The Lion King 3D (2019)

In Cinemas Now

The Jungle Book director Jon Favreau helms this CG-animated re-imagining of the 1994 Walt Disney classic. Features the voice work of Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa (reprising his role from the original), Seth Rogen as Pumba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and John Oliver as the big-beaked Zazu. Score composer Hans Zimmer and song writer Elton John both return to re-work the original compositions.

After his father's murder, Simba, a young lion prince, flees his home only to have to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.

Trailers

Directed by

Written by

  • Jeff Nathanson
  • (based on the screenplay of the same name by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Wolverton)

Studio

Walt Disney Pictures

Adventure, Animated, Drama, Kids & Family, Musical, 3D, Blockbuster

118mins

Rating: PG Mild themes and violence

USA

Is this new Lion King better than the animated one? That's the burning question on everyone's mind but here's a better question: what's the point of remaking that classic? The sceptic might believe Disney's reheating your nostalgia in a CGI microwave in order to get your money. The optimist might think the photorealism brings something completely different to the experience. Well, call me a sceptical optimist.

Indeed, the visual details are incredible and the animation's pretty much flawless on an anatomical level. If you didn't already know that from watching the trailer, director Jon Favreau proved its worth with his superb take on The Jungle Book. But while that film differed greatly from the 1967 version, 2019's The Lion King constantly imitates the original—and that's a big problem.

Exaggerated emotions simply don't work well with hyper-real animals lacking the required facial expressions. While you can buy a 2D cartoon Simba singing I Just Can't Wait to Be King, seeing this scientifically-accurate lion hold a high note just looks bizarre. Fortunately, no one dresses in drag and does the hula.

Zazu comes off even worse, pairing the over-expressive voice of John Oliver with the sight of a hornbill's beak clapping up and down—it's like watching a puppet made by a taxidermist.

However, with the more low-key performances, the pairing works fantastically. A natural slump in the shoulders and Chiwetel Ejiofor's calm menace make Scar a convincing threat. Same goes for the hyenas; they still crack jokes, but a dead stare and a simple flare of the teeth quickly turn them into something terrifying. Thrilling moments become more tense thanks to the photorealism, and when the Lions vs. Hyena climax kicks in, they go wild with it. It's kinda awesome.

Billy Eichner's Timon and Seth Rogen's Pumbaa also earn the spotlight with fresh gags performed modestly to suit the anatomical limits of a meerkat and warthog. In particular, their rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight put a cheek-cramping smile on my face. As the only musical number that properly works with the photorealism, the moment sees fellow animals clip-clopping in to contribute to the song in their own unique way. It's so good.

There are story adjustments that should be admired, too. Mufasa has a bit more of an indigenous worldview, preaching how land should be protected and not 'owned'. There's a pinch of emphasis on how overconsumption depletes the Earth's natural resources. They even touch on the bleaker meaning behind Hakuna Matata.

But a 'bit', a 'pinch' and a 'touch' aren't enough for a film that should have chomped, leapt, and embraced its difference as a (Pride) Rock Opera that puts nature first. Had Favreau been able to step out of the shadow of the original, this could have been something truly worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the film's obedience to the past holds it back from changing and evolving into something far better. In an unintended way, 2019's The Lion King perfectly reflects our current well-meaning but lacking attitude towards the environment.

Empire (UK)

press

Beautifully crafted and carefully conceived, without ever entirely justifying its existence... So, you might feel the love tonight, but perhaps not quite as much as before.

New York Times

press

The closer the movie gets to nature in its look, the more blatant, intrusive and purposeless its artifice seems.

The Guardian

press

This is an anthro-leonine deepfake of impressive proportions, but the new Lion King gains in shock and awe while losing in character and wit.

Hollywood Reporter

press

Everything here is so safe and tame and carefully calculated as to seem pre-digested. There's nary a surprise in the whole two hours.

Los Angeles Times

press

By joining familiar material with mind-expanding technology, "Lion King" knows how to bring you around.

TimeOut (New York)

press

This new Lion King is an invader of the real world, its characters akin to stuffed trophies mounted on the wall. They're lifelike, yes, but somehow not alive.

Variety (USA)

press

From the ecstatic Zulu chant that opens the film... to the thundering drum beat that ends it... Jon Favreau's exhilarating live-action take on "The Lion King" hews closer to the Walt Disney animated masterpiece than any of the studio's recent remakes.

Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)

press

A slightly strange experience for those who went to cinemas in 1994, but it's still a story likely to get a big roar of approval from younger audience members.