Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of the Live-Action THE LION KING?
Disney's "The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau, journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub's arrival. Scar, Mufasa's brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own.
The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba's exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Find out what critics think of "The Lion King" before it roars into theaters on July 19, 2019!
Peter Debruge, Variety:
By focusing his attention on upgrading the look of the earlier film, while sticking largely to its directorial choices and script, Favreau reinforces the strength of the 1994 classic. If you were never a fan of "The Lion King," then nothing here will win you over. On the other hand, for those too young ever to have seen it, this could be a life-changing experience, one that strives to create a kind of understanding between audiences and the ANIMAL KINGDOM that Disney once made a regular part of its mission, back in the era of films such as "The Legend of Lobo" and "The Incredible Journey." It's a shame to sacrifice the hand-drawn artistry - whose human touch will surely hold up better in the long haul - but those are the terms with this latest wave of remakes, and "The Lion King" at least honors what came before, using current animation technology to convince us that we're watching the real thing.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:
After the initial fascination and moments of enchantment in watching the extraordinarily lifelike animals talking and relating to one another as human beings do, you begin to get used to it to the extent that it's no longer surprising, which in turn allows the familiarity of it all to begin flooding in. The film's aesthetic caution and predictability begin to wear down on the entire enterprise in the second half - the original animated Lion King ran 88 minutes, while this one lasts two hours. You can feel the difference.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly:
If the film feels a little airless for ALL THAT open space, maybe it's because the movie's CG is so elaborately, meticulously made that it doesn't leave much room for the spark of spontaneity. The story and the songs, with a few notable if hardly unexpected updates, are fondly faithful to the original; the magic mostly intact. Another reboot was never terribly necessary, maybe - but it's good, still, to be King.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:
Basically, this new Lion King sticks very closely to the original version, and in that sense it's of course watchable and enjoyable. But I missed the simplicity and vividness of the original hand-drawn images. The circle of commercial life has given birth to this all-but-indistinguishable digiclone descendant. I don't quite feel like bowing, but respect has to be paid to a handsomely made piece of entertainment.
Matt Goldberg, Collider:
The Lion King is slightly better than Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin if for no other reason it doesn't feel too bloated and the additions largely make sense. Even the new song, "Spirit", is well-placed in the narrative (as opposed to the record-scratch awkward placement of "Speechless" in Aladdin). But the film still suffers from failing to improve upon or significantly differ from its originator. Sure, you could argue that this will "introduce" The Lion King to a new generation, but that assumes what kids today want are photorealistic animals with frozen faces rather than 2D animation that can emote and conjure feelings. And maybe that's true. Beauty and the Beastmade $1.2 billion and Aladdin has earned $925 million so far. That's great if you're a Disney shareholder. It's a bummer if you'd like to see the wealthiest studio do more than regurgitate its IP with cutting-edge CG.
Matt Patches, Polygon:
As The Lion King unfolded, I desperately wanted to embrace Favreau's choices on their own merits. Yet each scene asks us to admire the recreation while pushing the visuals into the realm of the grotesque. The hyenas in the original are a wily pack of sidekicks. The hyenas in this movie are gnarled, slobbering animals who will absolutely terrify small children when they hunt down young Simba and Nala. More disturbing is how, for all the realism, Disney still optimizes the corporate synergy. Timon and Pumbaa's fourth-wall-breaking shtick ("Every time that I fa-" "Hey, not in front of the kids!") worked for every age group. Timon and Pumbaa performing 40 seconds of "Be Our Guest" is insidious.
Favreau's picture tells an inadvertent cautionary tale: If artistic recycling turns into over-hunting your own food supply, pretty soon the Pride Lands may start looking a little thin. Financially this cat's in the bag. Cinematically, though, "The Lion King" reminds me of that "Sweet Smell of Success" line delivered by Tony Curtis: "The cat's in the bag, and the bag's in the river."
But in its 2019 redux, The Lion King can't stop undercutting itself. It's a musical that hesitates to indulge in bombast, an ensemble drama that doesn't give its cast room to own their roles, a comedy that doesn't seem to care about its jokes ALL THAT much. As visually singular a work The Lion King is, it often presents itself as plainly as possible, causing many of its most powerful scenes to ring hollow as it fails to sustain or build any sort of emotional foundation in any given moment. Every choice made in its presentation makes me think about how good the choices were in the 1994 film, and how I'd probably rather be watching that.
Mara Reinstein, US Weekly:
All this vocal prowess is offset by the peculiar visuals. No, not the jaw-dropping and flat-out gorgeous sun-kissed African jungle backdrop. I don't know how Favreau and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel pulled off the sight of a mouse scampering through the tall weeds in Pride Rock, and I don't want to know. It's pure movie magic. The characters are another matter. Even if you believe in a world in which lions speak perfect English to each other, there's just something distracting and disarming about digitized animals mouthing the words. It takes a bit of time to adjust. And despite the technology advances since 1994, these characters can no longer emote or expressively belt out the numbers. How telling that only "The Circle of Life" is chill-inducing, as it's a shot-by-the-shot reprisal and none of the characters actually sing it. (Carmen Twillie and Lebo M.once again provide the soaring vocals.)