As the ‘Circle of Life’ began I found myself strangely emotional. You see The Lion King and I go way back with an enormous history. I was ‘Shenzi’ in the Original Los Angeles production for three years and It was one of the most magical moments of my career and life. So, my fingers were crossed that Jon Favreau held up the integrity without losing the message of birth, death, betrayal and respect for all living creatures. Favreau indeed keep the integrity of the original story line.
What I missed was more of the African music which added so much flavor to the animated and stage versions. Sidekicks often get sidelined or steal the show. Both are the case here. The hyenas are menacing leaving very little banter between them and ‘Be Prepared’ is a snack pack version only being performed by Scar, yet perfectly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Timon (Biily Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen) are hilarious and steal the film in the same manner that Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella did in the animated film, as did Max Casella and Tom Alan Robbins on Broadway.
The lionesses are fierce and strong led by Alfre Woodard (Sarabi) and Florence Kasumba (Shenzi).
There were some other musical moments I missed, but realize that this is a re-imagining of the story for a whole new generation. But, I would be remiss in not mentioning the obvious omission of Endless Night (co-written by Julie Taymor), Shadowland and Chow Down.
As for the Nalas and Simbas, the younger pair has boundless energy and embody the aura of those characters as they should be. Kudos and a big round of applause to Shahadi Wright Joseph (Nala) and JD McCrary (Simba). As much as I wanted to fall in love with Donald Glover and Beyonce’ Knowles Carter, I felt like their energy was a little on the low side and not as entertaining. Of course, The Lion King would not be the same without James Earl Jones as Mufasa, who never disappoints on any level.
Joe Favreau shared at the press conference that the film was 99.9% CGI with the exception of one scene. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one it is.
At the end of day, The Lion King is a beautifully crafted story about a father and son, brothers and how deception can bring a family together or tear it apart. That is the one element that will never change no matter what incarnation you happen to resonate with.
Having been a Shenzi, I could not wait to chat with Florence Kasumba, who was Shenzi in the Germany production. Here’s what she had to say about that, the hyenas and her contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the meantime, be forewarned that this version of the Disney classic is a little grittier and may not be suitable for toddler age children. See for yourself on June 19th.