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The Lion King reviews round-up: Critics say Timon and Pumbaa steal the show in stunning Disney reboot

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 11/07/2019 Harry Fletcher

(Video by: Time)

Film fans are returning to Pride Rock this summer, as The Lion King roars back into cinemas.

With one of the strongest voice casts ever assembled, and the original movie holding such an important place in fans' hearts, there’s arguably more pressure on Disney to deliver than ever.

So, has the studio managed to pull it off? On the evidence of the first reviews, they haven’t let us down.

a cat sitting on top of a lion: (Disney) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Disney) While critics weren’t all unanimous in their praise for the movie, they’re all in agreement about one thing – the CGI work is stunning, and the most accomplished visuals of all the Disney live-action reboots. 

The Standard’s critic David Sexton praised the film as visually stunning, while bemoaning its lack of emotional impact.

“This Lion King just has more of everything visually, compared to the 1994 animation. Everything has been detailed, everything visualised, making it a stunning spectacle – but a drawn cartoon can focus on the essential and leave the rest approximate, sometimes creating a greater emotional impact,” he wrote.

The sentiment is one broadly shared by the rest of the media. See what the critics are saying about the film below.

The Guardian

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw was lukewarm about the new release, writing “The new Lion King gains in shock and awe while losing in character and wit." Despite praising the CGI work - "these are walking, talking animals that are realer than real” - ultimately, the critic was left cold: "I missed the simplicity and vividness of the original hand-drawn images."

Gallery: The Lion King cast comes face-to-face with their animal counterparts (PopSugar)

a lion looking at the camera: image © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited image LA Times

"Given its reliance on spanking new, mind-bending visual technology, it would be tempting to say that Disney’s latest classic remake is not your father’s “Lion King.” Except it sort of is" opens the LA Times' upbeat review.

"Though the new ground it breaks is visual rather than dramatic or emotional," Kenneth Turan sums up the movie as "satisfying entertainment" despite being somewhat ambivalent towards Chiwetel Ejiofor's Scar – "less theatrically evil than Jeremy Irons."

The Sun

Jamie East was full of praise for the "moving, funny & terrifying" movie, which is a "game changer" and "as close to faultless as you’ll get”.

“It only takes a couple of seconds for you to realise that visually, you’ve seen nothing like this before," he wrote, waxing lyrical about the "simply mind-blowing" CGI work. He also described Bill Eichner and Seth Rogen's Timon and Pumbaa as "genius".

Despite the rapturous review, the critic's only reservation was the studio's decision to keep James Earl Jones as Mufasa, whose voice "jarred with the rest of the cast".

New York Times

Like most of the early reviews, the New York Times' critic emphasised the film's technical achievements, while bemoaning the lack of emotional impact. He also claimed that the realism of the animals "makes it hard to connect with them as characters."

"If a movie could be judged solely on technique, The Lion King might qualify as a great one," he wrote, before adding: "There is a lot of professionalism but not much heart."

a lion standing in front of a mountain: image © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited image


GQ's Joshua Rivera was impressed by the movie's "incredible" technical achievements – even if they were ultimately detrimental to the success of the film as a whole.

“It's so well-rendered, so very much like a real hornbill's beak," he wrote about one particular scene, before adding: "Those, as you might guess, are not made for talking. It shows."

"The highlight of this new cast is Billy Eichner as Timon," he wrote, saying that he was "perhaps the only cast member who really feels like they're offering a new interpretation."

His main point of criticism, though, is that the film suffers from an identity crisis. "It's a musical that hesitates to indulge in bombast, an ensemble drama that doesn't give its cast room to own their roles, a comedy that doesn't seem to care about its jokes all that much," he wrote.

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