“Remember who you are. Remember.” Ever since the 1994 Disney animated classic The Lion King hit theaters, storytelling and animation were never the same again. The award-winning film was and still is dearly beloved by many fans. From the plot to the music score, five stars all the way. Back in 2016, Disney announced a live-action version of The Lion King was to be made. After seeing the beautiful details of The Jungle Book, also directed by Jon Favreau, I was at the edge of my seat waiting to see the world of the Pride Land in a whole new light.

I was given an opportunity to see an early screening** of the brand new live-action film and let me tell you, the story still holds true to the original. The moment the film starts, we are greeted with the iconic “Circle of Life” melody. Our eyes are then thrilled by the visual representation of the Pride Land, vivid with hues of the warm sun rising. Animals from all about the kingdom made their way to Pride Rock in the most upbeat of ways. Visually, these animals looked extremely lifelike! It was surreal to think that they were all created through virtual cinematography technology. But within the first five minutes of the film, I knew it would be a hit.

Characters

We see the iconic characters return from the original. Simba voiced by JD McCrary (young Simba) and Donald Glover (adult Simba), really has us into the adventure of the “hero’s journey.” The way his script pans out, it showed strong character growth and his deep passion to make his home whole again. With the live-action visual of Simba be it the facial expressions and the real-life lion sounds he presents, it made me connect to his character more and sympathize with his actions (more so than I did with the animated version). From the cute and cuddly eye gazes to the then loud roar as he takes back the kingdom, this “live-action” version of Simba really attributed to believing and seeing his character growth.

Nala in the film voiced by Shahadi Wright Joseph (young Nala) and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (adult Nala) had a role was that deeper and more insightful to the plot than of the previous version of the story. I strongly appreciated how Nala was represented as the fun best friend but then when its time to be serious, she was always there to help. We see more of Nala with her brave side and her strong intent to bring Simba back to his senses. Not only that, but we get to see Nala in action in the ending scenes, battling to save the Pride Land. Not to spoil too much but Nala and the rest of the lioness were more powerful in the latter scenes and that was a big thumbs up.

Mufasa who’s voice was reprised by James Earl Jones brought the same emotion to the character. Highly applaud him for coming back to this film as you can always feel the depth of the character’s persona just as he is with every character he portrays in the film industry. When he says the words “remember who you are,” it brought to me sentimental tears.

We then see the fun duo of Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), improv is apparent and it was non-stop laughter for everyone in the audience. Both Billy and Seth carried the characters through with verbiage relevant to today’s time. It was very endearing to see them play upon each other’s words. Rafiki (John Kani) and Zazu (John Oliver) were iconic as ever and they both brought uniqueness to the film. A few tweaks here and there but it added depth to the characters’ involvement of the plot. Be sure to check out Rafiki and his helping hand in taking back the Pride Land from Scar.

As for Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the spotted hyenas, ooooo I am getting chill thinking about the way the animators portrayed them. Each with some sort of symbol from battle, with a deep yearning for revenge, they all team together and create a dark eerie presence. Pointing out again, the “live-action” representation of the characters, it provides a deeper insight into where they are coming from. With Azizi, Shernzi, and Kamari (the three main hyenas),  each has a goal to get what they want. When Scar share that he has the answers to their desires, it’s all downhill from there.

Music

Hans Zimmer and Lebo M come back once again to compose. The Lion King soundtrack, which is now available on all streaming platforms, is truly one for the books. The way I interpreted it is that of the 1994 soundtrack but more grown-up. Ironically, I felt a lot of the Pirates of the Caribbean vibes in the updated score. We also get two new original songs; “Spirit” performed by Beyoncé and “Never Too Late” by Elton John. Many of the tunes are super familiar to that of what we already know. Still, these songs made me feel all range of emotions, especially the score of “Stampede.” I highly recommend you check out the full score and soundtrack, let us know what you think.

Visuals

I give these visuals of the live-action representation of the film ten out of ten. No disrespect, but I can see a huge improvement on the visuals from here to that of The Jungle Book. It was more blended and detailed to a T. From the deep red and blue on Rafiki, to the real looking raindrops, the fire over Pride Rock…wow! Honestly, for a section, I forgot this was a computer-animated film. Not only was it appealing to the eye but as noted earlier, I feel the real looking creature really helped with the characters and the goals within the film. Very very real! It was highly appreciated. Also thinking about all the time spent blend in the battle scenes and the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” montage, it was well put together.

Final Thoughts

Being the child that would watch the animated version so many times the VHS finally exploded in the VCR one day from being played so much, I really held my hopes high for this film. To say the least, I was awestruck on so many levels. Of course it is not going to be like the animated version and of course, things might be interpreted differently here, but that’s what made it so great. The story was the same and that is really the main concept I was looking for. It was a fun film and the live-action aspect really gave the film so much more dept,h plus not to mention, the developed score really attributed to helping feel the story. I will for sure see this again in theaters and you best believe I will have this soundtrack on all week.  Side note, Timon and Pumbaa were probably my favorite part of the whole film.

Lastly, as a part of The Lion King|Protect the Pride conservation effort with Disney and the Lion Recovery Fund, both are partnering up to help wildlife. African lion wildlife population is at an extreme decline but with raising awareness and conversion efforts, we can all help in the circle of life. Check out the link to see how you can help.

What are your hopes for this film?

This early screening opportunity was given to Los Angeles Zoo staff on behalf of Walt Disney Studios.