‘The Lion King’ reviews: Can critics feel the love tonight?

Why did Disney remake the 1994 animated classic “The Lion King” into a 2019 CGI spectacle? Probably for the same reason they remade their animated hits “Beauty and the Beast,” “Dumbo” and “Aladdin” — to cash in again on their intellectual property for additional profits. But double-dipping sometimes pays off artistically: critics generally admired the 2015 version of “Cinderella” and the 2016 remake of “The Jungle Book,” and both were Oscar contenders, with “Jungle Book” winning for its visual effects. So how does “Lion King” fare by comparison?

It depends on who you ask. Critics are divided, resulting in a MetaCritic score of 55 based on 47 reviews counted as of this writing — 19 positive, 23 mixed and just 5 outright negative. And over on Rotten Tomatoes it has a freshness rating of 56% based on 232 reviews so far, with 130 thumbs up and 102 thumbs down. The RT critics’ consensus says, “While it can take pride in its visual achievements, ‘The Lion King’ is a by-the-numbers retelling that lacks the energy and heart that made the original so beloved — though for some fans that may just be enough.”

Critics agree about the technical marvel of its visuals, saying it has the “photorealism” of a nature documentary like “Planet Earth” — “you expect David Attenborough to start narrating at any moment.” Director Jon Favreau, who also made the “Jungle Book” remake, “lavishes care on the look of the film,” but since all the CGI means the movie is nearly as animated as the original, and since the story doesn’t deviate, there’s also more concern over whether this particular remake justifies its existence. “It’s hard to say why it’s needed,” and hearing the same songs and dialogue come from more realistic animals is “distinctly jarring.”

What do you think of the critics’ responses? Check out a few of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans here in our forums.

Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly): “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 … And [director Jon Favreau] (or more accurately, an untold collective of studio wizardry) lavishes care on the look of the film.”

Samantha Incorvaia (Arizona Republic): “Overall, it’s a wonderful movie that is sure to bring back memories and inspire chills that go down your entire body. Audiences are going to have fun. However, there are moments that don’t connect, which is surprising because of how engaging the highs are … Despite minor hiccups, it really comes down to an entertaining time with no worries — er, ‘Hakuna Matata.'”

Helen O’Hara (Empire): “The immediate and overwhelming impression is so life-like that you expect David Attenborough to start narrating at any moment … The big problem with this photo-realism, however, is that animal mouths are not designed for words, and their faces do not express human emotion. What we gain in realism we lose in expression … it’s distinctly jarring when these cats speak, and even more when they break into song.”

Alissa Wilkinson (Vox): “While a new generation of children will surely be charmed by this version of ‘Lion King,’ it’s hard to say why it’s needed when the first one already exists. And it’s a good example of why Disney’s mass porting of its famous animated properties over to live action, while lucrative and largely harmless, is still not doing anyone — other than Disney — any favors.”

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