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James Earl Jones Returns As Mufasa In 'Lion King' Remake


After a lot of hype, Disney has walked up to a cliff's edge to show the world its latest remake.


LEBO M: (Chanting in foreign language).

KING: You know what that is. It's "The Lion King." It opens nationwide today, but this time, it looks different. The 2D-animated characters that live deep in the hearts of '90s kids like myself are now photo-realistic computer-generated animals voice acted by a cast of big names - Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard and John Oliver - and a return from the original film, James Earl Jones as Mufasa. Claudia Puig has seen the movie. She's president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Good morning.

CLAUDIA PUIG: Good morning.

KING: So a lot of buzz about this movie. How similar is it to the beloved classic?

PUIG: Oh, it's very similar. In some cases, it's shot for shot. They have taken obviously these photo-realistic animals. There's added music. And there's a little bit of added story here and there. But it is extremely faithful to the original.

KING: I think of "The Lion King" as such a perfect movie. I'm trying to imagine what story you'd add to it.

PUIG: What is different is a little bit of backstory for Scar.


PUIG: We found out how he got his scar. Apparently, he made a play for Sarabi, the mother of Simba, and was rebuffed. And there's a little bit added to Nala's character so she's not just the playmate of Simba. And, of course, she's voiced by Beyonce Knowles. Simba's voiced by Donald Glover. Scar's voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It's an amazing cast.

KING: There are so many big names in this movie. Did they get the casting right?

PUIG: Yes and no. I would say...


KING: Who is it?

PUIG: Maybe a little more no than yes, sadly. It's not that there's anything wrong with the casting. I feel like it's very striking technically. That's also what hinders it in the storytelling. The problem is it's so realistic. You know, where the original - the 1994 original - had this endearingly cheery anthropomorphism, you know, with the wide eyes and the cute expressions, this lacks that. You're marveling at the beauty of the animals, but it just doesn't work with the material.

KING: In your view, is there something that it did particularly well?

PUIG: Yes, the characters of Pumbaa and Timon, who are voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner. They kind of stole the show. The chemistry between those voices really work. They really found the perfect voice actors.

KING: I wonder what you think about the overall legacy of a film like this because you think about the original "Lion King," which we all loved. Then there's the stage version. And then there's all of the other live action or computer-animated remakes. Where do you think "Lion King" 2019 is going to stand in Disney film history?

PUIG: It's not the top of the pile. What I loved about the stage version was that they did something completely different. And I think that one of the things that's the problem here is that they don't do something completely different. This just felt like it was kind of rehashing the same ground, only with better technology. You know, it is beautiful to watch. And it is great to hear those songs again. It's really sort of intriguing casting. It just feels a little bit soulless. It doesn't have the charm and the emotion of the original, which, you know, is a shame because you - we all, I think, have kind of an emotional connection to the original.

KING: Claudia Puig is president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. She's talking about Disney's "The Lion King," which is out today. Claudia, thank you so much.

PUIG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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