The Lion King (2019) UHD Review

Technical marvel that lacks originality 3.5 Stars

Director Jon Favreau’s photo-realistic vision of Disney’s animated classic The Lion King roars its way onto 4K UHD Blu-ray with an impressive video presentation, but a sadly lacking Dolby Atmos track. Oh, and the movie’s not that great, either.

The Lion King (2019)
Released: 19 Jul 2019
Rated: PG
Runtime: 118 min
Director: Jon Favreau
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama, Family, Musical
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, John Kani
Writer(s): Jeff Nathanson (screenplay by), Brenda Chapman (story), Irene Mecchi (characters), Jonathan Roberts (characters), Linda Woolverton (characters)
Plot: After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: 55

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 7.1 DD+:Spanish 7.1 DD+, French 7.1 DD+:French 7.1 DD+
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 58 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 10/22/2019
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 3/5

Twenty five years ago, Disney’s 32nd animated feature The Lion King shattered box office records, becoming the highest grossing film of that year and the highest grossing animated film of all-time (and still holds that record to this day, beating out Frozen by nearly $360,000, not adjusting for inflation). The film was not only a technical marvel in hand-drawn animation, it was a story that spanned generations borrowing themes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, along with catchy pop tunes by Tim Rice and Elton John.

With the studio’s current trend of remaking many of its animated classics into live action features, such as Cinderella, Dumbo, and Aladdin, it was no surprise that the studio would tackle The Lion King so early. Disney enlisted Jon Favreau to direct, having made a very successful live-action retelling of The Jungle Book for the studio three years earlier. Although that film followed the basic storyline of the 1967 animated classic and re-used many of the songs by the Sherman Brothers, it was still a fairly original retelling and expansion of that story, and had a humanistic element with actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Unfortunately, Favreau has apparently used the 1994 animated original of The Lion King as his animatic storyboard, and with very few exceptions, this version is almost a shot-for-shot photo-realistic remake of the original.

That being said, visually, The Lion King is by all accounts a technical marvel, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie didn’t walk away with an Oscar for Visual Effects at the very least. The computer generated animals are undoubtedly so realistic that many may think these are trained animal actors, except there is no evidence of fleas, ticks, flies, and especially for the male lions, genitalia. Favreau has loaded the movie with an impressive cast of voice talent (who actually performed their roles in many instances in a motion-capture environment), including Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, John Oliver as Zazu, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Penny Johnson Jerald as head hyena Sarafina, Keegan-Michael Key as Kamari, Seth Rogen as Pumba, Billy Eichner as Timon, and James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa. The cast does a splendid job voicing these characters, but no one really stands out, although there does seem to have been some room for improvisational dialogue here and there. Overall, though, the movie just feels flat and uninspired, and often the exceptional quality of the animation detracts from both the storyline and the vocal performances. All of the songs by Tim Rice and Elton John are included here, but performed with more pronounced diction than most are used to in a musical, which is often distracting as well. Even Hans Zimmer, who scored the original, repurposes that score, this time having the budget to record with a larger orchestra. This remake of The Lion King really has no reason to exist due to its lack of any originality.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

According to IMDB, The Lion King was photographed with Arri Alexa 65 and IMAX cameras in 6K resolution (I assume they are referring to the opening shot, the only “real shot” in the movie), with effects rendered in 2K and the movie completed as a 2K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision high dynamic range for its premium theatrical engagements. Disney’s 4K UHD Blu-ray contains an upscaled 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer with HDR10 high dynamic range, opening up the aspect ratio slightly from its theatrical 1.85:1 to its home video 1.78:1. This is quite possibly Disney’s best UHD video transfer so far on the format, with naturally shaded and vibrant colors, exceptional detail (nearly every grain of sand and rock crevice is viewable, each individual strand of hair in each animal’s fur), with deep blacks and bright whites that have no evidence of crushing, blooming, or banding. In fact, there are no noticeable compression or other artifacts whatsoever on this disc.

Audio: 3.5/5

Unfortunately, The Lion King sets Disney’s track record on Atmos mixes back to that of Thor: Ragnarok. This is such a disappointing mix, mastered not only at a low volume but also a restricted dynamic range and anemic LFE. Cranking up the master volume on the receiver helps somewhat, but the stomping footsteps of elephants early on sound more like tip-toes. Surrounds and heights are used rather sparingly, too, in what often sounds like a front-heavy mix. Dialogue, though, is clear and understandable throughout.

Special Features: 3/5

As typical on a Disney UHD release, all of the special features can be found on the included Blu-ray edition of the film. Unfortunately, most of them never delve too deeply into the making of the film.

Director Jon Favreau Introduction (1080p; 1:14): The director very briefly lets the viewer know that nearly everything they are about to see was completed entirely inside a computer. This is accessible from the Play sub-menu.

Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau: Buried within the Play sub-menu, Favreau discusses much of the research, the technical challenge, and the vocal cast that went into the making of the movie.

Sing-Along With the Movie: Also buried in the Play sub-menu, a karaoke-style subtitle track for the movie.

The Journey to “The Lion King” (1080p; 53:25): A three-part look at the making of the film, including The Music, The Magic and The Timeless Tale.

More to be Scene (1080p; 10:31): A storyboard to final rendering progression for three sequences – Circle of Life, I Just Can’t Wait to be King and Hakuna Matata.

Music Videos (1080p; 8:36): Spirit performed by Beyoncé and Never Too Late by Elton John.

Song Selection (1080p): View individual songs from the film with karaoke-style on-screen lyrics – Circle of Life, I Just Can’t Wait to be King, Be Prepared, Hakuna Matata, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Spirit and Never Too Late.

Protect the Pride (1080p; 3:02): A PSA on how to help preserve the lion population.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) from Movies Anywhere, and unlocks the following digital special features – The Lion King: Hear the Women Roar and Pride Lands Pedia.

Overall: 3.5/5

The Lion King is a visual effects spectacle that, unfortunately, also lacks any originality, playing like a “live-action” (or photo-realistic) version of the animated classic.

Published by

Todd Erwin

editor,member

22 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review, Todd. I don't need this version as I would never choose to re-watch it over the original. I agree it will likely be nominated for Visual Effects, but Favreau's team just won that a few years ago for using essentially the same tech on The Jungle Book. So it's possible that Academy voters might think they don't need another one. We'll see.

  2. Fair review. It’s a technological marvel but has NONE of the humanity and warmth of the original. I do differ on acting of the vocal talent. I found them to be lacking quite a bit. Even James Earl Jones comes off as flat. There is a heightened (or “animated’) level of performing one has to do for cartoons, etc.., and none of that was done here. And not casting Jeremy Irons–who was so brilliant in the original–was a huge mistake.

  3. It reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s shot-for shot remake of Psycho which didn’t capture the magic of Hitchcock’s original. This one works better but the entire time I kept asking myself why they felt the need to do it (aside from the cash )

  4. No genitalia? So much for realism.
    Also Elton John has expressed extreme disappointment in the soundtrack and said the animated drawn version soundtrack is far superior.

  5. noel aguirre

    Also Elton John has expressed extreme disappointment in the soundtrack and said the animated drawn version soundtrack is far superior.

    But as Matthew noted, I'm sure he's just fine cashing the checks he'll receive for the new film. Haven't heard him offering up that windfall to charity or anything like that.

  6. noel aguirre

    Also Elton John has expressed extreme disappointment in the soundtrack and said the animated drawn version soundtrack is far superior.

    I am a fan of both versions, but I do like the animated better. But they're both 100% valid interpretations of the story and the dissing of the new (or the old, depending on who is talking) is silly as heck. Just because I like my homemade garlic bread better than my mother's doesn't mean hers is terrible, horrible or invalid. It's the same basic dish made two different ways. Same here and that will ALWAYS be the line I draw with different interpretations of the same story.

  7. Malcolm R

    But as Matthew noted, I'm sure he's just fine cashing the checks he'll receive for the new film. Haven't heard him offering up that windfall to charity or anything like that.

    To be fair, Elton's done way more for charity than probably 99% of rock stars.

    Yes, he's insanely wealthy, but I don't think it's fair to criticize him in this realm, as he's backed charities in a strong way…

  8. Agree with the review that the 4K visuals are spectacular. The BD looks great, too, but the 4K is a clear upgrade.

    There's a shot of Simba and Nala at a long distance toward the end of "Can You Feel The Love Tonight". On the BD, they're a little blurry, but on the 4K, they're tight as a drum!

    Didn't experience the same disappointment with the Atmos audio. The 7.1 mix on the BD was anemic and needed a good volume boost but the Atmos seemed fine on its own.

    Take that with salt if you want, as I've never been as down on Disney for their soundtracks as others. Some have seemed flawed but most have sounded good on my system!

  9. Jason_V

    I am a fan of both versions, but I do like the animated better. But they're both 100% valid interpretations of the story and the dissing of the new (or the old, depending on who is talking) is silly as heck. Just because I like my homemade garlic bread better than my mother's doesn't mean hers is terrible, horrible or invalid. It's the same basic dish made two different ways. Same here and that will ALWAYS be the line I draw with different interpretations of the same story.

    Except this is the artist who actually wrote the score. But if you like it then good for you

  10. Malcolm R

    But as Matthew noted, I'm sure he's just fine cashing the checks he'll receive for the new film. Haven't heard him offering up that windfall to charity or anything like that.

    it’s not about the money it’s about the lame interpretation felt by the artist who wrote it. And he loves the broadway show. And you may not have heard but Elton has an AIDS Foundation so he’s giving plenty of money and time to charity

  11. noel aguirre

    Except this is the artist who actually wrote the score. But if you like it than good for you

    And the point is what, exactly? "All" he did was write the music. Elton John has a right to like or not like it. I never said he didn't. But just because he's not fond of it doesn't mean this version is any less valid than the Broadway show, the version that plays at Disney's Animal Kingdom or the original animated film.

  12. Jason_V

    And the point is what, exactly? "All" he did was write the music. Elton John has a right to like or not like it. I never said he didn't. But just because he's not fond of it doesn't mean this version is any less valid than the Broadway show, the version that plays at Disney's Animal Kingdom or the original animated film.

    I’m glad you like it but it’s been universally reviewed as mediocre. Sorry but it’s not a classic like either the original or the broadway show is. It’s just not.

  13. noel aguirre

    I’m glad you like it but it’s been universally reviewed as mediocre. Sorry but it’s not a classic like either the original or the broadway show is. It’s just not.

    By who? Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%. 7.0 out of 10 from users on IMDb. $1.6 billion worldwide gross.

    But then again, you're moving the goalposts. The original conversation was if Elton John could criticize the music. Now it's moved into "is this a classic" conversation. I never said it was classic. I said it was as valid as any other version. Big difference.

  14. Jason_V

    By who? Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%. 7.0 out of 10 from users on IMDb. $1.6 billion worldwide gross.

    But then again, you're moving the goalposts. The original conversation was if Elton John could criticize the music. Now it's moved into "is this a classic" conversation. I never said it was classic. I said it was as valid as any other version. Big difference.

    Rotten tomatoes scores, box office $$s- yet I’ve moved the goal posts? Also since when has either of those factors decided if something is quality or not? If EJ can’t criticize the music than who can. And if you’re talking $$- how many copies did that soundtrack sell compared to the original? Look that one up.

  15. I didn’t get to see this in the theater as I had wanted so it was a no-brainer to pickup on Day One. I agree that visually it was amazing! The colors were vibrant, the contrast was on point, and everything just felt “right”. The volume was noticeably lower and so I needed to turn it up a bit more than my other movies. The LFE wasn’t used as much as I’d like nor were the surrounds or even the high (Atmos) speakers.
    I was able to “deal” with that but the one thing that drove me nuts the whole movie was the actor who portrayed Timon (Billy Eichner). He was terrible! Wish they would have gotten someone with a more enjoyable and fitting voice for Timon.

  16. drdave319

    I was able to "deal" with that but the one thing that drove me nuts the whole movie was the actor who portrayed Timon (Billy Eichner). He was terrible! Wish they would have gotten someone with a more enjoyable and fitting voice for Timon.

    Yeah, I also didn't like Eichner. He just made Timon bitchy without the warmth and charm Lane brought to the part.

    On the other hand, I really liked Rogen's take on Pumbaa – probably more than Sabela's, to be honest. Rogen brought a nice innocence and wit to the role.

    I like Rogen more as a voice actor than a live action presence, perhaps because he tends to mug for the camera. When you don't see his silly expressions, his natural charm comes out better.

    Other than Rogen, the rest of the cast was a downgrade from the originals – especially the guy they got to play Mufasa. He can't hold a candle to the original actor!

  17. I watched the UHD disc this afternoon. While the film is like eating yesterday's stew in that there were few if any surprises (I did laugh out loud as they began "Be Our Guest" before being stopped in their tracks), its technical achievement is mind-blowingly remarkable. Many times, I would have sworn these were real animals tramping around the African locations. I had no problems with the voice performances of the actors. They're making their own choices in portraying the characters, but I will admit they're at a disadvantage with so many definitive interpretations from the original film.

    I did find the Atmos implementation disappointing, but Disney hasn't been pushing the format to the max in any of its remakes, so it wasn't exactly a surprise.

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