Disney's Live-Action Lion King (2019) Review: Repeating History

  • First Released Jul 18, 2019
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Let sleeping lions lie.

The new live-action version of The Lion King arrives in theaters on July 18. It's another remake of an animated classic, but does it do the original justice or bring anything new and worthwhile to the table? Read on for our full review.

With the new Lion King movie, Disney adds another film to the ever-growing list of animated classics given new life with a live-action remake. That is, depending who you ask--some view the new versions of movies like Dumbo, Aladdin, and soon Little Mermaid and Mulan as simply unnecessary, given that the classic original films largely still hold up when viewed today. However you see it, these remakes are apparently successful enough that Disney shows no signs of stopping the trend. So for now, one question remains: Is the live-action Lion King worth your time?

The new Lion King follows the original's story closely. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) welcome their new cub, Simba (JD McCrary), into the Pride Lands while the king's brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), plots against them. After Mufasa's death, Simba (later voiced by Donald Glover) learns a new philosophy from Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), reunites with his childhood friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph and later Beyoncé), has a chat with his cloud-dad (still James Earl Jones), and eventually returns to challenge Scar and his army of cackling hyenas.

Although the cast and script are largely new, only diehard Lion King fans who have seen the original movie recently will be able to point out more than a handful of significant changes. Most of those changes come in the form of new jokes, particularly when the hyenas Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key) and Azizi (Eric André), Rogen and Eichner's Pumbaa and Timon, or the loyal hornbill Zazu (John Oliver) are on-screen. These comedic moments make the new Lion King worth seeing, particularly any scene featuring Rogen and Eichner, who manage to steal the entire movie with their unique takes on the iconic warthog and meerkat duo. New takes on iconic songs, particularly Glover and Beyoncé's--and the lone new song, Beyoncé's "Spirit"--are also worth hearing.

The live-action Lion King looks gorgeous as well--although the term "live-action" here is used somewhat loosely, since every character in the movie was created entirely with CG. That fact occasionally makes itself apparent with an odd animation or other attention-stealing quirk, but by and large this is some of the best CG ever seen. From lion to monkey to warthog to caterpillar, the creatures on display are unbelievably detailed and beautiful. They truly look photorealistic, particularly in close-ups on a lion or monkey's face (you'd swear Rafiki, voiced by John Kani, was a real-life monkey). It does make it sometimes difficult to tell the lions apart, such as the grown-up Nala and Queen Sarabi, but the movie does an admirable job recreating the personality and charisma present in the original animation.

That's just it, though: This is a recreation from beginning to end. Yes, there are new jokes and voice actors, but beat-for-beat, the 2019 Lion King simply rehashes the original in every essential way. There are no significant new scenes that add to our understanding of the characters, plot, or world of the Pride Lands, besides a slight expansion to Nala's role in the latter half, and just a single new song. The story hasn't been updated at all; Simba is still basically an entitled brat, and it takes literal divine intervention for him to listen to Nala and get off his lazy, grub-eating butt. Why the "circle of life" has a monarchy with absolute power over its subjects--not to mention why the Pride Lands needs a king at all (how about a queen this time around?)--are ideas that never get explored beyond the scope of what the original bothered to do. The Lion King is a simplistic, outdated fable when it comes down to it.

And if you've seen the original Lion King, you know almost everything that's going to happen here, besides a few gags that will have you laughing but ultimately make little lasting impact. The new Lion King imparts a general feeling of wonder and love, but no more so than the original did, and walking out of the theater, it's hard to avoid the sense that you'd feel the exact same if you had just re-watched the 1994 animated classic.

Some fans will consider that a relief. Maybe it's smart of Disney and director Jon Favreau to leave well enough alone and simply try to recreate the original's magic with contemporary technology and actors. Incredibly gorgeous visuals, a star-studded new cast, a punched-up comedic script, and a new Beyoncé song will no doubt be enough to get plenty of fans--of all ages--into the theater to see this movie. But in the end, Disney is just repeating history, and that makes the new Lion King simply good, not great.

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The Good
Gorgeous CG visuals
Star-studded new cast
Great new jokes
Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner steal the show as Timon and Pumbaa
The Bad
Few significant additions to the original
Does little to update the outdated story
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Avatar image for plumwine100

I can't WAIT to watch this!!

Avatar image for Amillennialist

"Why the 'circle of life' has a monarchy with absolute power over its subjects [...] why the Pride Lands needs a king at all (how about a queen this time around?) [...] The Lion King is a simplistic, outdated fable when it comes down to it."

Nature doesn't care about your absurd identity politics.

Avatar image for RicanV

I think it might help readers if you offered some context on why any sort of changes to the original story were to be expected. It was my understanding that this was just supposed to retell the original story with live-action.

Example: "how about a queen this time around?" As a retell of the original it would not make sense to drastically alter the move in this capacity. However, if this was not a retell but a sequel then it would make more sense to make that inquiry. It's actually might be a real cool concept where Simba has a daughter and she leads the pride to new land.

Exploring the monarchy is also a cool idea but not entirely necessary. This is Simbas story not Mufasas or the pride in general. Exploring the monarchy would be better suited for a prequel where we discover Mufasas rise to power.

Avatar image for edwardnygma

I seriously have to stop clicking on these idiotic liberal reviews.

Avatar image for brxricano

Lol the ultimate in nitpicking in lieu of being introspective just because your bosses want you to have a stand-out review on your sister site so that people go, huh, why do you think its bad? *click* ooh, that compelling bad review! I just have to know why! 1 cool trick, banks are furious! I had to double check if you were writing for The Onion. "How about a queen this time around??" Word??? Because its called THE LION KING.

Avatar image for monkyby87

I don’t understand how someone can say it’s outdated. It’s not meant to be some political movie or grand statement on the affairs of the world. It’s a children’s fantasy with animals. That’s it. It doesn’t need to update the story when nothing was wrong with it.

In short, the reviewer was looking for some sort of progressive, all inclusive film. Get out of here.

Avatar image for hyruler461

When I say I want something remade with prettier graphics (games) or a cartoon remade as live action, I want exactly what I just said: a remake. I don't want any changes at all to the story, otherwise it would be a reboot. I'm already salty they cut out Scar's song, but I'll live.

Avatar image for RogerioFM

Remake of an old movie getting points taken for being a remake. Nice review.

Avatar image for Jasurim

"Why the "circle of life" has a monarchy with absolute power over its subjects--not to mention why the Pride Lands needs a king at all (how about a queen this time around?)

"The Lion King is a simplistic, outdated fable when it comes down to it."

This reads like a parody can't be serious? It's a childrens movie about lions. Does every movie really need to be making some grand standing statement about the world? Can't it just be what it is. It sounds to me that you want to watch a completely different movie.

Avatar image for fackman1984

@Jasurim: I was just about to post the same.

"Why the Pride Lands needs a king at all (how about a queen this time around?)". That sentence alone makes this review sound like a complete joke and I just can't take it seriously. Why do some people need to turn everything into a feminist crusade, to the point where they have to force it into classic tales and entertainment?

Glad Favreau didn't go that route.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

I jumped straight to comments, went "What I just read?", then continued on to read the review and went "What I just read?"

Avatar image for murekkep

Gorgeous CG visuals? You mean lifeless?

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff

Ah GameSpot opion of lion king is definitely irrelevant and would never mean anything in any life or form.

Stick to play doe GameSpot.

And let senator Mike Rougeau review it with he's kids.

Avatar image for dzimm

Why not a queen? Because in the animal kingdom, males are almost always the dominant members of any group.

Avatar image for xantufrog

@dzimm: the "alpha male" doesn't actually lead the pride, fyi. In fact, they tend to be relatively short term members who must join a long-running familial society that depends on the female collective for the right to mate. The perception of the male as the "King" is basically a projection based on our own society and the animal's obvious physical grandeur. In truth, they tend to be slow, short lived, and have a limited role in the society.

A less ambiguous "lion king" example is hyenas, where the leader is unambiguously the larger, stronger, alpha female.

Another noteworthy example from pack animals is wolves, which also violate your assumption - the role of leader is absolutely held by an alpha female.

Avatar image for dzimm

@xantufrog: Why I said "almost always". In the case of lions, that's definitely the case, hence the reason why "The Lion Queen" is a stupid concept.

Avatar image for nsa_protocol44

Micheal is Hardcore SJW even his picture screams SJW.

Avatar image for wickedmuffin

I love that the movie follows the original's story and they didn't change a thing

Avatar image for guudgidga

*Word 'queen' appears*

tHe fEmInIsTs R tAkInG oVeR

Avatar image for walbo

What is it with American culture these days that they have to inject politics and sjw nonsense into anything and everything. I used to love Hollywood movies but these days it has been over run by nonsense. That is literally the only word I can use to describe it. I have little interest in this movie but for crying out loud the movie is over 20 years old and is aimed at a new generation of children, kewword here children and the reviewer seems to miss this point so gives it a lower score because he is offended (pandering) to what he believes is majority but in reality its an annoyingly loud minority that will bizarrely claim you are (insert derogatory word) for having common sense and logic. If you want the lion qween make a sequel, push for that instead of craving the power to feel important by having people change things and labeling them bad people if they don't.

Avatar image for DesertLynx83

Maybe don’t let a whiny SJW review stuff again. The original was awesome and can’t wait to see this one.

Avatar image for Pyrosa

@DesertLynx83: We have plenty of this with Gizmodo/Kotaku and the like... Agreed.

Avatar image for sealionact

Did the reviewer just ask why Lions have a hierarchy including an Alpha male?

Avatar image for xantufrog

@sealionact: the "alpha male" doesn't actually lead the pride, fyi. In fact, they tend to be relatively short term members of a long-running familial society that depends on the female collective. The perception of the male as the "King" is basically a projection based on our own society and the animal's obvious physical grandeur. In truth, they tend to be slow, short lived, and have a limited role in the society.

Avatar image for Guy_Brohski

Reviewer doesn't know what "live action" means, lol.

Avatar image for G-Corleone

„How about a queen this time around?“

How about you dont review any more movies, please.

Avatar image for KungfuKitten

Good review, but not every movie needs to insert the same trope. I think the story is pretty unique for a children's movie. Specifically the part about loss.

Avatar image for 02050muh

no it does not

Avatar image for cejay0813

You do realize there’s a whole generation of youth that have never seen (nor will probably ever see) a lot of these Disney classics they’re remaking. Giving the classics a fresh coat of paint for the future is brilliant from a business since. That’s essentially what going to a Disney theme park is. By and large it never really changes save a few additions here and there to keep up with the times. Again though, the reason most spend the cash is because the generations that come after that have never experienced it.

Considering my generation experienced the original lion king in all its glory, I would’ve been disappointed if they changed too much in this movie. Same for Jungle Book.... my current favorite of the remakes

Edit: “why not a queen this time?” Lmao my god chill with the white knighting! Nala is the brains and integral to Simba’s ascension. Is that not a good thing... or not good enough I’m guessing.

Avatar image for hyruler461

@cejay0813: I think its a shame if kids don't even see the original Disney classics. If parents aren't showing them because of "PC culture," I think it has gone way too far.

Avatar image for cejay0813

@hyruler461: hmmm not sure if it’s PC culture. In my case, when I was younger I did see the original in theaters and we owned the plush box VHS. I could go to the store and grab the DVD or just take my kids to see the iteration from their time. If it’s true to the original but with a CGI polish, that’s a win in my book.

Was their a PC angle with the new one that I missed though?

Avatar image for hyruler461

@cejay0813: No PC angle, was just generalizing a reason for what new parents would say for not showing their kids older Disney classics.

Avatar image for cejay0813

@hyruler461: Aah gotcha. Yeah I remember some talk around the Dumbo remake. I never saw it but the original was good even with the "sign of the times" racism. I say, don't change anything from the past, let it stand. It makes no sense in whitewashing history as if it never happened.

Avatar image for KiriharaZro

Basically this movie is the same as the one from 1994. What is hilarious is how the the reviewer insert his political agenda, I laugh instead get mad, poor fool, the SJW demands wasn't heared this time.

Avatar image for CubeJL

More SJW nonsense. How about a queen this time? How about because this story is about a lion king. The story is outdated because it deals with a monarchy ruling over its subjects? Oh, you mean like an actual pride of lions? Have we forgotten that we're talking about fiction and animated animals here? I suppose Final Fantasy is also outdated, what, with its constant imagery of castles, nobles, monarchies, and strong male protagonists. Shame that we all can't take our fiction and light hearted fun so seriously.

Avatar image for Iemander

Renaming the movie to the Lion Queen. Yeah, everyone would've been thrilled. /Sarcasm

No wonder Trump won the elections. He'll probably win again.

Avatar image for rmiller365

I don't know. I liked the jungle book one. I just saw Alladin and it was terrible. I'll end up adding this to the list of manufactured movies I may watch if I see it free if it comes on a streaming service or something. Just like superhero movies, I'd rather spend $30 on a game than watch the same concept regurgitated with a more glossy finish.

Avatar image for Roy023

@rmiller365: Just out of curiosity, how come you find the new Aladdin terrible?

Avatar image for rmiller365

@Roy023: I thought the acting in it was really, really bad. I didn't like the new music in it (especially jasmine's song) and the existing music was kinda meh. The Scottish prince was hilarious though.

Avatar image for fbplayer1064

lol at deducting points because The lion KING doesn't change the heir from male to female and the realm from a kingdom to some communist commune.

Avatar image for sikkens

@fbplayer1064: It's 2019, even animals should be politically correct. Next on Gamespot "Is it sexist for Silverbacks to call the shots in Gorilla groups?".

Avatar image for pcvirginrace

It's disney. They need to reboot with girls as leading role now

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@pcvirginrace: Plus they can't have red hair apparently : /

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