The remake of The Lion King dropped over the weekend, and though audiences turned out in droves, reviews were … muted. Here’s what Ringer staffers thought about the, uh, photorealistic take on the beloved classic.
1. What is your tweet-length review of The Lion King?
Alyssa Bereznak: Better with edibles.
Kate Knibbs: I hope the children enjoy it.
Jonathan Tjarks: Just invite some friends over to your house to watch the original. It’s a better use of your time, and will save you some money.
Andrew Gruttadaro: I respect my childhood too much to say anything negative; overall, though, I’m really not as mad at The Lion King as other people seem to be.
2. What was the best moment of the movie?
Bereznak: This question is hard to answer because the movie isn’t really new. It’s just a slightly altered version of one I have loved deeply since I was a child. (There is VHS evidence of me performing this entire movie, with costume changes. My cat Puddy played baby Simba during the Pride Rock scene.) So if I’m talking about my favorite part of the old material, that’s definitely “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” In the CGI remake, that sequence is far less exciting because it’s all Planet Earthed out, but the song remains a freakin’ bop.
As for new material, I really enjoyed the post–“Hakuna Matata” banter between Timon and Pumbaa about how they were worried that Simba was going to steal their signature song. I never would’ve guessed that Billy Eichner would be the remake’s surprise MVP.
Tjarks: I’m not a big Seth Rogen guy, but he was good as Pumbaa. He was one of the few people in this movie not taking himself too seriously. Maybe he should stick to supporting roles.
Knibbs: Everything with Timon and Pumbaa was great, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen managed to do something fun and new with the characters that transcended the limited emotional range of the animation.
Surrey: Like the original, the remake’s “Circle of Life” opening is undeniably breathtaking—although I’m pretty sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that none of the animals OPEN THEIR MOUTHS TO SPEAK DURING THE SONG.
Simba: It was me. I killed my father.— Andrew Gruttadaro (@andrewgrutt) July 19, 2019
3. What was your least favorite part of the film?
Surrey: The demonic pack of hyenas, because apparently in this version the Shadowlands are analogous to Chernobyl.
Gruttadaro: I really thought Chiwetel Ejiofor botched Scar’s “long live the king” line. Where were the dramatic pauses?! Where was the hissing?!
Tjarks: Mufasa’s death scene. I’m not sure what they were going for here, but it didn’t really work.
Bereznak: The tweets did not lie: “Hakuna Matata” was a travesty. If they couldn’t arrange their fancy GGI pixels so that young adult Simba swings playfully from a jungle vine then what was the freaking point?!
Knibbs: There wasn’t a part I felt strongly enough about to dub my “least favorite.” It was all … fine.
4. Photorealistic animation: In or out?
Surrey: You can watch Planet Earth on Netflix.
Knibbs: I’m not out as a rule, but I don’t think it served this story super well.
Bereznak: Out! There’s a reason 2D animation exists: The less realistic an animal looks, the more anthropomorphized it can be without feeling weird. That’s why this movie felt so stiff. And by the way, the inverse of this rule is also true. Which is probably why someone in my theater yelled “what the fuck” during the Cats trailer that played before the movie.
Gruttadaro: Here’s the thing: It was really cool. Let’s not be haters about this. Was it right for The Lion King? Probably not. But I can’t wait for how poppin’ NBA 2K25 is going to be.
Tjarks: Is that what we are calling whatever this was? I’m out. Maybe we should go back to regular animation. Watching this movie turned me into such an old man!
5. The 2019 Lion King didn’t change much—what is one change or addition you would have made?
Bereznak: Somehow they stripped Rafiki of all of his wacky behavior and made him completely forgettable. I would’ve spent more time on his encounter with Simba and found a way to liven up his magical treehouse. More glowing bugs!
Knibbs: I would’ve liked to see Sarabi get a personality.
Tjarks: What exactly did Nala mean when she left the Pride Lands and went looking for help? Surely she wasn’t expecting to find Simba. So what was she expecting to find?
Surrey: Since some of the realistic-looking animals are nightmarish, can we get a more comprehensive (and potentially disturbing) explanation for how Scar so thoroughly decimated the Pride Lands? The guy takes over for a minute, and suddenly the lush green environment becomes the backdrop for Mad Max: Fury Road.
Gruttadaro: I would’ve made Nala a true crime podcaster who’s convinced Simba didn’t die along with his father. The episode where she retraces each step of the wildebeest stampede would’ve been great.
6. Finish the sentence: “Beyoncé was …”
Tjarks: Fine. Not very memorable, though.
Knibbs: Fine. She was fine. Her “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” vocals were a lot to handle and, frankly, possibly my least-favorite Beyoncé vocals, but in general she was perfectly adequate.
Bereznak: … excellent on the supplementary album that was released alongside the movie! Please don’t make me say bad things about Beyoncé’s acting. I hate saying bad things about Beyoncé in general.
Surrey: [Whispers, begs the Beyhive not to erase me from existence.] She was quite forgettable. In fairness, they didn’t give her that much to do.
Gruttadaro: … in this movie.
7. To what extent did nostalgia for the original Lion King take over while you watched this new version?
Bereznak: Oh god, this might’ve been because of the aforementioned edible but I teared up maybe six different times? Once, obviously, because of the stampede scene, and then the remaining five moments were just because I was listening to formative songs from my childhood. So I would say, to the fullest extent possible.
Tjarks: This movie was like watching a good high school play. I respect the effort it took to put it together, but it’s still just an inferior reproduction of something much better.
Surrey: You’ll definitely catch some feelings during “Circle of Life,” and anyone should still find Mufasa’s death quite devastating. If we’re being honest, Disney is just as effective deriving pathos from daddy issues as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Gruttadaro: If you’re asking whether I cried during Mufasa’s death the answer is OF COURSE, YOU MONSTER.
8. As an adult, do you have any questions or concerns about the power structure of the Pride Lands?
Knibbs: I mean, the Pride Lands probably need a democratic revolution, but they are wild animals, so I’m just happy there weren’t any nefarious human poachers.
Bereznak: Seems needlessly fragile. Then again we have recently learned the same goes for American democracy.
Gruttadaro: Why are hyenas the linchpin of the Pride Lands’ governmental system? Why are they discriminated against initially (aside from the fact that they’re mean jerks)? And why does merely letting them eat food deplete the Pride Lands so devastatingly, to the point that literally all of the plants die?
Tjarks: Where were the other male lions? I guess they all get driven off from the pride, but surely there has to be a way to create a deeper pool of potential replacements if something happens to the king.
Surrey: Seems pretty messed up that all the animals must bow down to the newborn beast that could ostensibly slaughter them in an open field for sustenance.
9. Is “Hakuna Matata” a dangerous life philosophy?
Knibbs: Dangerous? Nah. In the universe of the movie, Simba goes vegetarian (bug-a-tarian?) while he embraces “hakuna matata,” whereas his whole “Circle of Life” philosophy basically establishes dynastic monarchy as a divine right and assumes that killing underlings in the power chain is not only fine but actively good.
Bereznak: As I was listening to Timon explain “hakuna matata” it occurred to me that (1) he’s a complete nihilist and (2) the millennial “hakuna matata” is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. These views are understandable, especially for disillusioned animals who are on the bottom of the food chain and have seen the current power structure fail them time and time again. That being said, I’m almost positive climate change exists in CGI Lion King universe, so yes, having “no worries” while the world deteriorates around them is probably dangerous.
Tjarks: Something I realized while watching this movie as an adult is they must have all been doing a lot of drugs.
Gruttadaro: For beings at the top of the food chain? Yes. For a plump warthog and an orphaned meerkat? It’s the only way for them to find happiness in their dark, short lives.
Surrey: NO!!! Living a carefree existence with zero responsibilities while ingesting various plants? Those are #LifeGoals. Hakuna matata forever.