“There is nothing about the new Lion King that feels like it needed to be made at this specific moment, by this specific team, in this specific way.”
Critics, like Mashable’s Angie Han, don’t hate Disney’s new rendition of the beloved, Saharan-set classic — but they aren’t exactly feeling the love for it either.
Featuring stunning photorealistic animation and a cast of top-tier celebrity voice actors, including Donald Glover, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, and oh yeah, Beyoncé, Disney and director Jon Favreau spared no expense when it came to reimagining the Pride Lands and their iconic inhabitants.
But following the film’s world premiere in Hollywood on Tuesday, reviewers seem to be longing for the 1994 original more than looking forward to a rewatch of this new take.
Check out critics’ thoughts on Disney’s new The Lion King below.
For good or for bad, Favreau’s “reimagining” is more a beat-for-beat recreation of the 1994 original
Disney delivers their most successful remake yet. A strong cast, outstanding visuals, and the classic animal-centric take on Hamlet make this infinitely more watchable than some of the studio’s previous retellings. The only issue here is that The Lion King is a beat-for-beat adaptation that will make even the coldest hearts warm with nostalgia but could potentially disappoint those looking for a new take on the iconic story.
There has perhaps never been as surefire a hit film as this new version of The Lion King. The original 1994 animated feature was a global smash, the 1997 musical stage adaptation now stands as the third longest-running show in Broadway history and its more than 20 spinoff international productions have grossed more than $8 billion.
The property serves, in other words, as the ideal Disney template, a cash cow not to be messed with. What this means for the new big-screen take on the story, which is entirely animated but to such a realistic degree that it could practically pass as a live-action film, is that it may be the most conservative, least surprising, least risk-taking film of the current century. Nearly a scene-by-scene remake of the original, albeit a half hour longer, it serves up the expected goods, which will be duly gobbled up by audiences everywhere like the perfectly prepared corporate meal it is.
The photorealistic animation style has viewers divided
On a conceptual level, “The Lion King” betrays the power of the hand-drawn artwork that once put the wonder into Disney animation from its earliest features. Favreau’s movie fails to grapple with how the unreality of the studio’s lush 2D artwork unlocked kids’ imagination and made it so much fun to suspend disbelief; the digital wizardry denies our minds the permission they need to dream. Julie Taymor’s award-winning Broadway adaptation is so transportive because it celebrates its artifice, not in spite of it. Favreau has likened the process of making this film to restoring an architectural landmark, but at the end of the day, he’s merely gentrified it..
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.
Beyonce’s original song is brief, but welcome
I don’t think I have to say much else about what happens, other than that Glover and Beyoncé take over the voices of Simba and Nala once they’ve grown up, and therefore sing their own duet of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” some version of which will surely arrive on wedding playlists this fall. (Beyoncé also recorded one of the two original songs written for the movie, “Spirit,” which seems obviously headed for an Oscar nomination because, well, Beyoncé. The other is “Never Too Late,” written by the movie’s original songwriting duo Tim Rice and Elton John; it plays over the credits and is bad.)
Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen shine as Timon and Pumba
The most rope for riffing has been extended to the new Timon and Pumba: Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. Taking over for Nathan Lane’s meerkat and Ernie Sabella’s warthog, Eichner and Rogen make their own shtick together and they, more than anyone else, give “The Lion King” a breath of fresh air, even as they make plenty of fart jokes.
The two pleasant exceptions to this rule are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the garrulous Timon and Pumbaa, who lead the mournful Simba down a path of no worries after running away from tragedy. Though they hit many of the same beats as the original duo did, Eichner and Rogen are both funny and given room to riff and improv in ways that mostly fit with the story, managing to be both fresh and respectful at the same time. Their moments are the only time when this film works.
All in all? Adequate, but not spectacular
In a way, it does seem appropriate that this story of a young prince finding his way back to duty would itself feel so duty-bound. But at least Simba got to spend some time out in the wild exploring himself first, expanding his horizons and challenging his assumptions.
The new movie about him is all “remember who you are” conventionality and no “hakuna matata” creativity. And while that makes for a perfectly respectable box office king, it doesn’t make for an especially interesting one.
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.