TWENTY-FIVE years ago, The Lion King was the cat’s whiskers.

Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s heartbreaking rites-of-passage drama roared at the Academy Awards and the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time continues to purr as a musical.

Now, director Jon Favreau employs the same photorealistic computer wizardry, which served him well for his rollicking reimagining of The Jungle Book, to transport us to the sun-baked savannah for a virtually word-for-word remake, which trades heavily on technical excellence to justify its existence.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson appropriates most of the original dialogue and tempers the animated film’s more extravagant flourishes.

Consequently, scheming uncle Scar is no longer a scene-stealing pantomime villain, his Machiavellian call to arms Be Prepared loses the goose-stepping hyenas and the Busby Berkeley-style fantasia of I Just Can’t Wait To Be King is now a scamper around a watering hole.

As before, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and mate Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) maintain a delicate balance between various animal factions.

Their proud leonine bloodline continues with the birth of Simba (JD McCrary), who is introduced to the world by shamanic mandrill Rafiki (John Kani) atop Pride Rock.

Mufasa’s embittered brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots to seize control of the grasslands by forging a fragile alliance with the hyenas. The despicable plotters lure Simba into a canyon during a stampede and Mufasa dies saving his boy.

Overwhelmed by guilt and grief, Simba flees and is befriended by duo Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who are eager to share their ‘problem-free philosophy’.

Meanwhile, Scar’s tyrannical reign reduces the lush pride lands to a barren sprawl of rotting carcasses where Simba’s sweetheart Nala (Beyonce Knowles) feel powerless to oppose despotic rule.

There is no denying that The Lion King is a handsome beast.

Close-ups of Simba’s baby blue eyes shamelessly pluck heartstrings and the attention to detail on the animals’ fur is jaw-dropping. But aside from Eichner and Rogen’s ad-libs, every word and emotional crescendo is secondhand.

Audiences unfamiliar with the 1994 animation may consider Favreau’s picture to be king of the cinematic jungle. For me, the beautifully imperfect original reigns supreme.

RATING: 6/10