“It’s not the circle of life … it’s the meaningless line of indifference.” Disney’s The Lion King (2019)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

People, namely but not exclusively critics, are all of a dither because The Lion King, as directed by Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) – the latest in Disney’s unyielding march of “live action” remakes and re-imaginings of their own animated classics – is not original enough. People! Didn’t you know the “D” is Disney stands for “derivative”? That’s the Mouse House’s stock-in-trade.

Whereas once upon a box office, Disney strip-mined the works of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, P.L. Travers, Carlo Collodi, and A.A. Milne for their cinematic output (which was in itself then repurposed across theme parks, television series, video releases, toy stores, straight-to-home animated sequels, and so on), NOW CEO Robert Iger and team have turned to modern-day folklorists like George Lucas, Stan Lee, and Walt Disney himself to source and resource their intellectual property. Lazy? Maybe. Smart capitalism? Indubitably. All-American? You bet your a$$.

And like all good mythology, these stories bear repeating, whether around the campfire or the eerie glow of an iPhone. Hell, Shakespeare was just as guilty of the practice as any contemporary entertainment conglomerate. There’s a sucker born every minute. We lemmings have been ever guilty of plunking our hard-earned money at the ticket counter to re-view the shopworn and redundant.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Speaking of Shakespeare, The Lion King has often been described as “Hamlet in the jungle,” with its story of a young prince (Simba) who suffers from the machinations of a despicable uncle (Scar) and who grapples with the uneasy responsibilities of royal leadership after the untimely death of his father (Mufasa). It’s just that in The Lion King, every character happens to be a four-legged denizen of the African pride land who occasionally breaks into an Elton John/Tim Rice-penned show tune. The original animated film was a box office behemoth in its day, yielding in turn a Julie Taymor-directed puppet extravaganza that collected every Tony on earth and continues to mint money. Tell me again, why Disney shouldn’t bring The Lion King back in yet another guise to multiplexes? Ka-ching.

As I’ve often said to fellow critics, reviewing their umpteenth community production of Oklahoma! or The Putnam County Spelling Bee, we aren’t critiquing the script or the music at this point, nor even the very choice to do one of these damn shows again (much as we might like to), but rather the intention and the execution.

That said, the 2019 Lion King is pretty darn flawless and sticks its landing, even if some are scratching their heads if it was needed at all. This film is a technological wonder, marrying the heart and horror of the animated film with a hyper-reality that makes all of the stakes disconcertingly real. It’s one thing to watch a James Earl Jones-voiced Mufasa trampled by a multi-colored two-dimensional stampede of wildebeest; it’s something else altogether to watch a photorealistic James Earl Jones-voiced Mufasa in the same harrowing circumstance.

I’m not sure how kids are going to sit through this thing, what with all of the National Geographic-style eat-what-you-kill royal court intrigue of Scar (a menacing Chiwetel Ejiofor, rejecting any of predecessor Jeremy Irons’ fey mannerisms in the role) and his grotesque hyena henchmen (a slithering trio voiced by Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre, offering very little of the comic relief previously offered by Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings in the original). Shudder.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

As the adult Simba and his best friend (soon-to-be paramour) Nala, Donald Glover (Solo) and Beyonce, respectively, are as luminous vocally as you would imagine, notably on the ubiquitous anthem “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”  In fact, the film truly roars to life (pun intended) at the mid-way mark after Simba befriends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand-ins Timon and Pumbaa (a meerkat and a warthog naturally) who teach him the finer points of not giving a sh*t (“Hakuna Matata”), and a gobsmacked Nala (think Ophelia without the manic suicidal tendencies) urges Simba to get woke and return home as Scar has made a big ol’ scorched earth mess of the kingdom.

(NOTE: one of the best and most original elements of this new Lion King roll-out is Beyonce’s spin-off album The Gift, not unlike how Madonna’s Dick Tracy-inspired I’m Breathless album had arguably more zip than the film that inspired it.)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Billy Eichner as Timon to Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa is a revelation. Who knew Eichner had such a divine singing voice? And the best lines in the flick are his. At one point, he dismisses the narrative’s overworked philosophy that everything (including becoming a lion’s dinner entree) happens for a divine and glorious purpose with a stinging, “It’s not the circle of life … it’s the meaningless line of indifference.”

I admit as comfortable as I am with Disney’s master plan to take over the world with reworked, utterly unnecessary versions of old movies still readily available at our Netflix’d fingertips, even I would have liked more Eichner-style anarchy and less safe familiarity in the 2019 Lion King. As brainwashed as audiences have become, marching steadfastly from one box office event picture to the next, mindlessly apathetic toward the tragic state of the real world, Eichner’s “meaningless line of indifference” is an apt and sobering description of us all.

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

An entertaining perp walk to its inevitable credit sequence blooper reel: Let’s Be Cops

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Let’s Be Cops is a throwback to a simpler, sunnier, dumber movie era … and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There was a time, not that long ago, when the summer movie season was not so populated with postmodern irony and self-aware/self-important superheroes. Rather, it was an unyielding series of big, silly, high concept buddy flicks like Shanghai Noon or Bad Boys. (This summer’s 22 Jump Street is the exception that proves the rule.)

Let’s Be Cops has neither the wit nor the budget of any of those films, but it is like their not-so-bright cousin: pleasant and nice to hang out with at the family reunion, but ultimately rather forgettable.

Ryan O’Malley (New Girl‘s Jake Johnson) and Justin Miller (Happy Endings‘ Damon Wayans, Jr.) are two friends/roommates who move to Los Angeles to find their dreams after college (Purdue University no less, though both drive cars with Columbus, Ohio license plates – do the filmmakers not know where Purdue is?). These partners in arrested development have hit their 30s and are at a financial/social/life dead end. Think Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion without the whimsy … or the Post-Its.

Their upcoming college reunion for some reason is a masquerade ball (WTF?) which O’Malley mistakenly believes means a costume party. Miller, a video game designer who is developing one based on real-life experiences of policemen, just happens to have two authentic police uniforms in their apartment. So, of course, they wear these costumes to the party, à la Elle Woods’ cringe-worthy bunny outfit in Legally Blonde. Embarrassment ensues when these boys in blue are faced with college classmates bedecked in evening gowns, tuxedoes, and glittery commedia dell’arte masks (again, WTF?).

The cheekiness finally kicks in when the boys, dejected and mortified by their reunion experience and still wearing their cop gear, wander the streets of L.A. and suddenly realize every passer-by regards them with fear, adoration, respect, or some combination thereof.

Expectedly, the power goes to their heads, and O’Malley starts to take it all too seriously, embroiling them both in a gang bust of some clichéd, B-movie Russian mobsters who are harassing the local pizzeria. (‘Cause of course that’s what Russian mobsters in L.A. would do.)

The film has potential to say something interesting about the abuse of power we see among some uniformed officials – certainly (and sadly) a timely concept. What kind of folks are drawn to this profession in the first place. Is this career-choice motivated by noble intent or a power trip or both? The movie’s script isn’t sharp enough to tackle that concept, which, if explored, could have taken this slight though entertaining film to more interestingly satiric comic levels.

However, the movie is fun. That is pretty much all it has set out to be, and that is just fine, aided and abetted as it is by a well-rounded cast. Any time Rob Riggle shows up (though he seems consigned now and forever to play police officers or gym teachers), you know you’re in good hands. Andy Garcia (!) of all people also makes an appearance, as does James D’Arcy, better than he should have been, saddled with the part of a Russian thug whose primary character trait is chewing (and spitting) gum. Key & Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key, playing to his broad comic wheelhouse, is a hoot as a wide-eyed, childlike gangbanger.

The leads (Johnson and Wayans) have great, sparkling chemistry. Johnson, who seems like the love-child of Owen Wilson and Mark Ruffalo, is scruffy and charming in all his sweaty desperation to be somebody. Wayans, as his (somewhat) straight-arrow friend, shows surprising range, given the circumstances. He finds more notes to play than actually exist in the thin script, wringing comic gold as a neurotic fish-out-of-water, who is neither as neurotic nor as out of his depths as he initially seems.

Even its artless title is a giveaway that Let’s Be Cops is not taking itself terribly seriously. For all intents and purposes, this zippy trifle is two hours of two little boys playing dress-up in the backyard. Once the high (low) concept rumbles to life, the narrative is an entertaining perp walk to its inevitable credit sequence blooper reel.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.