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Review: Disney's photo-real 'The Lion King' bores you to look a gift lion in the mouth

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Given its reliance on spanking new, mind-bending visual technology, it would be tempting to say that Disney's latest classic remake is not your father's "Lion King." Except it sort of is.

Remember, this is no ordinary property Disney is dealing with, this is a beyond beloved story and a commercial juggernaut that's as close as it gets to box office inevitability.

Not only did the original 1994 animated film win two Oscars, it earned enough at the box office (more than $400 million) to make it the No. 1 G-rated film of all time.

Then there was the Broadway show, which brought home six Tonys and is still running at 9,000 performances and counting. No wonder practically the first thing director Jon Favreau says in the film's production notes is, "I felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up."

A machine purpose-built to maintain the cinematic status quo, this new computer generated "Lion King" has taken a sure thing and made it surer, making choices like retaining James Earl Jones and adding Beyonce Knowles-Carter to the voice talent and sticking so closely to the original version it duplicates both specific images and lines of dialogue.

But though the new ground it breaks is visual rather than dramatic or emotional, this is a polished, satisfying entertainment that just about C.

 

Director Favreau (in a curious career coincidence, currently costarring in the new "Spider-Man") has done this kind of thing before with 2016's "The Jungle Book." (Robert Legato and Adam Valdez, who won Oscars for that film, are the visual effects supervisors here.)

This new film has taken the notion of digitally built environments and photo-realistic computer generated animals one step further, generating gorgeous visuals (six-time Oscar nominated Caleb Deschanel was the cinematographer) and taking pains to create the feeling that it was all shot with a camera.

This is especially true with the animals, not just the lions and other marquee species but so many different kinds of birds and beasts, all looking and moving in a completely lifelike manner. You practically need a college zoology textbook to identify them all.

Starting with a research trip to Africa during which 12.3 terabytes of photos were taken (that's a lot), the "Lion King" team, which includes 130 animators from 30 countries, labored intensively to create situations where lions can talk to each other in casual conversations that look completely plausible.

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