I’ve long been a supporter of the idea that no movie is necessary, so calling a new remake or iteration “unnecessary” is, in itself, unnecessary. Of course you don’t need to see the new this or that; it’s all unimportant entertainment that’s optional, and in the case of these remakes, studios are often taking slightly fresh spins on older material and bringing them to new audiences. However, when it comes to 2019’s The Lion King, I’m starting to come around on the “unnecessary” complaints. This one encapsulates that criticism.
When I, personally, think about Disney animated movies, one of the ones that comes to mind first is 1994’s The Lion King. It’s one of the best of the bunch, has some visually stunning moments, and really makes you care about Simba and co. Simba, of course, being the lead lion, in case you’re among the 0 people who hasn’t seen the movie but for some reason is reading this specific review of the new one anyway. This new version might not be a shot-for-shot remake, but it’s pretty close, even though it runs approximately 30 minutes longer. You know what that means…
It means I get to complain about a movie adding runtime without adding content, which is probably my favorite criticism to make, because it’s more or less indefensible. You can defend aesthetic decisions or character changes when it comes to remakes, but dragging out the running time for no reason is hard to justify. Remember It? That’s probably the most egregious recent example. But, yes, the new Lion King is essentially the same movie but longer, to the point that you might as well just watch the better original because it’s the same experience but more compact and as a result more impactful.
But there’s one more reason that this new Lion King isn’t as effective as the original, and it does come down to the aesthetics. This isn’t a live-action movie in the strictest sense; the animals aren’t real animals, and even the settings feel largely CGI. Director Jon Favreau did the same with his great Jungle Book remake, but at least that one had a real kid in the lead. This time, it’s all CGI. And it’s great CGI. The animals look a lot like real animals.
This is a problem.
We’ve reached the point where we can more or less replicate real animals with CGI but real animals struggle with human-like emotions, which is fundamental for telling a story like this, where they talk and emote like us. The CGI doesn’t capture this. A lot of the lions look similar enough that they’re almost indistinguishable. Compare screenshots of Mufasa and Scar in this version to the original, and it’s stunning how different they look in first film and how similar they appear here. But it’s not just a same-y look; the faces don’t show a ton of emotion, especially not when compared to the more – pardon the pun – animated appearance of the ’94 film. Or even the more exaggerated animals in the aforementioned Jungle Book.
Look, the story is still good enough to get you to partially invest, the vocal work is great, and it does often look incredible. But the new Lion King is the one of the best examples I’ve found of an unnecessary remake. It lacks the emotional impact of its predecessor, adds a negligible amount of new content, and takes longer to do it. Add in a lack of distinct-looking lions who all struggle to show their human-like emotions due to the aesthetic choice to make them as lifelike as possible, and you’ve got a film that just doesn’t work that well. It’s not a disaster but it’s also not worth your time, especially since the original exists.
Conclusion: Disney’s remake of The Lion King isn’t bad, but it also doesn’t add anything.
Recommendation: Just watch the original.