When The Lion King hit the cinemas in 1994, it quickly made waves among whole generations of moviegoers. The animated film became the second-highest grossing film of all time upon its release,
That is why the 2019 remake by director Jon Favreau could not escape comparisons.
Other remakes or adaptations of movies, such as The Last Airbender (2010) and Dragonball Evolution (2009) have received flak for straying too far from the source material – however, reviewers believe that the new Lion King’s doom lays on the fact that it follows the storyline of the original flick too closely.
While the photorealistic animation makes for grand visuals, it does not fit well with the playful story that the movie sticks with, said Wenlei Ma, film and TV critic at news.com.au. She noted how some musical numbers, such as I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, seemed to be slowed down “to accommodate the photorealism”, making them feel “flat” and dull.
“Though by no means a disaster or even a bad movie, The Lion King would’ve been better off trying to be more of its own movie, do something different in terms of story and character,” she wrote.
Helen O’Hara of Empire also said the movie suffers from an “emotional gap” due to the visual effects technology.
“What we gain in realism we lose in expression, even in their limpid eyes; it’s distinctly jarring when these cats speak, and even more when they break into song,” she wrote.
“You can’t help but mentally impose the performances of their 2D predecessors and see far more, well, animation in the older characters.”
Luke Goodsell of the ABC was more supportive of the naturalistic design.
“There’s an unusual dissonance to the photorealistic animals, who have only a fraction of the expression of their cel-animated counterparts, speaking with the voices of the human actors,” he wrote.
“It’ll be off-putting for some, as though the original voice soundtrack had been dropped into a wildlife documentary, but it can be refreshing, too – at least for those who sometimes find Disney’s anthropomorphic animals a bit cloying.”
But for some reviewers, fresh visuals do not suffice. Yasmin Omar of Harper’s Bazaar said apart from the impressive computer-generated imagery, the new version offers nothing more.
“Despite following the original plot to a tee, Favreau’s reinterpretation of The Lion King (or should that be ‘interpretation’?) is simply a regurgitation, drawing on digital technology designed to enhance viewer enjoyment,” she wrote.
“This film is a digitally enhanced clone of the first. It feels like nothing more than an empty ploy to line the pockets of studio execs.”
While the animated classic earned a rating of 93 per cent on review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the new version only managed to score 59 per cent.
Nevertheless, the movie seems to be on track to make more than US$1 billion worldwide. Another of Disney’s 2019 remakes, Aladdin, has made US$960 million so far.