The Lion King (2019) – I’m hopeful, but skeptical

To me the remake of Beauty and the Beast starring, of all people, Emma Watson was nothing more than a cash grab. The various political correctness controversies around the movie killed any possible hype I may have had – the idea of making a character “gay” just to have a “gay” character was just… hollow.

Then there was the attempt by John Legend and Ariana Grande at the titular “Beauty and the Beast”. I’m sorry, but Grande and Legend just do not have the vocal power that allowed Dion and Bryson to give that song what it needed (though some have said Dion should’ve performed it solo).

Even Angela Lansbury had more feeling behind the lyrics, even if she couldn’t put much power behind it.

So the fact that Disney in many respects ruined a very well-respected classic movie only because they knew the movie title alone would put butts in seats at the box office, to the tune of $1.25 billion, it’s no surprise that Disney is attempting the same with Aladdin and The Lion King. And Mulan.

To say I’m skeptical about the new The Lion King would be an understatement.

We’re talking about a movie with an unrivaled reputation. It pulled in more at the box office than Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Combined. Earning short of $1 billion. Virtually unheard of for a film in 1994, let alone an animated film. Only Jurassic Park did better at the time.

Its soundtrack won Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Grammies. Its songs are still recognized today, almost 25 years later. Largely recognized as some of the best music to come from Disney, and some of the best to come from Sirs Elton John and Tim Rice.

So Disney is working against one hell of a reputation. And I’m not the only one who is skeptical.

That 87 year-old James Earl Jones was able to reprise his role as Mufasa has me hopeful. The movie would not have been the same without him. That they did not bring back Nathan Lane (Timon), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), and Jeremy Irons (Scar) has me disappointed.

But the trailer for the movie again has me hopeful.

The original saw James Earl Jones working alongside the late Madge Sinclair as Sarabi, who had previously worked together in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. This time Jones is working alongside Alfre Woodard, who played the queen mother in Black Panther. Making me wonder if they could’ve found anyone any more perfect for that role. Also coming from Black Panther are Florence Kasumba as Shenzi (previously played by Whoopi Goldberg), and John Kani as Rafiki (previously voiced by the late Robert Guillaume).

The film also introduces JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Simba and Nala, respectively, with Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles voicing the adult Simba and Nala, respectively.

Disney has a lot riding on this. A lot of us grew up with the Renaissance, or were parents through it. And The Lion King alone holds a special place in a lot of hearts for the story and music that was able to drive emotion like nothing else.

But, done right, Disney has the potential to bring The Lion King to life. Not bring it new life. Bring it to life in a way not thought possible in 1994. Done right, it could become the new classic.

Let us all hope Disney does not disappoint on this. Again, I’m skeptical. But hopeful.