The Lion King
Simba and friends get a live-action makeover.
Disney’s new Lion King remake “can feel like a stunt,” said Bilge Ebiri in NYMag.com. “Technically speaking, it’s a marvel,” but this so-called photo-real version of the 1994 animated classic can’t overcome the “weird disconnect” that occurs whenever its lifelike lions (and other beasts) talk and sing. Until they do, you might think that you’re watching an unusually strong nature documentary rather than studio trickery: “We can practically feel the fur on these animals, and we want to duck away from their thundering heels as the camera breathlessly rushes us through trembling grass and craggy ravines.” But the faces of the animals lack all sign of human expression, making it difficult to connect with them as characters.
Though the story has barely changed, “sometimes not changing anything is a daring choice,” said Kyle Smith in NationalReview.com. Director Jon Favreau has now created the two best live-action Disney remakes yet, exchanging the inventiveness of 2016’s The Jungle Book for almost shot-for-shot fidelity. As in the original Lion King, a lion cub named Simba is welcomed into the world just before his father, the wise King Mufasa, is killed in a plot engineered by his brother, Scar. Scar, voiced here by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a demagogue who must be overthrown to restore the benevolent patriarchal order, and if that sounds like a backward-looking message, it is. “This film is so conservative, it’s practically reactionary.” As the voice of the adult Simba, Donald Glover proves “a weak element,” while Beyoncé, who voices his girlfriend, Nala, “barely has an impact.” But the songs are still great, and Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are very funny as a warthog-meerkat comic duo. For future generations choosing between the original and the 2019 edition, “it may be a toss-up which edition is better.”
This version even has some advantages, said Michael O’Sullivan in The Washington Post. Because every creature on screen looks so real, each life that’s at stake in the story’s power struggle feels more precious, and the audience can’t avoid noticing that even the most fair-minded lion rules over a world in which the antelopes and other prey suffer and die. Because this is Disney, “don’t expect a disquisition on death.” But “there’s something about this Lion King that feels so much more Shakespearean.” Though it’s more likely to upset young viewers, “it’s also more likely to satisfy older ones.” ■