The plot of The Lion King has always just been Hamlet with fur when you boil it down. While it has been a long time since I have seen the original animated version I have seen the musical in the last few years. I rank the three styles as; human actors > cartoon > CGI animals. This iterations begs the question "Why?" but fails to come up with a convincing answer.
Timon and Pumbaa are the best part of the 2019 version. Timon is voiced by Billy Eichner, of Billy on the Street fame, while Seth Rogan brings his voice talents to Pumbaa. It is obvious who the two voice actors are when they first appear on screen. As with much of the original, many of Timon's and Pumbaa's lines are ad-lib and it brings plenty of unexpected humor as a result. You will not forget for one second that Pumbaa is Seth Rogan being Seth Rogan the warthog. Timon might as well be called Timon on the Savannah; Billy Eichner leans 100% into his Billy on the Street character. I like both of these characters outside of The Lion King and they brought much needed comic relief to an otherwise dark and sad movie. John Oliver plays John Oliver as Zazu. He brings his amped-up neurotic-self to overly cautious Zazu.
Have you ever wondered what it would look like for a real lion to fall from a cliff? How about getting trampled by a stampede of buffalo? What about a lion being torn apart by a pack of heyennas? At least that last one is only shadows as the camera pans away. The animation is incredibly realistic and is layered over on-location shots from Africa. You half expect David Attenborough to start voicing a nature documentary. I cringed at some of the violent scenes because of how real they felt. A small child in the theater asked "Is his daddy dead?" after Mufasa parishes. To add to the sadness, young Simba curls up next to his dead fathers lifeless body. I would think twice about bringing a young child to this movie. The MPAA agreed and the rating jumped from a G to PG.
Aside from the shock of watching what appears to be real animals dying, there is another problem with this realism. Many animals don't make facial expressions to express their moods. While my dog gives me different looks when begging for attention or joy from sticking her head out the car window, my cat only gives me cat face. Most of the creatures here also only show you a single face. While the music may be drawing you in emotionally, it is just as effective as playing music over Blue Planet. Beyonce may be fierce in person, but Nala is just a lion.
Speaking of Beyonce, she contributes 'Spirit' to the sound track. I can't even remember where in the movie the song occurred. The role of adult Nala doesn't highlight Beyonce's talents. The cast is more black than the original. It still doesn't highlight too many native Africans, but it is progress. Keegan-Michael Key lends his recognizable voice to a heyenna. The heyennas are not just blind idiot followers of Scar this time around. They form an alliance to advance their cause; filling their bellies. It is a nice update to the original movie giving them more depth and real motivation.
Most of this movie is a shot for shot remake of the original animated version. This is especially true in the opening sequence. The animation is incredibly realistic, but the cats could have used a little more fanciful facial expressions. As I stated before, why was this movie made? A new technology doesn't mean you need to remake something. I caution parents to watch a nature documentary with their kids before going to this movie to get them acquainted with predators killing prey. The best option is to wait for Disney+ to come out and stream this at home.