Unlike the recent Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast, this is not a live-action remake. A more apt term would be a CG remake that gives the illusion of being "live action" thanks to expensive digital wizardry. And, sure, the technical work is astonishing on some level. These do look like actual lions, rippling musculature and all. Pumbaa, the farting comic relief, also has the visage of an actual warthog, a highly unnerving sight. Some shots seem like they could have been taken from an episode of Planet Earth, which was apparently Favreau's intention. But what's onscreen is not real enough to elicit true wonder, nor inventive enough to justify a realm of fantasy where, you know, lions would be talking and singing. (It's truly odd to watch these balls of pixels open their mouths to hold a note.) Thus the animation, while impressive, also dulls both the senses and the story.
Favreau has basically made a shot-for-shot remake that's inexplicably a half an hour longer than the 1994 original. Dare I rehash the plot? Is it even necessary? Simba (JD McCrary) is a young lion prince who suffers unimaginable tragedy when his scheming, power-hungry uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) murders his father Mufasa (Jones). Thinking he's responsible for his dad's death, Simba leaves his homeland, befriends a meerkat named Timon (Billy Eichner) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), and grows up, maturing into Glover's voice. Eventually his love interest Nala (Beyoncé!!!!!!) finds him, they fall in love, and she urges him to come back home and take his rightful place on the throne.
While the plot and even much of the dialogue remain static -- minus a "Mr. Pig" and Taxi Driver reference -- there's an absence of playfulness in a misguided effort to be true to nature. Remember in the 1994 "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," Simba pounces and the song becomes a Busby Berkeley dance with clashing colors and zebras? Here, the cubs just trot around, meeting up with some other baby animals. "Be Prepared," once sung by a mischievous villain in his cavern filled with an army of hyena cronies and oozing green slime, is now a couple of lines spoken in the dark by Ejiofor's one-note bad guy, for whom doing evil seems to be a chore.