Is The 'Lion King' Remake Good?
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING

· Updated:

Disney is showing no signs of slowing down in its quest to do "live-action" remakes for its animated classics, and Jon Favreau's updated take on one of the studio's most iconic films — "The Lion King" — is the latest of the bunch. While the trailers have shown off the movie's wild CGI visuals, how does the film itself stack up to the original? Here's what the reviews say. 

The Visuals Are, As Promised, Truly Astounding 

Technically speaking, it's a marvel. Jon Favreau's "live action" remake of Disney's The Lion King possesses all the immersive detail and tactile immediacy of an unusually good nature documentary. It transports us. We can practically feel the fur on these animals, and we want to duck away from their thundering heels as the camera breathlessly rushes us through trembling grass and craggy ravines. It's hard to imagine that this has all been created in a studio, and that almost none of it is real.

[Vulture

Unquestionably, this film's visuals are detailed and remarkable to behold, in the same way that it's remarkable to behold a visual-effects demonstration of the newest, sleekest technology at a consumer expo. There's little doubt that the money poured into making a vivid, photorealistic version of the African plains has paid off. 

[SlashFilm

The ostensible creative reason for the update is the advance in computer animation yielding imagery so realistic that the result is called "virtual cinematography," meaning that the animals and dramatic African backdrops indisputably look like the real thing, as if shot on location… The highest praise one could bestow upon [the VFX team] is that all the images look real, which they really do; there's even one shot with pretend camera glare.

[The Hollywood Reporter

And While The Songs Are Still There (Kind Of)…

Voices also matter in the singing, where all the familiar musical numbers, from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to the Tim Rice-Elton John standards "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" benefit from fresh producing by Pharrell Williams with African vocal and choir arrangements produced by Lebo M.

There is also a rerecording of Hans Zimmer's Oscar-winning score, a new Rice/John song, "Never Too Late," sung by John, and Beyoncé singing her new "Spirit." Calling the current film a musical would not be that much of a stretch.

[Los Angeles Times]

Overall, the songs pose a unique challenge to Favreau's approach, since he's striving for realism — or at least the illusion that we're watching flesh-and-blood animals — whereas the original belongs to that period of Disney animation when the stories often halted to make room for Broadway-style showtunes. Rather than replicating the Busby Berkeley-style choreography of "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," the director does a fantastic job of reimagining this sequence, tipping his hat to certain memorable shots without anthropomorphizing the animals too much.

[Variety

… The Speaking And Singing Animals Too Often Enter The Uncanny Valley

The photorealism is striking and impressive, but something feels weird about the voices. It's not like people can't imagine talking lions, of course. But it's distracting in a way that's not ideal — it's uncanny and disjointed at the same time, as if real zoo animals are being anthropomorphized.

[Vox]

And then the animals start to talk. At first, it looks as if the lions are telepathic, and then they seem so badly dubbed that you wish they had been. The more adorable characters are easier to believe, as their cuteness allows for an extra dash of anthropomorphized fun, but the vocal performances aren't equipped to carry the emotional weight that the hand-drawn animation once expressed on its own.

[IndieWire

Timon And Pumba (Voiced By Billy Eichner And Seth Rogen) Are Highlights, Though

The scene-stealers are Billy Eichner's Timon and Seth Rogen's Pumbaa, no surprise because their characters are the most divergent from the source material. Where the other actors are left to say nearly all the original film's dialogue, Eichner and Rogen just seem to be naturally riffing off each other, to hilarious effect. 

[io9

The highlight of this new cast is Billy Eichner as Timon, perhaps the only cast member who really feels like they're offering a new interpretation that's entirely different from his predecessor without changing the character at all. Thanks to some solid chemistry with Seth Rogen's Pumbaa, it all works really well and gives the audience a few moments to laugh at some new jokes they haven't already heard before.

[GQ

But All In All, The Original Film's Magic Is Missing

If The Lion King wins the Oscar for Best VFX, it will probably deserve it on the technical merits of what they accomplished. And yet VFX are supposed to help tell the story, and here they clearly hinder it. The emphasis on photorealism means you lose the dramatic flourishes and theatricality the movie needs to thrive. 

[Collider

[T]his soulless chimera of a film comes off as little more than a glorified tech demo from a greedy conglomerate — a well-rendered but creatively bankrupt self-portrait of a movie studio eating its own tail… Most often, the animation is just bland in a way that saps the characters of their personalities. Scar used to be a Shakespearian villain brimming with catty rage and closeted frustration; now, he's just a lion who sounds like Chiwetel Ejiofor. 

[IndieWire

Disney is going for essentially The Lion King redone as a Disney nature documentary, and that is not an objectively poor decision. However, by default or by decree, we lose so much in the trade off. It does make a difference when Rafiki halfheartedly holds up the newborn Simba for public view rather than thrusting him into the air in an iconic moment that has become the bane of house cats everywhere for 25 years. That sets the tone for the movie as a whole, where almost every line of comparatively colorful dialogue, every moment of spur-of-the-moment wit and every moment of comparatively devilish behavior is ironed out for the most straight-faced or "honorable" delivery.

[Forbes

[It] looks like a nature documentary. But it plays more like an especially glitzy presentation reel at a trade convention, with popular songs and high-end talent pushing an exciting new product that nobody is sure quite how to use. 

[New York Times

TL;DR 

"Who really cares about the story, when the technology is so utterly astounding?" appears to be the film's mentality. 

[io9]

Watch The Trailer

 

You can buy tickets to see "The Lion King" here.

<p>Dan Fallon is Digg's Editor in Chief.&nbsp;</p>

Is The Seth Rogen Comedy 'An American Pickle' Any Good? Here's What The Reviews Say
IN A REAL PICKLE HERE

Digg · Updated:

The movie, which streams on HBO Max on August 6, has an enticing premise: a man gets preserved in a jar in the early 20th century and wakes up 100 years later in contemporary Brooklyn. But does the movie itself live up to its zany plot? Here's what the reviews say.


Seth Rogen Plays Two Men, Herschel Greenbaum, A Man Who Wakes Up After 100 Years In A Pickle Vat, And Greenbaum's Great-Grandson, Ben

An Eastern European labourer named Herschel (Seth Rogen) arrives in America, only to be pickled for 100 years in a factory accident. He awakes in 2020, and moves in with his only surviving relative: great-grandson Ben (also Rogen). Things are going swimmingly — until Herschel wrecks Ben's business, leading to a vengeful game of oneupmanship.

[Empire]

While Hershel is low-key confounded by these modern times (what with interracial dating, women's rights, and the high cost of produce), he is most perplexed by his descendant's priorities. Ben doesn't observe Jewish religious traditions and hasn't visited the family graves in years. He has no wife, no children, and no career that Herschel can comprehend. So tensions rise. In no time at all, the pair declare each other enemies. Herschel strikes out on his own with a pickle cart with wares pulled freegan-style from dumpster diving. Meanwhile, Ben stews over how to ruin his eccentric great-grandfather.

[IGN]


The Movie Probes Into Issues Of Jewish Immigration Identity — Though Perhaps Not Deeply Enough

In its best moments, An American Pickle knows how to thread the needle between fish-out-of-water comedy and retaining a thoughtful look at Jewish ancestry in America, but those moments are few and far between […] Every time the movie has a chance to go deeper, whether it's with immigration or legacy or American comfort or Judaism, An American Pickle skims the surface and moves on.

[Collider]

Made in the midst of a resurgence in blatant anti-Semitism across the US, it's a strange choice for "An American Pickle" to reveal that Herschel's greatest backlash comes from...violent Christians? The movie sidesteps the most alarming aspect of Jewish persecution — its resurgence in public over the last four years — and never even gives Herschel a chance to learn about the Holocaust.

[IndieWire]


As A Comedy, It Sometimes Falls Flat In Delivering Laughs

There are some scattered laughs but it's not particularly funny, and "American Pickle" […] is generally all over the place, aiming to be an abstract comedy about family and religion but losing its way trying to also poke fun at modern culture.

[USA Today]

 [T]he film fails to build its laughs into substantial comic momentum, or even construct many substantial scenes. (Tellingly, one of its funniest is a mid-credits bonus.) As it progresses, the material feels more and more like a series of slightly amusing paragraphs, with sentimentality wedged uncomfortably between flights of satirical whimsy.

[The AV Club]

There are laughs along the way with Herschel and Ben's mirror-image intergenerational, culture-clash roommate bromance. But, inevitably, as with so much high-concept comedy, the real laughs, the ones built on detachment, self-aware flippancy and cynicism, come at the beginning, with the establishment of the premise.

[The Guardian]


The Story's Emotional Beats, However, Manage To Shine Through

 Despite the acrimoniousness of their split, you root for their inevitable reconciliation, which closes the movie on a warm note […] "An American Pickle" is neither the most substantial nor the most sophisticated comedy, but its soulful sweetness outweighs its flaws.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

It may not always succeed as a comedy but as a drama, this is the real dill. Part time-travelling family drama, part idiosyncratic immigrant-adventure comedy, "An American Pickle"'s gags underwhelm, but its emotion and originality will surprise you.

[Empire]

[T]he thread of leaning on family to process grief is touching, and Rogen manages to make Herschel and Ben's longing to connect feel real. The movie is frequently funny, sometimes sweet, and never particularly deep, but it does have a uniquely odd relationship to time that gives it a peculiar extra layer. Call it the proprietary brine.

[Wired]


And Rogen's Charisma Helps To Keep The Audience Entertained, Even When The Rest Of The Movie Falters

[I]t's enjoyable enough to watch the actor single-handedly rescue the high concept surrounding him.

[IndieWire]

Rogen is an always likable actor whose reputation was built largely on playing crude, sophomoric stoners. But there's an inherent sweetness in his screen persona that's been there since the very beginning on "Freaks and Geeks," notably in the affecting story arc in which his befuddled character, Ken Miller, struggled with the revelation of his tuba-playing girlfriend Amy's intersex birth origins. It's a variation on Ken — the tender, passionate bear of a guy occasionally stymied by his blind spots — that steers "An American Pickle" through its narrative rough patches.

[The Hollywood Reporter]


TL; DR

Nothing in "American Pickle" can match the silly storybook fantasy of its opening moments, but they do a good job of getting us hooked. 

[IndieWire]


Watch The Trailer Here


Is The Google Pixel 4A Worth It? Here's What The Reviews Say
NOT PHONING IT IN

Digg · Updated:

The Pixel 4A, which will be released on August 20, is incredibly affordable at $349, but can it compete with other smartphones? Here's what the reviews say.


The Best Feature Of The Phone Is The Camera

[W]hen it comes to photos, the Pixel 4A goes toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 — and often wins.

[The Verge]

There is no distinguishable difference between the $350 Pixel 4a's and the Pixel 4's camera, a phone that starts at $800. That's incredible, and if you like your photos to look good, it's a major reason why the Pixel 4a should be at the very, very top of your list. 

[Business Insider]


Design-Wise, It's Not The Flashiest Phone

The Pixel has always been a phone that felt a lot nicer than it looked — it's not the most stylish. The Pixel 4a's design is even more basic than ever, though. It comes in Just Black and... that's it. There are no other sizes available, either. Keeping to one size and color was part of Google's strategy to reduce production costs. 

[Engadget]

The word I use most often to describe Pixel hardware is "unassuming." It's basic: no frills, no fanciness, just an easy-to-hold phone without any embellishments. It's a little boring, but at least it isn't tacky.

[The Verge]


But Helpful Software Features Like Live Captioning Might Be Drawing Points For Users

Google's software tends to make up for its basic hardware, and as usual, the company has some helpful tools that make the Pixel experience better than any other Android phone. Most of these have already been announced, like its personal safety and car crash detection feature, Google Docs integration for the Recorder app, as well as adaptive battery management. With the Pixel 4a, though, Google is bringing its Live Caption feature to calls.

[Engadget]

I like Google's bonus software features that it includes on Pixel phones. The voice recorder app is able to transcribe text, for example, and accurately transcribed about 90% of my interview with Google during a Pixel 4a briefing. It just saves me a ton of time that I'd otherwise spend trying to jot everything down. Other unique software features include crash detection, which can automatically call 911 if you get in a car accident.

[CNBC]


The Performance Of The Phone Is Generally Fine, Though It Can Be Slow Sometimes

The Pixel 4a has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It's fine and fast enough to keep the phone running smoothly. There are a few hiccups at times, though. I noticed it would stutter while scrolling through long lists, like in Twitter, but that problem generally resolved itself after a few days. Google was aware of this, too, and it may just be that it takes some time for things to store inside the phone's memory.

[CNBC]

Anecdotally, the phone works quickly with most tasks. Unlocking the screen with my fingerprint, launching Assistant and opening apps went off without a hitch. But the Pixel 4A isn't the smoothest phone I handled. After I downloaded Call of Duty and PUBG, I had to restart the phone because both apps stalled while loading.

[CNET]


Some Of The Phone's Drawbacks Are Its Lack Of Wireless Charging And Waterproofness

Google left out one big feature that does matter: water resistance. That would save a phone that was accidentally dunked in a toilet or left out in a storm. So it was disappointing not to have it because durability was another feature that people wanted most in their smartphones.

[The New York Times]

This phone doesn't have some of the premium flourishes, like wireless charging, water resistance, a triple-lens camera, or 5G connectivity. But, it gets the core features so right that those extra flourishes seem irrelevant. 

[Business Insider]


Most Importantly Though, The Phone Is A Great Bargain With Its Cheap Price

The Pixel 4A is about $50 cheaper than its closest competitors and has 128GB of storage, instead of 64GB like years past, so it really is a solid value. And these days, any amount of money that can be saved is crucial.

[CNET]

The Pixel 4A is cheaper than high-end devices largely because it lacks the frills in fancy phones, like wireless charging and a face scanner. But for what you pay, it's a great value. Its camera quality and bright screen are on a par with many of the best smartphones out there.

[The New York Times]


TL; DR

The Pixel 4A is cheap and basic, but most cheap phones don't get the basics right. The Pixel 4A does. And just to remind you: it does so for $349.

[The Verge]


You can pre-order the Pixel 4A at Google Store and BestBuy. And if you're interested in buying a Pixel 4, you can buy one here.


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