The embargo for critic reviews of Disney’s The Lion King has been lifted. In an unpleasant surprise, the live-action / CGI remake is receiving mixed to negative reviews from critics all over. While early social media reactions were all praise for the movie’s majesty and visual effects, the full reviews claim those very aspects work against this remake. Essentially, the things that were thought to be the movie’s selling point are turning out to be its biggest flaws.
The most blatantly obvious of these is the visual effects. After helming the incredibly successful 2016 remake The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau was entrusted with directing The Lion King. The choice to go with photorealistic animals has resulted in some impressive VFX and technical achievements, the likes of which are being praised by all, even in the negative reviews. However, that very fact means the lions and the warthog and meerkat of The Lion King are not as expressive as their animated counterparts, at times looking downright dull and plain ordinary animals.
To illustrate this point, here’s a comparison of a snippet from the song Hakuna Matata released from the new remake with the animated once. It’s easy to see that because the animated movie isn’t bound by the constraints of realism, it’s able to play around a lot more with the animals’ expressions, the camera and the setups, having them swim and get wet and smile in delight. In contrast, the new remake has them simply strutting and strolling in the woods with that stoic, stiff look on their faces.
Another aspect that The Lion King chose to play safe with is the plot. Ever since the first Circle of Life footage was previewed, viewers immediately pointed out the shot-for-shot nature of the remake. It looks like that’s not the case with this particular sequence, since a lot of shots in the movie are very close recreations. This prevents The Lion King from trying anything new with its source material compared to, say, The Jungle Book, which did play around the fringes of the original’s plot while maintaining the spirit.
Other general criticisms range from the inability of a certain song or two to hit the mark as well as the rapid-fire editing (more on social media than any professional reviews), both of which are jarring to witness compared to the original. Here’s a sample of negative reviews talking about these different aspects:
Bilge Ebirl – New York Magazine
It’s a stirring reminder of what can be achieved with all the talent (and money) in the world, as well as a cautionary tale of what can happen when there’s no vision to bind it all together.
Brian Lowry – CNN
The result is a polished and satisfying film, yet one that conspicuously feels even more like a consumer product than most Disney revivals of its animated classics.
A. A. Dowd – AV Club
It’s as if every creative decision were subordinate to the film’s misguided insistence on realism, on keeping the mannerisms and movements of these magically intelligent creatures “believable.”
Michael Phillips – Chicago Tribune
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.”
Scott Menzel – We Live Entertainment
All the visual effects in the world cannot replace the pure Disney magic that was brought to life by the entire cast and crew in the 1994 animated masterpiece.
K. Austin Collins – Vanity Fair
The new Lion King isn’t a disaster… But this film favors technological wizardry over its story – and its songs.
Don Kaye – Den Of Geek
This entertaining but eventually forgettable remix starts to feel as pointless as the rest of Disney’s recent remakes.
Brandon Zachary – CBR
Dialogue, shots and scenes are recreated, more for the sake of appearance than for storytelling. It’s not wholly fair to compare this movie to the original, but it’s unavoidable.
Kendra James – The Verge
While it’s a near shot-for-shot remake of the original, this version of The Lion King lacks much of the emotion and expressiveness that keeps people coming back to the first.
Angie Han – Mashable
It’s a lovingly envisioned, lavishly produced, and painstakingly crafted cash grab. And it’s not much more than that.
Fortunately, the reception thus far is leaning somewhat on the mixed side as well. Meaning, there are some positive reviews that praise the very aspects that majority are criticizing The Lion King for, notably the VFX, the faithfulness to the original as well as the songs and performances. Speaking of which, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s roles as Timon and Pumbaa have received some universal praise, even from the staunchest of critics.
William Bibblani – The Wrap
Sometimes it’s fascinating, frequently it’s ludicrous, and sometimes – like when an incredibly realistic animal dies on-screen in front of you while its only child mourns him – it’s borderline grotesque.
Eric Elsenberg – Cinemablend
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.
(Despite the negative summary, the review is certified fresh)
Avi Offer – NYC Movie Guru
A breathtaking, enormously entertaining adventure with the heart, humor and soul of the original classic intact. It’s a triumph!
Princess Weeks – The Mary Sue
That doesn’t make this adaptation necessary, but I will say that having a majority Black voice cast in the movie was really awesome to hear. Yes, even Beyoncé.
Pete Hammond – Deadline
As a completely faithful remake, Disney and director Jon Favreau know not to mess with something that works. This is no revisionist version but nevertheless one that will likely knock you out for its vision.
So with all reviews out there a week before the movie’s release, I guess the pertinent question is does this affect your opinion on viewing The Lion King? Are you still planning to watch The Lion King in theaters? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.