THE LION KING – a Masterpiece of Visual Effects

THE LION KING is a tried and trusted masterpiece. Commonly listed as the greatest animation of all time, including this reviewers all time favourite animation, it was always going to be a monstrous undertaking to make a live-action version of this movie and to make one that critics and fans of the original wouldn’t attack with a fine tooth comb and pickaxes.

So it is with great surprise that I am reading so many negative reviews complaining about this version of THE LION KING – I thought it was a masterpiece and I did that thing where I embarassingly clapped in the credits haha.

THE LION KING is out now from Disney, it is rated PG and runs for 118mins. I recommend this for the entire family but be warned some scenes in this are incredibly dark and young children will be petrified. Put it this way – if you would let a child watch Harry Potter then they will be fine with this.

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Simba and Mufasa



The synopsis is exactly the same as the animated film or the musical versions of the story. And this is something I keep hearing people complain about “oh my gawd, it’s exactly the same.” This is correct and does not require critical meltdown. Like any great story there will always be multiple versions in the telling. CHICAGO, CATS, THE LION KING, WICKED – all musicals, all told a hundred times in the theatre or onscreen, and that is all this movie is, the next version of the re-telling.

THE LION KING follows the adventures of the young lion Simba, the heir of his father, Mufasa. Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, plots to usurp Mufasa’s throne by luring father and son into a stampede of wildebeests. But Simba escapes, and only Mufasa is killed. Simba returns as an adult to take back his homeland from Scar with the help of his friends Timon and Pumbaa.

I do believe the thing people are finding hard to swallow is how similar it is to the original animation. I have no issue with this and all it did was make my jaw drop open further at the skill and magic that Jon Favreau and his teams have created, I cannot imagine the painstaking hours spent getting scenes looking so perfect, it is as if we have entered a David Attenborough documentary. It is so life like some will believe it totally real and more young kids will get eaten by lions wanting to hug Mufasa in a zoo haha.

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Zazu and Simba


The story is the same, the lines are mostly the same and the songs are also mostly the same but it’s a whole new production. It’s live-action and so perfect it looks like reality. It has even been dubbed National Geographic-Esque. The work that has gone into this movie is almost unfathomable and Favreau and the crew have created a film that is probably the single most accurate CGI film of all time.

Some of the lines are different and modernised. For example Zazu’s line about Mufasa’s rambunctious childhood is adapted from the Broadway play. A quote from Pumbaa about Simba singing non-stop while he aged from youth to mature lion had the audience in hysterics and suited the scene. Hyenas now have African names that are more appropriate; Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi are named after the Swahili words for “savage,” “mighty”, and “moonlight,” respectively. Kamari and Azizi were originally named Banzai and Ed in the 1994 animated film, but were given African names for this version. The list goes on and on and while it might look exactly the same in its delivery the changes are so subtle it appears as good as the original, something that is annoying people for the wrong reasons.

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Scar and the Hyenas


The biggest changes in bringing the movie to life is obviously the voice cast and delivery of the roles. James Earl Jones is the only voice actor to return as Mufasa. You just can’t beat that beaming Darth Vader voice as the King. You can hear the age in his voice this time but all is forgiven because it’s James Earl Bloody Darth Vader Mufasa Jones!

Jeremy Irons expressed interest to return as Scar and Benedict Cumberbatch turned it down before Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast. He is a marvellous scar but the character of Scar is not an English bad guy with a flair for the dramatic, in this he is obsessive, unbalanced and truly terrifying with a sense of rage and murder ready to pounce at any moment. It is this character and the hyenas that will scare young children to the core.

JD McCrary is absolutely perfect as Young Simba and Donald Glover will be a favourite with most people. In some of his scenes I wasn’t as enamoured by Glover’s delivery finding it a little too casual. I did find it hard to like this voice over Matthew Broderick’s in the original. Beyonce was fine as Nala and sounded as Beyonce does – when she sings angels do backing vocals in your ears haha.

Johns Oliver and Khani nail their respective Zazu and Rafiki roles and Alfre Woodard is familiar and comforting as Saribi but her role is quite minor.


Then it comes down to two final pivotal characters – Pumbaa and Timon. In the original this was a duo that stole the show. Originally played by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella fresh from the Broadway musical of Guys and Dolls, they rolled with their characters and voices from the musical. In this how could Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner even get close? It took a few scenes to warm to them but they bloody nailed it. They recorded all their scenes together and had so much chemistry they almost come across as cross-species gay partners. For quite a few scenes I thought Eichner was in fact Jim Parsons with that smarmy intelligence and comic timing. Loved these two!

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Nala and Simba


SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT and a film I enjoyed nearly as much as the original source material. A technological marvel of next generation CGI with visuals and voice acting I just loved. THE LION KING is marvellous.


Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.