You know something has gone horribly awry with 2019’s The Lion King when it faxes in a faded facsimile of Simba’s iconic pride presentation opener on the rock.
Set to a dreary, drawn-out take on classic track The Circle of Life that suffocates the song’s soul, something’s immediately missing from the heart of the African savannah.
The Lion King is the latest movie to trundle off Disney’s relentless remake factory line following Guy Ritchie’s much cuter Aladdin earlier this year, and the studio has gaslighted us with the term ‘live action’.
There’s no sign of life in this photorealistic animation.
Despite going all-out on the National Geographic vistas and tapping star recruits in Donald Glover’s Simba and Beyoncé as his mate Nala, The Lion King is toothless.
Director Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan in the Marvel movies since 2008’s Iron Man, which he also directed – is stuck between Pride Rock and a hard place.
In trying to reanimate the beloved 1994 hit, the last to be entirely and gorgeously hand-drawn by Disney, Favreau is constrained by the boundaries of actual animal expression, so the movie never truly comes alive.
Bizarrely, even those beautiful backdrops are fake. Literally everything you see is created on a computer screen, which makes you wonder why they bothered aiming for as seemingly real as possible.
Glover is passable as grown-up Simba, but with the energy levels in this new take uniformly sluggish, I’d have preferred it if they’d stuck with JD McCrary’s verve as cub Simba.
Beyoncé is undoubtedly a brilliant performer, but the only thing flatter than her vocal acting as Nala is her groaningly boring vocals on rubbish new track Spirit.
Laughably, her inexplicably dull duet with Glover on Can You Feel the Love Tonight is set in broad daylight.
Americans love casting a Brit as their baddie, but subbing out Jeremy Irons’ Shakespearean swagger for a subdued Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar robs The Lion King of much of the scheming brilliance. Even Scar’s villain facial wound is less pronounced.
With his matchless regal voice, James Earl Jones would have been almost impossible to recast as Simba’s father Mufasa.
Wisely, Disney didn’t try it, and Jones – returning to his second most famous role after Star Wars’ Darth Vader – he’s one of the precious few performers who inject spirit.
Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are fun as warthog Pumbaa and camp meerkat Timon, but they can’t save this snoozefest.
In a mercenary move, Disney re-released Avengers: Endgame with a deleted scene after the end credits to try and unseat Avatar from the top of the global box office tree, but failed.
You get even less for your money here from the extra half-hour added to The Lion King’s runtime.
Despite excising a couple of songs, it stretches existing scenes beyond the point of interest and briefly extends backstories without much heart. Theres’s even a groan-worthy extended montage that follows a tuft of Simba’s hair on its own hero’s journey.
Hitching a lift on a dung beetle’s poo ball, it’s literally cinematic crap.
Favreau pulled off a rare trick with his remake of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which is soon to show up as a sequel.
Featuring similarly photo-realistic animation on Bill Murray’s goofy bear Baloo and Idris Elba’s terrifying tiger Shere Khan, it imbued the beasts with humanity, perhaps because they bounced off fantastic young actor Neel Sethi as lost boy Mowgli.
Justin Marks’ screenplay for The Jungle Book was also more playful and less slavish to the original.
The Lion King takes two whimpers when it really needed to roar.