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Film Critic: Disney's 'The Lion King' Is 'All-Around Brilliant'

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
James Earl Jones returns to voice the character Mufasa, and JD McCray voices Young Simba in "The Lion King."

From Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Jungle Book, Disney’s live action platform is on a roll, creating new ways for audiences to experience these stories.

Director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Its groundbreaking technology blended computer animated animals alongside a human co-star, set in a vast jungle. Favreau’s latest film takes the Disney animated classic The Lion King to a whole new level — not just in casting, but in filmmaking technology itself. The film is not even considered live action — it’s “photo-real.”

"It's as though a camera was put inside of a computer where they created virtual reality enviornments to put these CGI characters into," explains film contributor Ryan Jay. "Everything is choreographed from the camera movement to the environment to the animal, but you can't tell!"


The Lion King follows the story of Simba and his journey to become king that is filled with drama, tragedy, betrayal, and triumph. The cast includes James Earl Jones returning as King Mufasa, but otherwise features completely new voices — Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Billy Eichner as Timon, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and John Oliver as Zazu.

"It's brilliant casting," Jay says.

He also notes that The Lion King offers young actors to shine in its first half with Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Nala and JD McCrary as young Simba. "They really are outstanding in this — it's star-making turns for these two young actors."

If you grew up watching the 1994 original animated classic, Jay says that Favreau's rendition gives you "everything that you love about the original film ... it's all-around brilliant."

"No contest — this is the best of the new Disney adaptations."

"I got the (good kind) of chills the minute it started ... There's so much joy ... No contest — this is the best of the new Disney adaptations," he adds.

While some audience members may not think Disney's remakes are necessary, Jay argues that these films are meant to sit alongside their original counterparts. "I just think that Disney is brilliant in marketing and maintaining their properties so they can continue to reinforce their brand ... and renew them with each generation in a new way."

Even if the story of The Lion King is familiar, the new technology invented to create this film is reason enough to see it, Jay explains. "Everything feels so authentic and sincere ... this is absolutely one you must see on the big screen."

This rendition of the story is not a shot-for-shot match of the original animated version. There are new elements added, and "certainly welcomed," says Jay, such as new music from Elton John and Beyonce, artistry and humor — much to Favreau's credit.

"He is so impressive," says Jay. "He gets storytelling from the heart outward, and so to see that translate and to keep that integrity of story ... I mean the man, there's nothing he can't do, there isn't anything he would do that I wouldn't see."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Ryan Jay is one of Lake Effect's regular film contributors. He's a nationally syndicated radio host and resident reviewer on Channel 4's The Morning Blend and Friday and Saturday News.