Can you feel the love tonight? I mostly felt a fondness for vividly rendered African landscapes mixed with a teaspoon of nostalgia. Simba the lion is back in this live-action remake of the 1994 smash animated Disney film about growing up, death, destiny, and avenging your family.
Instead of being swept away by the performances and the music, the main entree in this feast is the bubbling cauldron of visual effects. The characters are all created digitally from a combination of video and photo references of real animals resulting in a photo-realistic collection of stunning lions, hyenas, birds, and rodents. Even the landscapes are captivating with textured detail and layers of depth built through composites of photographs and computer generated imagery.
This live-action Lion King felt a lot like the 2016 live-action remake of the Disney film The Jungle Book (the animated version being from 1967), since both films are pioneers of visual effects techniques and both films explore vibrant natural environments. Coincidentally, both of these films are directed by Jon Favreau (Spider-Man: Far From Home, 2019) who has thankfully taken a temporary step away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Favreau's thoughtful focus on the intimate, up-close, realistic style of The Lion King makes it feel inspired by nature documentaries. But because the animals are so realistic, their facial expressions are limited and sometimes feel lacking. (All the actors lending their voices to this film do a wonderful job to partly make up for the emotional limits of the visual effects.)
A few new scenes are in this live-action version to help further develop certain characters and parts of the story, and all the songs are sung differently than the original ones (ranging from noticeably different to only slightly different depending on the song). But the only saving grace for this remake is its visualizations. Not a disaster but not a masterpiece either.