The Lion King (2019) Review of Movie Reviews
The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau, is the computer-animated remake of the beloved 1994 Disney film with the same title. The movie follows the life of Simba, a lion cub who was born as the heir to the title of king. After his father is killed in a scheme executed by his evil uncle Scar, Simba ends up living with a meerkat and a warthog named Timon and Pumba. There, Simba grows up with the two misfits until he eventually goes back to his kingdom to take back the throne from Scar. This is, of course, the same exact plot as the original which came out 25 years before this movie, and many critics take issue with this. The 2019 iteration of the Lion King cannot be discussed without addressing the simple fact that it is nothing more than a remake with the added glitz and glam of 21st century technology. The general response of critics is pretty cold. Other complaints include the odd nature of seeing real animals singing the praises of a lion, the cash-grabby feel of yet another computer-animated remake of an original Disney movie, and the lack of emotion that made the first movie so great.
One major issue that many critics have with the movie is the purely financial motives behind the creation of the film. As Michael Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune, writes, it “has every reason to exist in fiscal terms. It has no reason to exist as a movie we might take with us into our futures.” This reaction of viewing the movie as a forgettable cash grab is a common theme throughout many critics's reviews. A.O. Scott, chief film critic for the New York Times, calls it a safe and familiar way to “multiply revenue streams” using a property that people know and love. Disney has done this multiple times over the past few years, churning out live-action remakes of beloved classics such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Jungle Book, which was also directed by Jon Favreau. Despite The Lion King following the same story as the original movie, some critics feel it is missing some of the magic of the first. “The songs don’t have the pop or the splendor” of the 1994 version says A.O. Scott, While Michael Phillips asserts that the “remake offers twice the trauma and none of the zip.” This emotional void could be down to the story of the reboot, but since it has an identical plot to the original, that is doubtful. Or it could be because of the voice acting, but with a lineup consisting of Beyonce and Donald Glover, that is not the answer either. The real cause of the lack of heart is actually also the movies greatest asset: the animation.
The animation is one aspect of the movie that critics have divided opinions about, sometimes going back and forth on where they stand within their own reviews. Every critic agrees that the quality of the computer animation is truly astonishing, or as Detroit News film critic Adam Graham puts it, the film is “a dazzling visual spectacle.” A.O. Scott says that he almost cried when Pumbaa scratches his ear with his hind leg, not because it is some extraordinarily poignant moment, “but because of the sheer extravagant craft that had clearly gone into rendering those two seconds of reflexive animal behavior.” The groundbreaking realistic animation is one thing that, despite all of the movie’s issues, leaves just about every critic in awe. The “animals come to life” in this hyper-realistic version of the classic movie (Graham).
While the incredibly realistic animation has blown away critics and moviegoers alike, there are aspects of the cgi that do not sit as well with some of the critics. The New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane references a quote from 1956, said by Walt Disney himself, in which the founder of Disney claims that “impossible cartoon actions will seem plausible if the viewer feels the action he’s watching has some factual basis.” Basically, absurd events can occur in cartoons and feel believable to the audience. And the basis on which the entire Lion King movie stands on, talking animals, is one of those absurdities. In the original Lion King, the fact that the talking animals are cartoons removes the story from reality just enough for the audience to not constantly be thinking about how odd it is to see lions, hyenas, and meerkats holding conversations like humans. However, in the 2019 Lion King, which, based off of the incredibly detailed animation, one could mistake for a National Geographic movie, there is no longer this barrier between the real world and the imaginary movie world. After watching the famous Circle of Life scene, Matthew Lickona, staff writer for the San Diego Reader, is left wondering; “why on earth are a bunch of real animals celebrating the birth of a new apex predator?” Apart from the unoriginality of the movie, this odd blend of realistic animals with the less realistic song, dance, and kumbaya is what critics most take issue with. In fact, say some critics, the realistic look of the film might actually take away from that trademark Disney magic. “the realism of the animals makes it hard to connect with them as characters,” says A.O. Scott.
In the opinion of many critics, Disney’s live-action remakes are unnecessary and rather cynical. The animation is, without a doubt, an incredible display of technology in entertainment but, as Michael Phillips writes, The Lion King is “a step forward technologically and three steps back every other way.” The majority of other movie critics agree with Phillips, who has a hard time enjoying a movie that is so unoriginal and calculated. In the end, just like all movies, ones enjoyment of The Lion King is supremely subjective. For many moviegoers, and the occasional critic, the incredible animation and the heavy nostalgia that comes with such a beloved movie were enough to make this film a very enjoyable one. However, for the majority of critics, this derivative remake just does not quite cut it.