Jon Favreau’s hotly anticipated photoreal recreation of Disney’s The Lion King is ready to roar in theaters nationwide on July 19. Early reviews are in, with critics lauding the film’s high-tech visual feats (which you can read more about in Michael Goldman’s story in our August issue) and stand-out voice performances — with special props given to Florence Kasumba, who voices hyena pack leader Shenzi. However, some felt the lifelike digital critters didn’t fit the ‘90s toon musical numbers and had hoped for more novelty in the remake.
These mixed feelings have resulted in a 61% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far, though the movie is still anticipated to be a box-office hit. The film is pouncing on Chinese theaters this weekend ahead of the rest of the world, and is expected to pull in $50-$60 million over three days.
The Lion King is directed by Jon Favreau and features the voices of Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones. The score was composed by Hans Zimmer, who also handled the 1994 animated movie, with Elton John reworking his toon compositions with the help of Beyoncé. John, Beyoncé and original lyricist Tim Rice also created a new song, “Spirit,” performed by Beyoncé.
Some poignant review quotes from the first critiques:
“The Lion King is a monumental achievement of technological advancement. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx
“The Lion King at least honors what came before, using current animation technology to convince us that we’re watching the real thing.” – Peter Debruge, Variety
“I was impressed with Beyoncé’s voice acting. She was able to bring the same energy as the young Nala, while still bringing her own her flavor to the older version.” – Dorian Parks, Geeks of Color
“Where the other actors are left to say nearly all the original film’s dialogue, Eichner and Rogen [as Timon and Pumbaa] just seem to be naturally riffing off each other, to hilarious effect.” – Kristen Lopez, io9
“We have more Nala than ever, and her expanded role opens up an enormous range of emotional depth. … Don’t be surprised to see ‘Spirit’ become a strong contender for Best Original Song.” – Jazz Tangcay, Awards Daily
“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.” – A.O. Scott, New York Times
“It’s hard to say why it’s needed when the first one already exists… as an expansion of the 1994 film, The Lion King says and adds little.” – Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
“Audiences are likely to eat it up. And that’s the circle of life.” – Rafer Guzman, Newsday