The critics have weighed in on Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of The Lion King, praising Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of the mangy, weary villain, Scar, the film’s alignment with the 1994 classic and the realism of the talking animals. However, reviews have been mixed, with some critics claiming that the remake didn’t quite nail the triumphant nature of the original.
Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri noted that due to the hyper-realistic nature of the film, “that iconic opening scene, with all the animals gathering to bow before the newborn lion cub Simba, held up like some sort of scepter of absolute power, doesn’t feel triumphant or moving, as it did in its fantastical, animated setting. It feels queasily authoritarian.”
Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson agrees. “It does make a difference when Rafiki halfheartedly holds up the newborn Simba for public view rather than thrusting him into the air in an iconic moment that has become the bane of house cats everywhere for 25 years.”
Ebiri also felt unsure about Donald Glover’s performance as Simba and Beyonce’s Nala, feeling as though their superstar power distracted from the character. “The talking lion might look realistic, but when we hear her dialogue, all we see is Beyoncé in a recording booth, reading lines.”
He did, however, praise Seth Rogan’s Pumbaa and Billy Eichner’s Timon, as well as Scar, which seemed to be a theme throughout the critics. As Variety‘s Peter DeBruge similarly noted, “Rogen and Eichner’s riffing sessions result in a fair amount of fresh material, and an overall even-more-likable version of these two beloved characters — although the most hilarious change to Timon’s personality comes from observing how real meerkats sit, sprawling awkwardly back on their haunches. (To punch up their personalities even further, Favreau and DP Caleb Deschanel work out a GoPro-style way of “shooting” them at clownishly close range.)”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy also weighed in on Eijofor’s representation of Scar. “As often happens, the villain here is arguably the most interesting figure,” he wrote. “Some of this is attributable to the vocal work of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who mixes threat with an equal measure of what sounds like genuine world-weariness. His Scar is an outcast made to look a bit scrawny and more ragged and unkempt than his brawny brother; this is a lion who has lived in defeat and disregard for so long that he suspects he may well be done for. Still, he harbors enough malevolent resentfulness that he’s able to come back to sinister life with the right opportunity.”
McCarthy also highlighted how similar the two versions are, writing that as 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.”
EW‘s Leah Greenblatt agreed, also sharing everyone’s sentiments about the realistic nature of the film. “2019’s Lion King is a marvel of photorealism from the first frame, nearly indistinguishable from the real real; it looks like Netflix’s Planet Earth, if gazelles could share watering holes with their natural predators, and zebras semi-regularly broke into song.”