In Depth

The Lion King reviews: what critics are saying about live-action remake

New reworking of the Disney classic stars Beyonce and Donald Glover

The first reviews are in for the live-action remake of Disney’s The Lion King - and the critics are divided.

The film - which hits UK cinemas on 19 July - is the latest in a long line of CGI reboots from the legendary studio but arguably tops the bill when it comes to hype, thanks in large part to a star-studded cast led by Beyonce as the voice of Nala, and Donald Glover as Simba.

Supporting actors includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as villain Scar, John Oliver as uptight hornbill Zazu, and the comedy pairing of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.

Yet despite the big-name cast, cutting-edge special effects technology and Disney’s massive marketing budget, the remake is getting “very meh” Rotten Tomatoes ratings, says BuzzFeed News, which reports that the film is currently hovering below the 60% mark on the review-aggregation site.

“Meh” certainly sums up the reaction of The Verge’s Kendra James, who concedes merely that The Lion King remake “surpasses watchable”.

“Viewers will undoubtedly be wowed by the spectacle, and the culture will doubtless be talking a lot about the work that went into this film,” she writes.

“But will it offer anything new or lasting to the cultural conversation aside from a handful of new Beyonce tracks… ? Does it build on the 1994 animated original in any way or offer a new twist on the Hamlet-based storyline? Not so much.”

That complaint of style over substance is echoed by a number of other reviewers, with many complaining that the CGI animals fail to connect emotionally with audiences, in contrast to their animated predecessors.

The special effects are “genuinely dazzling” and “so life-like that you expect David Attenborough to start narrating at any moment”, says Empire’s Helen O’Hara.

“The big problem with this photorealism, however, is that animal mouths are not designed for words, and their faces do not express human emotion,” she continues, adding that this emotional chasm is only “somewhat covered over” by the sparkling voice cast.

Not everyone agrees, however. Crowning the film a “roaring success”, The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin praises the photorealistic style, which he argues is “extraordinarily well-suited to drawing out the plot’s Jacobean gravitas” and lends the dramatic scenes a “Shakespearean splendour that feels intensely flesh-and-blood”.

At the other end of the scale, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich insists that this “soulless chimera of a film” is so lacking in emotional resonance that it feels like “little more than a glorified tech demo from a greedy conglomerate”.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw is more even-handed, awarding the movie three stars out of five.

The remake “sticks very closely to the original version, and in that sense it’s of course watchable and enjoyable”, but ultimately, this “anthro-leonine deepfake” lacks the vivid charm of the original hand-drawn images, he concludes.

Regardless of the negative press, Disney probably aren’t too worried about the earning power of their latest creation.  As BuzzFeed notes, “early projections put the film at $150m for its opening weekend”.

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