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The Lion King reviews: Critics call it stunning, if by the numbers, remake

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Jul 11, 2019, 2:45 PM EDT

The reviews are in for Disney's photorealistic retread of The Lion King. And while critics applaud director Jon Favreau for the technical wizardry of the movie's visual effects and agree it makes for good summer fun, after seeing sequences recreated note for note from the 1994 original, some like Variety wondered why bother.

It seems reviewers' main, uh, beef is that the latest big screen incarnation lacks the soul of its predecessor. Rather, it's a mere cash grab and safe bet for a studio bent on milking every last dollar out of its current IP as possible. Hence, the reboot craze that has seen photorealistic takes on Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, and most recently Aladdin.

And now comes the ultimate Disney cash cow which aims to recapture the magic of 1994's The Lion King and even improve upon it with a new song and 30 more minutes of screen time. Of course, that's a tall order given the latter gobbled up nearly $1 billion at the box office and took home two Oscars, helping usher in Disney's second golden age of animation.

The Lion King

Credit: Disney

While the majority of reviewers were absolutely in awe with the CGI enhancements that made Simba, Mufasa, Scar, and the rest as lifelike as the majestic creatures on the African plains, for some it crossed into uncanny valley territory that distracted from the emotional arc of the story.

However viewers feels when they see it, this new Lion King is certain to be a surefire hit for the Mouse House with new generations discovering the Circle of Life for themselves.

Here's a roundup of what the critics are saying:

"Nearly a scene-by-scene remake of the original, albeit a half-hour longer, it serves up the expected goods, which will be duly gobbled up by audiences everywhere like the perfectly prepared corporate meal it is," writes The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

"If you were never a fan of The Lion King, then nothing here will win you over. On the other hand, for those too young to have seen it, this could be a life-changing experience," praises Variety which also gave Favreau props for casting actors of African descent in the lead voice roles, replacing the mostly white voice cast from the original.

If the film feels a little airless for all that open space, maybe it’s because the movie’s CG is so elaborately, meticulously made that it doesn’t leave much room for the spark of spontaneity. The story and the songs, with a few notable if hardly unexpected updates, are fondly faithful to the original; the magic mostly intact. Another reboot was never terribly necessary, maybe — but it’s good, still, to be King," offers, which gave the film a B+.

On the other hand, the New York Times was less than sanguine, opining: "The grandeur and intimacy, the earthy humor and heavenly songs [of the original Lion King] have given it gravity and staying power. Those are somehow missing here. The songs don’t have the pop or the splendor. The terror and wonder of the intra-pride battles are muted. There is a lot of professionalism but not much heart. It may be that the realism of the animals makes it hard to connect with them as characters, undermining the inspired anthropomorphism that has been the most enduring source of Disney magic."

The Lion King

Credit: Disney

"Though the new ground it breaks is visual rather than dramatic or emotional, this is a polished, satisfying entertainment that just about dares you to look a gift lion in the mouth," counters the Los Angeles Times. " By joining familiar material with mind-expanding technology, “Lion King” knows how to bring you around."

"The photorealism is striking and impressive, but something feels weird about the voices. It’s not like people can’t imagine talking lions, of course. But it’s distracting in a way that’s not ideal — it’s uncanny and disjointed at the same time, as if real zoo animals are being anthropomorphized," panned Vox.

"It’s a bummer if you’d like to see the wealthiest studio do more than regurgitate its IP with cutting-edge CG," growled Collider, giving it a 'C.'