THE LION KING – Review by Susan Granger

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Why another“Lion King after the original animated feature (1994), the Broadway musical adaptation (1997) and more than 20 spinoff international productions? Because new, eye-popping photo-animation makes the fable look as if it’s live-action.

Computer animation has become so advanced, so realistic that the result is “virtual cinematography,” meaning the African animals look as if they were photographed on-location. Credit veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, working with visual supervisors Robert Legato and Adam Velez, who previously collaborated with director Jon Favreau on The Jungle Book.

Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay begins with King Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his original role) and his mate Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) introducing newborn Simba to the savannah – much to the consternation of his jealous brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Awhile later, after young Simba warbles “I Can’t Wait to Be King,” conniving Scar lures him into a steep ravine where malevolent hyenas launch a wildebeest stampede. After making sure Mufasa takes a fatal plunge, treacherous Scar slyly convinces Simba that it’s all his fault – leaving him no choice but to flee.

In his travels, now-adult Simba (Donald Glover) acquires two carefree companions – witty meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and genial-if-gassy warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) – who teach him their philosophy: “Hakuna Matata,” meaning “no worries.”

Meanwhile, sneering Scar and his scavenging hyenas turn the fertile Pride Lands into a barren desert.

Eventually, Simba’s best friend/betrothed Nala (Beyonce) convinces him to return to assume his rightful role as King, musically cuing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Augmenting Hans Zimmer’s score with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, Beyonce introduces a new song “Spirit” which, inevitably, will be Oscar-nominated.

Unlike the original 1994 film, all the lions are now voiced by actors of African descent. And the no-nonsense monkey Rafiki, the King’s trusted aide, is embodied by John Kani, a South African actor.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Lion King is a vivid, nostalgic 9, an astonishing continuation of “The Circle of Life.”

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.