When it comes to Disney's live-action adaptations of its classic animated films, the House of Mouse tends to struggle with making its new takes worthwhile. While there are some gems in the batch -- a la 2015's Cinderella and 2016's The Jungle Book -- most of these live-action remakes fail to live up to their predecessors, which sadly appears to be the case with this year's The Lion King -- the third and final live-action Disney classic to hit the big screen this year after Dumbo and Aladdin.
With a stellar director (Jon Favreau), stunning visuals, and an all-star cast, The Lion King should be a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, though, most critics seem to be in agreement that despite being a feast for the eyes, the film is an unnecessary remake that doesn't go out of its way to be more than a rehash of the animated classic. As it stands, the film is currently sitting at a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.
For comparison's sake, that's only slightly better than Aladdin's 57% rating, which has still managed to earn almost $1 billion at the worldwide box office despite that reception and negative reaction to initial looks at Will Smith's Genie.
So, just how harsh are critics being on Disney's latest live-action venture? Well, let's just say, while the film looks likely to be king of the box office, it more than likely won't become the classic that the animated film has become.
It's hard to ignore that The Jungle Book was a truly well-done live-action take on an animated classic, which is why it's so surprising that Favreau's second go at a much-loved Disney film failed to live up to the hype. Some critics go as far as to call the film more of a Disney Nature documentary that isn't much more than stunning visuals. While others call it bizarre and darker than its predecessor. With that said, here's a look at some of the harshest reviews of The Lion King:
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "There's a spiffy cover of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" sung by Beyoncé (who voices Simba's childhood friend Nala) and Glover, along with a new Beyoncé number, "Spirit." [...] But by and large, very few remakes, other than Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot reproduction of Psycho, have adhered as closely to their original versions as this one does. Everything here is so safe and tame and carefully calculated as to seem predigested. There's nary a surprise in the whole two hours."
A.O. Scott, New York Times: "The closer the movie gets to nature in its look, the more blatant, intrusive and purposeless its artifice seems. It might have worked better without songs or dialogue: surely the Disney wizards could have figured out how to spin an epic tale of royal succession and self-discovery through purely visual means? Or else someone could have spent a few months teaching the digital Pumbaa to whip up a nice tofu scramble."
Angie Han, Mashable: "There is nothing about the new Lion King that feels like it needed to be made at this specific moment, by this specific team, in this specific way. Perhaps that's an unfair standard for a movie; plenty of projects exist for no obvious reason beyond their slam-dunk box-office prospects, and most of them are shoddier than The Lion King. On the other hand, Disney put these filmmakers and this cast in a room with that much money and that much time, and the best they could do was a basically fine but markedly inferior recreation of an old movie? Really?"
Jake Coyle, AP: "[...] Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, so abundant with realistic simulations of the natural world, is curiously lifeless. The most significant overhaul to an otherwise slavishly similar retread is the digital animation rendering of everything, turning the film's African grasslands and its animal inhabitants into a photo-realistic menagerie. The Disney worlds of cartoon and nature documentary have finally merged."
David Ehrlich, Indiewire: "Most often, the animation is just bland in a way that saps the characters of their personalities. Scar used to be a Shakespearian villain brimming with catty rage and closeted frustration; now, he's just a lion who sounds like Chiwetel Ejiofor. Simba used to be a sleek upstart whose regal heritage was tempered by youthful insecurity; now he's just a lion who sounds like Donald Glover. Watching them come to blows against a realistic-but-dull background suggests that Favreau was so busy trying to figure out if he could, that he never stopped to consider if he should."
Joshua Rivera, GQ: "We might be a little too good at computers [...] Because, if The Lion King is any indication, you can have sumptuous, state-of-the-art technology capable of delivering breathtaking visuals, and still fundamentally fail at art. And while The Lion King is gorgeous, it is also artless, a slavish reproduction that only breaks from its predecessor to yawn and stretch its legs, and not to really show us anything new."
Despite its mixed reviews, The Lion King is still expected to get the lion's share of the box office haul this weekend, offering up some stiff competition for Sony and Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: Far From Home. In June, it was revealed that the film had already broken a string of records, having sold the most tickets out of any live-action Disney adaptation in the first 24 hours of advance ticket sales. That put the film directly behind only Avengers: Endgame in terms of first-day sales on Fandango. It's entirely possible the reviews could go on to hurt the film's box office prospects upon release. However, as it stands, The Lion King should easily dominate ticket sales this weekend.
Opening in theaters on July 19, director Jon Favreau's The Lion King features the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Eric André, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones.