MOVIE REVIEW Does 'The Lion King' live up to the hype?

MOVIE REVIEW Does 'The Lion King' live up to the hype?

The Disney corporate beast continues its roll-out of live action versions of its animated archive with this Jon Favreau-directed real-talking-singing-sort-of-dancing-lion-starring update of the studio's 1994 Hamlet on the plains smash hit.

As he did with The Jungle Book, Favreau relies on the supposed wonders of live-action rendition and a straight retelling of the original material to do enough to wow audiences into submission.

But if you're someone who remembers the original and was young enough at the time to appreciate the imaginative recreations of wildlife documentaries into a compelling animated story full of visual wonder and memorable and suitably adorable characters embroiled in the Machiavellian power play with still universal appeal at the heart of the film, then this version doesn't really add anything to that experience.

If the original Lion King was a case of turning water into wine, then Favreau's version is a silly, futile and unnecessary attempt to turn wine back into water and the overall effect is a decidedly numbing sense of "so what and why?"

WATCH A side-by-side comparison of the 1994 and 2019 trailers for 'The Lion King'

Theatre impresario Julie Taymor's much-awarded and lauded stage adaptation has wowed audiences across the world over the decades because it presents an innovative and magical re-imagining of its source material for a different medium. Taymor is a producer of this version. Why she'd want to be involved is a mystery.

The film has nailed all its hopes to the wonders of having real lions, warthogs, meerkats and hyenas run around and talk and sing and dance. It has also added an unnecessary 40 minutes to the original running time despite pretty much sticking scene-by-scene to the original, which results in this version losing its impact because it focuses on the spectacle rather than the story.

The cast is updated for today's audience thanks to the appearances of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé, Donald Glover, John Oliver, John Kani, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric André and Alfre Woodard, but these commendable actors can't cover over the emptiness at the heart of the enterprise. It's an emptiness characterised by Disney's world-domination approach in its post-animation glory days.

WATCH The trailer for 'The Lion King'

The company seems to have decided to become either adaptors of successful content that it hasn't produced itself (the Marvel Comics Universe, Star Wars) or simply mine its archive for opportunities to reboot successful original content without doing much more than waving a wand, turning previous productions into play-by-play versions that lack the imagination or wonder of their forebears. It may be a successful commercial strategy for Disney, but it's about as fulfilling as picking your nose.

Animation succeeds when it does what it's uniquely capable of doing - creating a world somewhere between the real and the imagined. By virtue of that marriage, animation offers a spectacle that can't be matched in any other medium. Live-action remakes of animation simply show off CGI effects that soon become lacklustre, offering little more than technical demonstrations of how insipid they are in comparison.

Disney would be better served by creating unique and new live-action content instead of re-making the same stories without any of the feeling that was an integral part of the originals.

While older fans might recognise the heartless, technically shimmering, but mostly soulless and shamelessly money-grabbing project that the reboot is, a younger, less knowledgeable generation could think this is the pre-eminent Lion King - and that would be very depressing.


• The Lion King redux doesn’t feel marvellous, let alone like a magical creation from the Magic Kingdom. The beauty of the landscapes fills the eye without stirring the soul. – Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

•  There are a great many impressive moments in the remake, and a few that might elicit a gasp of amazement. There is a lot of professionalism but not much heart. – A.O. Scott, The New York Times