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Movie review: Disney's new 'Lion King' gives classic film a makeover... and that's about it

“THE LION KING” — 3 stars — James Earl Jones, JD McCrary, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen; PG (sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements); running time: 118 minutes; in general release

SALT LAKE CITY — It's the age of Disney remakes.

“The Lion King” is the third Disney animated classic to get a new release in 2019. But where Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” and Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” turned traditional animation into live action, Jon Favreau's “The Lion King” is a little more like his “Jungle Book” remake from 2016, converting his source material into a full CGI rendering.

Rafiki (voice of John Kani ), Sarabi (voice of Alfre Woodard) and Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) in “The Lion King.”
Rafiki (voice of John Kani ), Sarabi (voice of Alfre Woodard) and Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) in “The Lion King.”
Disney Enterprises Inc.

Simply put, the new “Lion King” gets an A for special effects and a D for originality. It’s a visually staggering, beat-for-beat remake of the first movie, and aside from some new dialogue and a semi-consequential extra scene midway through the film, everything else remains intact.

Like the original, the film opens with a musical montage — set to Elton John's “Circle of Life” — of jungle animals gathering to witness the presentation of a lion cub. Simba (voiced as a cub by JD McCrary and as an adult by Donald Glover) is heir apparent to his father Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), the current king of the jungle. Mufasa is a noble ruler, supported by Simba’s mother Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) and the lions of the local pride.

Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the sole malcontent, and his feelings run deep enough to conspire with a group of hyenas to kill the king. Once Mufasa is out of the way, Scar convinces Simba that his father’s death was his own fault, and sends the young cub into exile.

Nala (voice of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) and Simba (voice of Donald Glover) in “The Lion King.”
Nala (voice of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) and Simba (voice of Donald Glover) in “The Lion King.”
Disney Enterprises Inc.

All of the familiar story beats are there, as well as beloved characters like Simba’s outcast friends — the warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and an excitable meerkat named Timon (Billy Eichner). Simba's love interest Nala is also back, this time voiced by Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

There's only one scene that isn’t directly taken from the original film, and somehow, the third act still feels rather abrupt and undeveloped, and the remake clocks in at nearly a half hour longer than the 1994 film.

The new film also features all the music from the original, and one big plus is Ejiofor’s excellent performance as Scar, which provides a fine complement to James Earl Jones’ reprise as Mufasa.

The decision to walk so close to the original film suggests Disney didn’t want to risk a fan backlash and preferred to make a single creative statement. In terms of CGI rendering, the new “Lion King” really is something to behold. Like with “Jungle Book,” “Lion King’s” CGI effects aren’t limited to the animal characters; all the environments — jungles, deserts, dunes — are computer-generated, and the only reason you can tell the animals are CGI is because their mouths move to match their dialogue.

Young Simba (voice of JD McCrary) in “The Lion King.” An outdoor screening of “The Lion King” will take place at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Aug. 12.
Young Simba (voice of JD McCrary) in “The Lion King.”
Disney Enterprises Inc.

Overall, the music and the story retain the spirit of the original, and in the end, the new “Lion King” is a testament to the advances of technology more than anything else. It’s quite a thing to see, and yet most people will leave feeling like they’ve seen it all before.

Rating explained: “The Lion King” is rated PG for intense sequences of action violence and terror.