‘The Lion King’ review: Disney’s new CGI animation is astonishing


As metaphors for Hollywood in 2019 go, it’s hard to beat “Circle of Life.”

A thing is born, it lives (hopefully turning a nice profit for share holders) and then it dies, but is never really gone. Instead, its carcass decomposes, to be plundered and ultimately serve as fuel for future generations. And the circle continues forever — or until the 2,000th Spider-Man reboot. Whichever comes first.

Which brings us to “The Lion King,” Disney’s latest effort in its quest to remake many of its animated classics.

This particular “Circle of Life” has taken 25 years to complete its rotation, and now Simba, Mufasa and the once-ubiquitous songs of Elton John and Tim Rice are back again.

The story should be familiar to anyone over the age of 8, especially anyone who had both a young child and a VCR back in the 1990s.

Young cub Simba (Donald Glover) is cast out of his homeland after his power-hungry uncle (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has Simba’s father (James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the 1994 film), killed.

What is new is this film’s striking CGI animation style. Director Jon Favreau again deploys the same photo-realistic process used in his 2016 hit “The Jungle Book,” and the results are astonishing.

Viewers who show up late will be forgiven for thinking they’ve wandered into a showing of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

Each hair and whisker on a mandrill’s face is defined. Every creature moves with seeming weight and realism, every landscape looks straight off a postcard. The African night sky is rendered so realistically that even Neil deGrasse Tyson won’t take to Twitter to nitpick.

And maybe the visuals alone are enough to justify the remake. Because although this version is some 30 minutes longer than its predecessor, anyone looking for new story twists or, say, an inspiring backstory for the antelope that gets eaten, will probably leave disappointed.

Unless you’ve memorized the original, it will likely be difficult to spot what was added to fill out those extra minutes.

If anything, more could have been cut, as “The Lion King” drags a bit early on, when it’s all sober lesson-imparting and ceremony.

Things pick up when Simba joins up with Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), a gassy warthog, and Timon (Billy Eichner), a quippy meerkat.

Eichner earns the most laughs by far (he also sings a bit), and his caffeinated, over-the-top delivery is perfectly suited for voice work.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” he tells Simba when arriving at barren wasteland, “but a bit heavy on the carcass.”

Beyonce also shows up as Nala, the voice of Simba’s betrothed. Her contribution to the soundtrack, including a brand new song for this update, will probably put butts in seats, but her acting is a bit flat. If only she had something else to fall back on.

Parents should take note that “The Lion King” is rated PG, not G like the 1994 version, and some scenes will likely be too intense for the youngest cubs.

Just tell them to hold on for five more years and wait for the next remake.