MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘The Lion King’ remake brings nothing new to the screen

Walt Disney Studios

The Circle of Life for Disney films today is to debut as an animated hit, grow into a classic, and then be reincarnated as a live-action version or at least a photorealistic computer-animated version that mimics live action.

Is this trend of serving cinematic leftovers a cynical money grab by the House of Mouse, or is it a legitimate attempt by Disney to modernize its classic tales for a new generation of fans?

I think it’s a little bit of both. However, the original “The Lion King” is a near timeless classic that left very little room for updating and improvement.

The new version of the “The Lion King” opened this week to lukewarm reactions by critics and pundits, who were able to see the film in advance. It’s the third such Disney reinterpretation of one of its classic animated features this year, and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is due in October. “Dumbo” flopped at the box office in March, but “Aladdin,” which opened in May, remains in theaters and is soaring very close to breaking the billion-dollar mark.

With the original story of Simba and his pals being one of Disney’s all-time, top-grossing animated films, the new version of “The Lion King” is expected to do billion-dollar business, too.

With such tepid reviews, that remains to be seen, but to my mind director John Favreau (“Elf,” “Iron Man” and “Jungle Book”) crafted a fine movie.

The only problem is his version of “The Lion King” competes in the same mind space of the Disney original.

The two films are so similar that I fall into the category of those who wonder why remake the movie without adding anything new? That question bugged me for about half the film before I finally let go and just enjoyed the movie.

The story, loosely based on Hamlet, is compelling. When I finally allowed myself, I was entertained. However, I probably would have had just as good of time popping in original in my Blu Ray player and watching it at home.

I prefer the classically animated original. I think the cartoonish animation allows for more expression, heart and humor than the photorealistic approach.

The one thing I may prefer in the new version is the climactic showdown between Simba and the pride and Scar the and the hyena henchmen.

The voice casting of Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Seth Rogen as Pumba along with the others is fine, and I couldn’t point out a false line reading, but with only James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Mufasa, the voices didn’t ring true to my ear. The original version of the film was just too etched in my mind for me to fully buy into the remake.

As “Chicago Sun-Times” film critic Roger Ebert always suggested, Hollywood would be better off remaking the bad movies instead of the the good ones.

(PG) 1 hr. 58 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner – Glory (Malco Razorback)

Columbia/TriStar Pictures

Matthew Broderick may get top billing in director Edward Zwick’s 1989 Civil War film “Glory,” but it’s Denzel Washington’s movie from the time he appears on screen to when his character Trip is killed in battle after picking up the lead and the Union flag while he and his fellow soldiers storm Fort Wagner.

Washington was already known for his work on the popular TV ensemble “St. Elsewhere,” but after his performance in “Glory,” he became a bonafide movie star in the 1990s and remains one today.

The film is the first to tell the story of an African-American regiment that takes an active fighting role in the war fought primarily to end slavery in the United States. Although African-American soldiers were also depicted in the 1965 Civil War film “Shenandoah,” their roles were just an ancillary part of the film.

Broderick played Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the 54th regiment. While the
star of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “WarGames” is a fine actor, he was woefully miscast in the role and comes off as one of the most ineffectual leaders in the history of war films.

Though the film is shot through the point of view of Broderick’s Shaw, the characters played by Washington, Morgan Freeman (Sgt. Maj. Rawlins), Andre Braugher (Cpl. Searles), and Jihmi Kennedy (Pvt. Sharts) are the heart of the movie. Washington’s performance is strong throughout, as he slowly bonds with his fellow soldiers, but the scene where he is erroneously beaten with a strap for desertion remains one of the most poignant of his career.

Washington deservedly won his first Oscar for the performance in the Best Supporting Actor category, while the movie also collected Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Freddie Francis) and Best Sound.

James Horner’s haunting score perfectly embellishes Francis’ lush cinematography and the important story Zwick and his cast told.

The film did receive criticism for a number of historical inaccuracies that are ultimately meaningless compared to the to the compelling story and the eyes opened by the movie.

The Malco Razorback Cinema is hold special screenings of the film at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • The Lion King(PG) 1 hr. 58 min. (watch trailer)
  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Malco Rogers Towne, Bentonville Skylight

  • The Art of Self Defense(R) 1 hr. 44 min. (watch trailer)
  • Playing at: Malco Pinnacle Hills