, so it clearly resonates with heads and hearts. But the real best reason to go to this particular iteration is the absolute and amazing gorgeousness of its photographic CGI . This is more than animation as we know it. The fauna is so real, down to the last hair on each animal’s body, the flora of the jungle rendered down to the tiniest veins of the leaves, that what you are watching becomes more real than reality. Nature photographers, who spend hours and days in one position, waiting for that perfect shot, do not get any better than these masters of the computer. When you look into the eyes of these lions, you see sentience, awareness, and the ability to make you fear.
Yes, the animals are anthromorphized to reflect human qualities; and yet, the struggle for supremacy is part and parcel of both human and animal worlds, and who better to reveal it than “The King of Beasts”, the mighty lion.
The vocal casting is immaculate; James Earl Jones repeats his role as Mustafa, the Lion King. Of course, he does; no other voice could possibly come close to that majestic blend of power and authority underlaid with affection. Alfre Woodard does her best as young Simba’s mother, Sarabi, in a role that is vastly underwritten. (At least she survives, unlike most Disney film mothers). Seth Rogan and Billy Eisner provide the comic relief as Pumbaa and Timon, whose lighthearted approach to life counters the deadly seriousness of the story.(Hakuna Matata, y’all). It is particularly a pleasure to hear John Oliver voice Zazu. The frustration and fluster that pervades his weekly late-night show is a perfect fit for the wing flapping, slightly hysterical hornbill. Other voices, including of course Donald Glover (Simba), Beyonce , (Nala, his female counterpart) seem to seamlessly blend with the characters. Notably, Chiwetel Ejiofor infuses the silken menace of Scar with the menacing self-confidence of evil.
The King must die; it’s part of the great circle of life (the lion eats the antelope, the antelope becomes the grass, the grass grows to feed the antelope again, and the lion eats the antelope.) Presumably the antelope ascribes to the doctrine of Hakuna Matata/ no worries as the herd welcomes the birth of each new lion prince.
Long live The Lion King.