If you’ve wanted to visit Africa, the live-action version of “The Lion King” is about as idyllic as it gets.
Grasses sway in the breeze. Animals romp like a United Nations of countries. And Simba has fur that’s about as luxurious as, well, a store-bought fur coat.
It’s gorgeous, but there are times when you miss the animated versions that didn’t seem so threatening.
Here, when animals attack, the fights are vicious. When wildebeests stampede, they’re overwhelming. Even the “circle of life” meals have a decided taint. Care for a grub? No thank you.
Following the Disney trend to remake anything that remotely had “animated” in its description, the latest “King” adds one new song (since Beyonce is voicing Nala) and a lot of angst. It’s not a joyful romp through the veldt, it’s a kill-or-be-killed drama that just happens to have a few songs in it.
Surprisingly, Billy Eichner does a great job as Timon. He finds line readings Nathan Lane didn’t and has a great voice, particularly on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Seth Rogen was a good choice to play his sidekick, Pumbaa, and John Oliver is a worthy Zazu.
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But Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Scar) and Donald Glover (as adult Simba) are just OK. Jeremy Irons gave the former more menace; Matthew Broderick had better timing as the latter.
And that, for the most part, is what a trip to this “Lion King” is like – one big comparison. Unlike the Broadway edition, which really gave it a new artistic bent, this one settles for a Disney nature film vibe. Director Jon Favreau achieves that, but he also takes too much time admiring his handiwork. The first “Lion King” moved like a puma and offered humor when you needed it most.
This one embraces reverence and crawls.
The opening sequence – when baby Simba is presented to the residents of Pride Rock – has all the power it needs. And then the letdown begins. Even James Earl Jones (the only repeater) isn’t as majestic here as he was in the first film.
The songs inspire sing-along action (yes, that’s available on the DVD version) and have such lush orchestrations you half expect to see a bunch of musicians sitting in the brush.
When it comes to making money, this “Lion King” has no worries. It’s a property that’s ripe for revival. It’s just too bad it (and a host of other classic cartoons) isn’t able to inspire new life, not provide meat for some old bones.