Heavy weighs the mane.
It's been an up-and-down year for Disney remakes of animated classics. After "Dumbo" and "Aladdin" drew middling to mixed reviews, an overwhelming burden was left to director Jon Favreau and "The Lion King."
Unlike the scattershot "Dumbo" and "Aladdin," "The Lion King" rises to the challenge with a triumphant roar, but not without overcoming as much strain and conflict as young Simba himself.
And as good as the movie is, it's no challenge whatsoever to the crown of the 1994 hand-drawn original.
A solid half-hour longer than the original, Favreau's CGI version is a minorly tweaked retelling of the fable. The dialogue and music gets a light refresh, to both positive and negative effects. But visually, the new film is the majestic Mufasa and the original is the scraggly, unkempt Scar.
While wholly unnecessary and at times exhaustingly familiar, the new "The Lion King" makes its bones in sheer craftsmanship. A quantum visual leap beyond even Favreau's eye-popping the 2016 "The Jungle Book" remake, this movie is an absolute jaw-dropper from beginning to end. The art team creates a new benchmark for animation that stands as a majestic achievement for which the rest of the film industry should aspire to match.
If only the writing team had the same talent. Hammy voice acting and occasionally eye-rolling dialogue choices weigh down a story that sometimes moves at more of a hippo rate than that of a gazelle.
We have John Oliver being John Oliver as the pompous bird Zazu, Beyonce sing-songing her way in full "Lemonade"-level bitterness as Nala and a bored James Earl Jones rehashing his creaky lines as Mufasa. Only Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen -- as extra sassy versions of Timon and Pumba -- are wholesale improvements over their predecessors.
Too often, the me-first voice cast pulls the film apart rather than coalescing as a unified whole.
Still, there's sheer magic in the timeless story and musical numbers that will melt even the more cynical hearts. Favreau and his storytelling squad wisely avoid reinventing the wheel, maintaining the haunting and invigorating moments of the arc that have reigned for a quarter-century and should do the same for another.
If you see this revamped "The Lion King" -- and by all means, you should -- you're best off burying your love for the classic while attempting to appreciate the new film for what it is.
A product of these times for both better and worse, the new "The Lion King" won't usurp the throne, but makes a scrappy effort to prove itself, looking longingly at the stars -- from which the spirit of its ancestor nods approvingly.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.