Movie Review: 'Lion King'

Simba can’t wait to be the king, but walking in his father's footsteps is more difficult than he ever imagined.
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Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
Simba (JD McCrary) talks to Zazu (John Oliver) a bird who serves as a royal messenger, reporting the good and the not-so-good news of the day.

It’s been 25 years since the original “Lion King” was released, and this is the exact same story. Even if you know what’s going to happen, it’s incredibly rewarding to watch this story unfold. The movie blends live-action filmmaking techniques with photo-real computer-generated imagery. It’s a heroic tale of good versus evil that is revealed in the stunning African savannah, with talking animals and soulful music. It's about a young cub who runs away from home after experiencing a traumatic loss, and how he returns as an adult lion to save his pride.  

The Story

The story begins in the Pride Lands of Africa, where a group of lions rule over the animal kingdom. The kingdom is ruled by Lion King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and his Queen, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard.) The King and Queen present their newborn son, Simba (JD McCrary) to the gathering of animals as heir to the throne. Later, King Mufasa shows his little cub the African countryside and explains to him the responsibilities of being a king and how the "Circle of Life" connects all living things. 

Meanwhile, Mufasa's younger brother, Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) covets the throne and schemes to kill Mufasa and Simba, so he may become king. He tricks Simba and his best friend Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) into exploring a forbidden elephant's graveyard by themselves. At the elephant's graveyard, the cubs are attacked by a clan of hyenas. The royal messenger bird, Zazu (John Oliver) alerts King Mufasa about the incident, who quickly arrives to rescue the cubs. Mufasa is upset with Simba, but forgives him and explains that the great kings of the past watch over them from the night sky, and promises that he will one day watch over Simba.  

Frustrated, Scar sets another trap for his Simba and Mufasa. He lures Simba into a narrow valley between the mountains, where a stampede of hyenas and wildebeest could trample him. When Scar tells Mufasa about the stampede, the king rushes to save his son. With love and courage, King Mufasa risks his own life to save Simba. Sadly, the noble King is badly injured, making it easy for his brother Scar to kill him. King Mufasa’s death is a sad, but necessary, part of the story. Ultimately, Simba blames himself for his father’s death, and runs away from home. Scar becomes the Lion King. Many years pass, and Simba becomes an adult. He returns home and confronts his evil uncle in order to assume his rightful position to the throne.

What Parents Should Know 

 “The Lion King” is rated PG and contains sequences of violence and peril which may frighten sensitive children. The story includes the death of a parent, and deception by a trusted relative. It is disturbing watching Uncle Scar plot to kill young Simba and his father. In the beginning of the story, Simba is a lion cub and his Uncle Scar encourages him to go a place that his father warned him against. Children may be frightened by the hyenas, who are wolf-like creatures with beady eyes. The hyenas chase the young cubs and attempt to kill them.

It is sad when Lion King Mufasa dies. The film lightens the burden of Simba running away by introducing Timon the meerkat (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa the warthog (Seth Rogen) who are fellow outcasts. Simba grows up in the jungle with these two new friends, and they live carefree under the motto "Hakuna Matata" (which means "no worries" in Swahili.) However, Simba's laid back lifestyle is challenged when his childhood friend Nala arrives. She explains that Scar has become the Lion King, and how he abused his power and endangered the animal kingdom.

Parents may be concerned about Rafki (John Kani,) a monkey serving as the shaman of the animal kingdom. In one scene, Rafiki tells Simba that his father’s spirit lives on inside of him. Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the night sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as king.  

Music from "Lion King"

My review would not be complete without mentioning the music, which serves as the emotional spine of the story. The songs are written by Grammy-award winner Elton John and Tim Rice, and performed by the film's cast.  You’ll tap your feet with songs like “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata," “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,’ and “Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Also, Beyoncé (who voices Simba's best friend Nala) sings the original song "Spirit," and collaborates on "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." I also liked the uplifting “Never Too Late,” which features an African choir echoing Elton John's vocals. The song is a gentle reminder that it isn’t too late for Simba to return to the Pride Lands and become the Lion King. 

Final Take

I watched this movie with my husband, a 7-year-old girl and her grandmother. It's always helpful to get some feedback from others, and hear what they thought of the movie. The 7-year-old wasn’t fazed by the tragic aspects of the story. She enjoyed watching Simba transform from a pint-size cub into an adult lion. Part of the beauty of the movie is that the animals talk like humans, which makes the story seem so real and believable. As a parent, I felt an emotional connection to Simba (isn't it just like a child to test boundaries and do things they aren't supposed to do?) and also King Mufasa (with the unconditional love this father has for his child.)  “The Lion King” is a very human and honest story of what all of us go through: Coming-of-age, death and rebirth—the cycles of life. The movie powerfully conveys relationships, reconciliation and overcoming obstacles. Without giving too much away, there is a happy and triumphant ending that caused the theater (at the screening I attended) to burst into applause as the end credits rolled across the screen.