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Review: The Lion King in cinemas starring the voices of James Earl Jones and Seth Rogen

As the much-anticipated remake of Disney's The Lion King opens in cinemas across Kent this week, Damon Smith reviews the film. Here's what he thought:

Twenty-five years ago, The Lion King was the cat's whiskers.

Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff's heartbreaking rites-of-passage drama roared at the Academy Awards, collecting golden statuettes for Hans Zimmer's score and Elton John and Tim Rice's swooning ballad Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and young Simba (JD McCrary) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc
Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and young Simba (JD McCrary) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc

The highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time continues to purr as a long-running stage musical.

Now, director Jon Favreau employs the same photorealistic computer wizardry, which served him well for his rollicking reimagining of The Jungle Book, to transport us to the sun-baked savanna for a virtually word-for-word remake, which trades heavily on technical excellence to justify its existence.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson appropriates most of the original dialogue and tempers the animated film's more extravagant flourishes.

Consequently, scheming uncle Scar is no longer a scene-stealing pantomime villain, his Machiavellian call to arms, Be Prepared, loses the goose-stepping hyenas and provocative Nazi imagery, and the Busby Berkeley-style fantasia of I Just Can't Wait To Be King is now a scamper around a watering hole.

Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) and Mufasa (James Earl Jones) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc
Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) and Mufasa (James Earl Jones) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc

Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen riff to hilarious effect as meerkat Timon and flatulent warthog Pumbaa, tucking into a banquet of bugs with gusto ("That's what I call umami!") and cheekily referencing another Disney classic when they are asked to cause a distraction.

As before, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and mate Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) maintain a delicate balance between various animal factions.

Their proud leonine bloodline continues with the birth of Simba (JD McCrary), who is introduced to the world by shamanic mandrill Rafiki (John Kani) atop Pride Rock.

Mufasa's embittered brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots to seize control of the grasslands by forging a fragile alliance with the hyenas.

Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). Disney Enterprises, Inc
Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). Disney Enterprises, Inc

The despicable plotters lure Simba into a canyon during a stampede and Mufasa dies saving his boy from being crushed under clattering hooves.

Overwhelmed by guilt and grief, Simba flees and the tearful cub is befriended by carefree duo Timon (Eichner) and Pumbaa (Rogen), who are eager to share their "problem-free philosophy".

Meanwhile, Scar's tyrannical reign reduces the lush pride lands to a barren sprawl of rotting carcasses where Simba's sweetheart Nala (Beyonce Knowles) feels powerless to oppose despotic rule.

Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), young Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Zazu (John Oliver) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc
Young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), young Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Zazu (John Oliver) Picture: Disney Enterprises, Inc

There is no denying that The Lion King is a mighty handsome and muscular beast.

Close-ups of Simba's baby blue eyes shamelessly pluck heartstrings and the attention to detail on the animals' fur is jaw-dropping.

Aside from Eichner and Rogen's ad-libs, every word and emotional crescendo is secondhand, beginning with a soaring cry of "Nants Ingonyama" from Circle Of Life as a sun rises over the animals' domain.

Audiences unfamiliar with the 1994 animation may consider Favreau's picture to be king of the cinematic jungle.

For me, the beautifully imperfect original reigns supreme.

* The Lion King (PG) is released in cinemas on Friday, July 19.

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