This review contains spoilers if you're not familiar with the original 'The Lion King' storyline.
First of all, it's worth mentioning more than anything that the attention to detail and effort put into bringing this story to life in (photorealistic, computer-generated) live-action is beyond impressive. This version of 'The Lion King' is stunning... But was it necessary?
Disney are churning out live-action films and 'The Lion King' was bound to be on their list. The result is fascinating in many ways... While the realistic scenery and aesthetic is a two-hour (very convincing) 'come to Africa' commercial, the realistic wildlife is a PSA against talking animals in a live-action film, especially one with the majesty and legacy of 'The Lion King'.
Mufasa's death is arguably one of the most emotional and iconic scenes in cinema history, and surely it would be even more devastating when it involves (sort of) real animals, right? Wrong.
The voice acting on young Simba (JD McCrary) is beautiful in this scene and beyond. There's real emotion, you can hear it. But you absolutely cannot see it. And that's the case for a majority of the film. The voice cast have been chosen wonderfully. It's a shame that the characters lack, well, character... On the outside.
Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa respectively could not be more perfect, and their scenes and dialogue were undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Donald Glover does a great job as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor is chilling as Scar, and John Oliver is hysterical as Zazu.
John Kani is wise as ever in the role of Rafiki, while James Earl Jones reprises his regal role as Mufasa and Beyonce is more or less fine voicing Nala.
The music couldn't really go wrong. Hans Zimmer's immense talent is put to work for the score, and songs such as 'The Circle Of Life' (that opening scene definitely sends chills), 'Hakuna Matata' and 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' (a beautiful rendition by Donald Glover and Beyonce here) are all wonderful to listen to. Of course, however, there are a few visual sacrifices that come with a more realistic take on the story... So, for example, 'Be Prepared' and 'I Just Can't Wait To Be King' are hardly as exciting here as you may remember them in the original.
So, with all this talk about emotionless jungle animals, it begs the question, who's to blame here? Is it real life lions (and the like) for not having enough emotion? Or is it Disney, who thought this would work well?
Well, you're a bit silly if you decide to blame the animals because they weren't convincing enough (“let's try that again with MORE HEART please, Simba!!!!!”).
At the end of the day, there wasn't too much that could be done on Disney's part to really sell the depth of these characters. They're animals, not humans. So while it's not clear who to blame for how this turned out, the answer to the question at the beginning of this review, is no.
However, elements such as the music, the voice acting and the stunning setting save the film, and make it an enjoyable watch. It doesn't deserve to be panned, but hey, it also doesn't deserve critical acclaim.