The Lion King (3 stars)

The Lion King

Disney's latest 'live-action' reimagining struggles to convince despite photorealistic visuals

The third update of a Disney animated classic to be released this year – following on from Dumbo and Aladdin – the new Lion King strains more than the others to be described as a live-action remake, since its luscious savannahs and stunningly lifelike beasts were cooked up entirely on computers.

The Hamlet-esque story of young lion Simba, tricked by evil uncle Scar into believing he is responsible for his father Mufasa's death, remains one of Disney's most beloved. It spawned (straight to DVD) sequels, a TV spin-off and a globally successful stage musical. The 1994 animated feature that started it all is an almost perfect blend of drama and fun, striking animation and now-classic songs from Elton John and Tim Rice that has been embraced by generations – so much so that it does beg the question, why remake it at all?

'Because we can' and 'because it will make pots of money' are probably the answers to that one, with no one stopping to ask whether it mattered if The Lion King 2019 couldn't possibly improve on, or even hope to equal the original.

Director Jon Favreau, who did such a superb job in 2016 reimagining The Jungle Book, does his very best and is the right choice to take the helm of this photorealistic computer-animation. He once again delivers memorable visuals, impressive set-pieces (the wildebeest stampede, the 'I Just Can't Wait To Be King' musical number) and, of course, adorable yet credible animals (only the hardest of heart won't go 'aww' when they first see baby Simba).

But, precisely because the animals look so realistic, they seem a bit weird when their mouths move to speak, and even stranger when they sing – only during Timon and Pumbaa's 'Hakuna Matata' does the musical part of the movie truly work – and their furry faces have trouble conveying emotions, too. Which is quite the problem when you remember all the betrayal, romance and joy of the original.

You can have all the star voices in the world – and the cast list is top-notch, including Donald Glover as the adult Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor perfectly villainous as Scar, Bill Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and James Earl Jones returning as King Mufasa – and the latest in breeze-blowing-through-a-lion's-fur VFX, but for this movie to be as unforgettable and moving as its predecessor, you also need heaps of heart and soul. Sadly, for this year's Lion King, no one has yet invented a computer that can convincingly simulate either.

General release from Fri 19 Jul.

The Lion King

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 58min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Jon Favreau
  • Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones
  • UK release: 19 July 2019

The photorealistic version of the beloved Disney story has memorable visuals, impressive set-pieces and adorable yet credible animals, but precisely because they’re so realistic, it’s weird when they speak and even stranger when they sing. All the star voices in the world don’t count when you can’t simulate heart and soul.