The Lion King is a remarkable achievement — not just because of its photorealistic visuals, but because of the fact that Disney assembled some of Hollywood’s top talent to create a beat-for-beat remake of one of the greatest movies ever made, yet the final product evokes little more than an apathetic shrug.
This feels like a movie that’s embarrassed about being a movie. Most of the time, it tries to convince you that it’s a nature documentary. Look at the zebras run! Look at the birds fly! It’s so enamored in its own visuals that the whole movie feels like an elaborate attempt to prove what can be done in digital effects without ever proving why it should be done. What’s the point of a movie where none of your characters can emote? None of the emotional beats land, and even the musical numbers are reduced to boring realism as the animals merely walk around in circles with their mouths moving. The rendition of “Be Prepared” might as well be the thesis statement for the movie, as Scar literally mumbles the lyrics as dialogue while just…standing there? This isn’t just indefensible; it’s laughable. Some strong voice acting performances might occasionally convince you that an animal is actually emoting, but this illusion evaporates the second it resorts to a close-up of an animal’s face.
The biggest compliment I can give the movie is that, despite all of this, it still somehow manages to be watchable. But I’m not going to act like it deserves credit for this. When you’re unapologetically copying and pasting Hans Zimmer’s score, Elton John’s music, and timeless story beats, of course it’s going to work to some degree; you would have to actively try for it not to work. Still, none of these hit anywhere near as hard as they once did, which has as much to do with the fact that we’ve seen all of these things before just as much as the fact that they aren’t utilized as well.
I’ve seen the term ‘creatively bankrupt’ thrown around this movie and I can’t think of a more apt description. There’s not even so much as an attempt to pretend like creative liberties are being taken here; they just spoon-feed you the same movie. But that’s not the biggest issue, because if you gave me an unapologetic cash-grab that still manages to delight, perhaps it could be forgiven. But this movie? This extends beyond being bankrupt of creativity; this is bankrupt of a soul. All the visual storytelling and fun from the animated movie is gone and what we’re left with is a horrible uncanny valley effect and an overwhelming sense of boredom. Because I guess that’s the goal when it comes to making a movie about talking lions in 2019: reduce all the joy, make it look like slabbed concrete, and then scar the audience by showing them a warthog laugh like Seth Rogen.