Walt Disney’s remake of the 1994 animated musical, The Lion King, hasn’t exactly been a roaring success.
The photorealistic version of the heartwarming tale about a lion cub’s journey to adulthood had a healthy box office start: Its opening weekend in China in mid-July raked in nearly $55 million (the film launches in other markets on July 19). But critics have been lukewarm on the new film, heralding it for its visual effects while at the same time poo-pooing its lack of “energy and heart.”
“People love the original so much that it’s really hard to live up to what fans are looking for,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore.
To be sure, fans showed up to see the new, high-tech version of the familiar franchise—at least on opening weekend in China. But even if they continue to do so elsewhere in the world, there’s a risk that these kinds of remakes will ultimately taint Disney’s legacy.
The Mouse House came out with two other similar movies, both shot in so-called “live action” method, this year alone: Dumbo and Aladdin. (Live action utilizes real-life photography and videography combined with computer-generated images.) Critics ranked both movies considerably lower than their predecessors. Dumbo, the 1941 classic, has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, while its remake’s score is 47%. The new Aladdin suffered a similar fate: The original, which came out in 1992, scored 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the more recent version is at 56%—despite bringing in nearly $1 billion in worldwide box office receipts.
Disney has even more high-tech remakes in the works, including an updated Mulan and The Little Mermaid. But it will take more than visual effects to dazzle audiences and critics.
A version of this article appears in the August 2019 issue of Fortune.
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