'The Lion King': Mixed reviews for Disney's 'deepfake' remake

Ben Arnold
Contributor
The Lion King (Credit: Disney)

It appears that early buzz on Twitter following the premiere of Disney's grand CGI remake of The Lion Kingwhich raved about movie, may have been a bit premature.

The reviews embargo has now lifted, and we’re sorry to report that the response from critics across the board is mixed. At best.

In fact, by Rotten Tomatoes' metric - though flawed at the best of times - the movie is coming up 'rotten', with 58 percent of the notices so far coming in as predominantly negative.

But even many of the reviews deemed positive have caveats. Let's just say that there's a distinct absence of five-star reviews going on.

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Largely, the recurring complaint about director Jon Favreau's remake, which finds Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, and Chiewetel Ejiofor as Scar, is that despite the whizz-bangs of the uncannily real CGI, it lacks the heart of the 1994 original.

In fact, the CGI comes in for some pretty harsh scrutiny, The Guardian calling it a 'deepfake copycat', though admits it's 'handsomely made'.

(Credit: Disney)

“Basically, this new Lion King sticks very closely to the original version, and in that sense it’s of course watchable and enjoyable. But I missed the simplicity and vividness of the original hand-drawn images. The circle of commercial life has given birth to this all-but-indistinguishable digiclone descendant,” writes Peter Bradshaw.

Meanwhile, Indiewire goes as far as to call the film 'a disastrous plunge into the Uncanny Valley', the phrase used when artificial, computer-generated reality has gone very wrong.

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“Unfolding like the world’s longest and least convincing deepfake, Jon Favreau’s (almost) photorealistic remake of The Lion King is meant to represent the next step in Disney’s circle of life,” it writes.

“Instead, this soulless chimera of a film comes off as little more than a glorified tech demo from a greedy conglomerate — a well-rendered but creatively bankrupt self-portrait of a movie studio eating its own tail.”

Sadly, it doesn't stop there.

Reckons Vulture: “It's a stirring reminder of what can be achieved with all the talent (and money) in the world, as well as a cautionary tale of what can happen when there's no vision to bind it all together.

And from Mashable: “It's a lovingly envisioned, lavishly produced, and painstakingly crafted cash grab. And it's not much more than that.”

Per The New York Times: “The closer the movie gets to nature in its look, the more blatant, intrusive and purposeless its artifice seems.”

There are some fans, however, though they too have reservations.

(L-R) Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and Chiwetel Ejiofor attend the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING". (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

The Daily Telegraph's Robbie Collin calls it a ‘roaring success’, adding: “In an odd way, the power of this new Lion King comes from the outside: you soak up its astonishing photoreal visuals and marvel at the extraordinary progress that can occur within a single generation, yet still ache for everything that's made way for it.”

But in general, this feels like this has been a misstep for the Mouse House, but one which will doubtless top the box office this summer nonetheless.

Also starring Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and James Earl Jones, it's out across the UK on 19 July.