The original Lion King is one of Disney’s most popular animated features in the company’s over 80 years of making them. It is beloved by nearly all who have seen it. It was only a matter of time before it joined the parade of live action remakes, and now the reviews for the new Lion King are here. The consensus seems to be remarkably clear among critics, the new Lion King is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s a good thing it is, because that’s about the only thing it has going for it.
To be clear, it seems like most perspectives on the movie are positive overall, but only vaguely so. CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg gave the movie three out of five stars, saying that, while the digitally recreated film is technically stunning, that same technology also causes problems the original film did not have.
While everything looks incredibly life-like, it reveals that there are particular limitations of reality that run into conflict with the needs of the storytelling, and that’s a problem that it struggles to overcome. As impressive as it may be – and it is a marvel – the experience doesn’t capture the full magic of the 1994 original.
If you’ve seen The Lion King (1994) then you’ve seen The Lion King (2019). It’s clear from reviews that, while maybe not technically a “shot-for-shot” remake, the new version of the film is essentially unchanged when it comes to plot, characters, music (though Beyonce does add a new song), etc. I09 says that The Lion King is the most faithful to its predecessor of any of the Disney remakes. It seems the new film was afraid to change anything about the insanely popular original.
The Lion King doesn’t want to be compared, but it doesn’t want to stand on its own. For better or worse, remakes like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast attempted to inject new plotlines and characters to separate them from the heavy bar of their predecessors. Even Cinderella was faithful to the original fairy tale but different from its movie. The Lion King doesn’t want to shake things up; it wants to remind you of the 1994 version and make it prettier to watch.
But to be fair, it is, by all accounts, a lot prettier to watch. The photo-realistic CGI is an absolute wonder. As EW puts it, you’d think you were watching actual animals the whole time, if actual animals could sing, of course.
2019’s Lion King is a marvel of photorealism from the first frame, nearly indistinguishable from the real real; it looks like Netflix’s Planet Earth, if gazelles could share watering holes with their natural predators, and zebras semi-regularly broke into song.
It seems that most critics are of the same thought process. The story of the movie is good, if only because it was good the first time around, though the fact that we’ve already seen the story once counts against the new Lion King. However, the movie is technically impressive, and all that averages out to a movie that’s solid, if not overall impressive. The movie is sitting on an early Rotten Tomatoes average rating of 6.61 out of 10, so that sounds about right.
However, while most might be giving The Lion King a begrudging passing grade, that’s certainly not everybody. Slashfilm gives The Lion King a score of three out of 10, claiming that while the animals look amazing, the wonder dies every time they speak, which essentially kills the movie as a whole.
When you’re not watching lions, hyenas, meerkats, and warthogs talking on screen, it’s an impressive display of visual technology, a successful proof of concept. But The Lion King is not a silent film, and every time characters talk on screen, an instant sense of lifelessness sets in. As much as Favreau and the many visual-effects artists credited here have successfully recreated (at least to the eye of this viewer) the landscapes of Africa, it’s in service to a misguided idea. Photo-real animals look wrong when they talk or sing.
A similar opinion is held by ScreenCrush, who feels that the new Lion King is just a copy of the old one, and not even a very good copy.
Favreau’s The Lion King feels like a bad Xerox of Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s; the colors aren’t as sharp, the characters aren’t as crisply performed, and everything feels a little fuzzier and more diffuse.
The new Lion King seems destined to be a box office hit, regardless of what critics think, which, is part of the problem for some critics. There’s a feeling among some, like the Chicago Tribune, that the movie only exists because it’s a surefire hit, not because of any artistic need.
The new Lion King has every reason to exist in fiscal terms. It has no reason to exist as a movie we might take with us into our futures.
For my money, pretty much all the praise and criticisms here are accurate. Visually The Lion King is stunning to look it, it’s easy to get lost in a frame as you realize that nothing you’re looking at is real, but it all looks like this was all filmed with actual cameras. At the same time, That realistic look comes at a price. Animal faces can’t look happy or scared in the same way as they can when animated, and that means that much of the emotion is lost.
At the same time, if you love the original movie, everything you love is there. The songs are still good, the story is still solid. Any emotion missing from the new version of the movie fans will easily be able to replace by remembering how the original movie makes them feel, which is likely the plan.
As with all pieces of art. An individual’s mileage may vary. How much the pieces that don’t quite work actually bother you will be different for different people. It does seem clear that serious fans of The Lion King will get enough out of the movie to make it worthwhile.
Beyond that, any fan of technological achievements in cinema will probably want to check out the film just to see what the movie has accomplished. We certainly haven’t seen the end of this use of CGI. As with all forms of technology, they only get better with time. You can be sure that in the future we’ll see other movies use this tech to make something even more impressive.
The Lion King hits theaters July 19.