Part of that, perhaps inevitably, stems from the absence of human characters. The realistic appearance of the animals thus retains an animated texture, much like “The Jungle Book” — director Jon Favreau’s first successful foray into the studio’s animation-update business, which at least had a human kid at its core.
On the plus side, the lovingly rendered lions, hyenas and other assorted fauna have more edge to them, bringing a fierceness, grit and genuine majesty to the action sequences. It’s like one of those “Planet Earth” documentaries, except for, you know, the songs and dialogue.
In the negative column, the characters lose some of the expressiveness associated with traditional animation and its anthropomorphized designs, more of an issue in the early going than as momentum builds toward the climax.
In terms of making the character his own, Chiwetel Ejiofor stands out by sinking his teeth into Scar, the envious lion who betrays his brother, Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role), and chases Simba away in order to steal his throne.
Ejiofor transforms Scar’s song, “Be Prepared,” into an edgy, spoken-word rallying cry to the hyenas, who he enlists as part of his plot. It’s a breath of fresh air rivaled only by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s playfully goofy antics as Simba’s adopted pals Timon and Pumbaa, with the movie capitalizing on the PG rating to somewhat enhance the flatulent qualities that turned the warthog into a jungle pariah.
Other than that, there’s understandably no interest in reinventing the wheel — or the circle of life. Having wowed audiences in animated form and on Broadway, the enterprise comes heavily presold to those who can hum the songs and recognize every soaring beat of Hans Zimmer’s score.
“The Lion King,” by comparison, resides at the top of the studio’s food chain, clearly knows it, and doesn’t have to roar to announce its presence. A quarter-century later, that has birthed an heir that’s easy to like, without necessarily feeling the love.
“The Lion King” premieres July 19 in the US. It’s rated PG.