A distinguishing feature thus becomes the big-name voice cast, a major marketing tool for this familiar storyline about a young prince, Simba (Donald Glover once he grows up), who flees his responsibilities before being convinced by childhood friend Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter) to fight to reclaim his birthright.
In terms of making the character his own, Chiwetel Ejiofor stands out by sinking his teeth into Scar, the envious lion who betrays his brother, Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role), and chases Simba away in order to steal his throne.
Ejiofor transforms Scar’s song, “Be Prepared,” into an edgy, spoken-word rallying cry to the hyenas, who he enlists as part of his plot. It’s a breath of fresh air rivaled only by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s playfully goofy antics as Simba’s adopted pals Timon and Pumbaa, with the movie capitalizing on the PG rating to somewhat enhance the flatulent qualities that turned the warthog into a jungle pariah.
Other than that, there’s understandably no interest in reinventing the wheel — or the circle of life. Having wowed audiences in animated form and on Broadway, the enterprise comes heavily presold to those who can hum the songs and recognize every soaring beat of Hans Zimmer’s score.
Indeed, the one conspicuous disappointment financially speaking among Disney’s recent adaptations has been “Dumbo,” a true reboot that by necessity took more liberties with its predecessor than the aforementioned hits.
“The Lion King,” by comparison, resides at the top of the studio’s food chain, clearly knows it, and doesn’t have to roar to announce its presence. A quarter-century later, that has birthed an heir that’s easy to like, without necessarily feeling the love.
“The Lion King” premieres July 19 in the US. It’s rated PG.