‘Coming 2 America’ Actually Goes to Zamunda for the Most Part

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Coming 2 America (CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jermaine Fowler, Arsenio Hall, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Kiki Layne, Shari Headley, Wesley Snipes, Teyana Taylor, James Earl Jones, Bella Murphy, Akiley Love, Paul Bates, John Amos, Louie Anderson, Luenell, Colin Jost, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Paul Bates, Nomzamo Mbatha

Director: Craig Brewer

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Occasionally Crude Silliness and a Drunken Sex Flashback

Release Date: March 5, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

So the big question we must all ourselves is: does Coming 2 America make me want to come 2 America? Well, I’m already in America, and have spent the vast majority of my life in this country, but I have to believe that there’s a difference between “coming to” and “coming 2,” because otherwise why even make this 30-plus-years-later sequel? Maybe in this case, “2” means the opposite of “to,” considering that this time around, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy, happy to be surrounded by friends) and company actually spend more time in Zamunda than they do in the U.S. of A. With that in mind, maybe “America” is a state of mind more than just a physical place. Looking back at Queens in 1988, that was a magical place for Akeem, despite its rough-and-tumble exterior. It’s where he found his queen, and it can now be seen as the wellspring of his own family, and in the sequel, it’s been elevated to the level of myth with the recreation of special Queens landmarks in Zamunda (in particular, the McDonald’s-knockoff McDowell’s). Is that feeling of home just as strong in 2021?

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Movie Review: Go to the New-ish ‘Lion King’ for the Technical Marvels If You Must, But Stay for the Goofy Sidekicks

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CREDIT: Disney Enterprises

Starring: Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, James Earl Jones, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Jon Favreau

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG for Leonine Fratricide

Release Date: July 19, 2019

I’ve expressed before that Disney’s recent spate of remakes of its animated catalog is not an inherently bad idea. Plenty of stories have been told and then subsequently retold in fresh ways. For a classic example, William Shakespeare’s plays have remained relevant as many different versions have had their say over hundreds of years. But the major difference, and this is especially clear in the case of The Lion King, is the source document. A feature film that has been recorded on and uploaded onto a variety of durable formats sets a more indelible imprint than an initial theatrical performance that was presented before such recording technology existed. If you want to revisit the journey of Simba’s ascendance to the throne, you can always pop in the DVD or find the right streaming channel. Thus, a fresh feature length retelling demands that there be something new on offer.

The Jon Favreau-directed photoreal Lion King remake does in fact offer something new, at least (or if only) on a technical level. Every speck of dirt and strand of fur is rendered in painstaking fashion. But to what end? I’m reminded of Steven Soderbergh’s mashup of Hitchcock’s original Psycho and Gus van Sant’s remake, which is the sort of thing that you do just because you feel like it. And so, as far as I can tell, the team at Disney recreated the “Circle of Life” opening sequence with an updated animation style just because they felt like it. I have a bit of a Pavlovian reaction to that wonder of a kickoff, but this time it was just a secondhand Pavlov to a secondhand routine.

On a positive note, I will admit that I found this viewing experience valuable for making me feel more amenable to the adult perspective of believing that Simba just needs to get around to taking care of his responsibility. But I don’t know if that is a unique feature of this version or just a function of me happening to see this particular version instead of the original on this particular day.

In conclusion, while I have mostly focused on the disappointments, I do ultimately recommend nü-Lion King thanks to the Timon and Pumbaa of it all. As Simba’s meerkat and warthog companions, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are given more free rein than anyone else in the cast to find the characterization that suits them. Their performances avoid any inadvisable postmodern Shrek-style smart-aleckry, while also suggesting that they are at least self-aware of the all-franchise-fare-all-the-time pop culture landscape they are operating within. If you’re going to go back to the well, you can’t be too precious about what came before, and thankfully, enough of Timon and Pumbaa’s non-preciousness is on display here for us to get by.

The Lion King is Recommended If You Like: The wonders of animation technology, Perfectly suited yin/yang comedy duos

Grade: 3 out of 5 Circles of Life