A cursory perusal of the reviews for Disney's new remake of The Lion King reveals that even some of the pointedly negative ones will concede that it is, at least, a very visually amazing, even beautiful film. This is wrong. It looks like a dead dog's asshole on a hot day. I have never been to the savannas of East Africa, but I have read enough National Geographic to know that the region is not a brown-on-brown hellscape in which a few trees desperately scrape their way through the dirt to provide a thin, sickly plotch of olive green here and there beneath the watery white sky. But you would not know this from The Lion King, a film in which the difference between fertile grasslands and sun-bleached desert scrub is mostly clear because the musical score is much sadder in the latter setting.

What the film is, is photorealistic. Mind-blowingly photorealistic. Almost certainly the most photorealistic computer-generated imagery on record, for that matter. So it is at least impressive. You know what else is photorealistic? Photographs. And if you're looking to spend that much time and money and manpower crafting a version of Africa that looks unbelievably, amazingly exactly like the real Africa only extremely drab and ugly, I have stop and wonder why you would do this thing. Photorealistic fantastic alien planets, sure. Photorealistic African landscapes just seem indulgent. And then also, we must point out that besides the unprecedented perfection of the landscape, The Lion King stars several talking animals, including lions, who are also photorealistic, and designed to move realistically on top of it. Ought these animals to be photorealistic? Is there a tangible yield to this?

The yield seems to simply be: ~realism~. As though realism itself was art, rather than a means to accomplish art. Director Jon Favreau, who has regressed so far from 2016's CGI remake The Jungle Book that I can only assume he's been replaced by an alien pod person, has claimed in interviews that his main aesthetic approach was to stage The Lion King as though it was a nature documentary. Do keep in mind, he makes this claim of a movie about lion Richard III plotting to kill lion Edward V. Also a movie in which a singing meerkat and a singing warthog break the fourth wall to note that you can say "fart" in a children's movie in 2019, whereas you could not in 1994. But damned if it doesn't look like a nature documentary, albeit the kind of shabby, shallow ones (such as those released by Disney!) in which a dulcet-voiced narrator pretends that the random animal behavior in front of us is part of a banal anthropomorphic story. Anyway, the camera sometimes pretends to be handheld and have a physical lens and all. Because it is more Realistic that way.

In this sense, The Lion King somehow, grotesquely, feels like the culmination of all the 124 years since Auguste and Louis Lumière first wowed the socks off of those folks in that Parisian café. Most of commercial cinema history has been bent towards ever increasing realism: they took silent pictures and gave them sound; they took black-and-white movies and gave them color; they took arch movie star delivery of prim, literary dialogue and replaced it with sweaty humans mumbling and grunting; they took bright, round, hand-drawn animation and replaced it with finely- detailed simulations of lighting in a 3-D environment. The most popular pieces of filmed media of the current decade, Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are about taking dragons and comic book superheroes and making them feel physically plausible and dramatically grounded. And now we have arrived at the ultimate point of all cinema: the most advanced technology in the world can be spent rendering every strand of hair on the most expensive lions in history so that we can at long last achieve the undying human dream of making big cats rigidly clack their mouths open while their eyes don't move, just like Francis the Talking Goddamn Mule was doing 70 years ago. But technologically.

This, anyway, is where we are a quarter of a century after the original 1994 The Lion King arguably set the high-water mark for Disney-style 2-D character animation in the post-1960 era.* The new film replicates all of the flaws of the original - the shallow characters, the jerry-rigged story, the robust monarchism, the insipid Tim Rice lyrics - and makes several of them worse, while placing all of the strengths of the original - the exquisite character animation, the sumptuous and thickly-saturated colors, the frequently warm and rich voice acting - in a burning dumpster. The story is identical: only two scenes have been added, both of them basically clarifying things that we could have assumed happened in the original, and one of them transparently devised solely to justify the price tag of casting iconic singer and (it turns out) charmless voice actor Beyoncé Knowles in the throwaway role of the Love Interest. The rest of the scenes have been slowed-down, stretched-out, and inflated enough for this film to be exactly thirty minutes longer than the original (in perfect proportion: the point that is exactly halfway through this movie's running time is exactly halfway through the 1994 movie's running time), though I haven't the slightest idea why, or where, or how. It is routinely a shot-for-shot, line-for-line redo different only in that this film's character's don't visibly emote, and its actors are, across the board, worse than the actors in 1994, including James Earl Jones playing the same part he had 25 years ago (the single possible exception is Seth Rogen as flatulent warthog Pumbaa, who has a sweet earnestness that Ernie Sabella's grungy dimwit lacked. Meanwhile, there needs to be a special hole carved out in Hell for non-actor John Oliver after the botch he's made out of the smug British bird originally voiced rather winningly by Rowan Atkinson).

It's not hard to thus simply list out a head-to-head comparison of all the ways the new film is a humiliating also-ran, but I don't know if it's productive. I also don't know if its necessary: The Lion King '19 is perfectly bad enough without having to point out that Chiwetel Ejiofor's Scar is a dull, growling brute compared to Jeremy Irons's serpentine, poisonously fey version of the same character, or that Donald Glover has somehow found a way to be even whinier and more shrill than Matthew Broderick.

For one thing, that much-celebrated visual effects technology hits some extremely hard limits, and it hits them fast: the "Circle of Life" sequence that opens the film somehow manages to have godawful compositing in a film that shouldn't even have any compositing, except there we are, and when Rafiki the baboon (John Kani) plucks baby Simba - a hideous creation, whose molten facial features and unearthly glow are the one titanic failure of rendering and animation in the film, looking a bit like if the uncanny Tigger from Disney's 2018 Christopher Robin fucked the Elephant's Foot from Chernobyl - from the embrace of his mother Sarabi (Alfre Woodard, who I guess is just as good as Madge Sinclair was in the original, but with this meager slip of a role, what's the point?), it feels like a very real baboon floating in space several inches away from a very real lion on a very real rock, as he handles some kind of animal-shaped forcefield that does not subscribe to the rules of Euclidean space. Not to mention that even at their very, very best, the VFX are succeeding in bringing to life something so fundamentally misconceived that shittier animation would probably have benefitted the feature, since then it would actually look like a cartoon.

For another thing, we don't need to grimly compare the musical numbers in this film (which have been increased by one: Beyoncé's overproduced, thematically-disconnected "Spirit", about which I perhaps feel overly salty because it is has been used in place of the original Hans Zimmer score at one of the absolute best parts of that entire score. Because, of course, this is pretty much note-for-note the same score, only with gaudier orchestrations) to the numbers from 1994 to find that these numbers are dogshit. You can make photorealistic CGI lions talk - I mean, you can't, we have 118 minutes of evidence placed right in front of us, right here, but you can make their mouths go - but you know something you cannot do? You cannot make photorealistic CGI lions dance. And so the three big production numbers  - "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", "Be Prepared", and "Hakuna Matata" - have been turned into longish stretches of animals, like, walking. And running sometimes. "Be Prepared" is an especially amazing abortion of a "song", jettisoning the weird, tortured wordplay of Rice's original lyrics along with the pounding miltarism of Elton John's music, for a sort of odd combination of marching chant and beat poem that eventually resolves, for about five seconds, in what can be recognised as a melody. While this happens, Ejiofor produces syllables rhythmically in a fashion that suggests that he has no idea what "singing" is, and tried to fake it after reading a definition in the dictionary. Thankfully, it is very short, and gotten over with quickly.

It's all so fucking dispiriting. It definitely gets better as it goes along: during "Circle of Life" I felt like I was watching the actual, literal death of cinema as an art form, but for almost all of the rest of it, it's just a shitty exercise in doing exactly what Favreau's The Jungle Book did, only uglier, less persuasively, and without a flesh-and-blood human to serve as our emotional anchor. And when the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner, about whom I know nothing other than I find him nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying) shows up, we finally get a character who has, like facial expressions, and body language, and that's a real treat. Still, the film's peaks are extremely uninteresting, being as they are solely of note for their technological whiz-bang, and its lows are frequent and languidly stretched out. It is an agonising sit, starting in the deepest pit of the Uncanny Valley and never budging more than a few feet as it displays a litany of stunningly convincing lion zombies to suck all the heart and soul out of entertainment itself.

On the other hand: for the second half of the end credits, Disney commissioned international treasure Lebo M to record a new Zulu version of "He Lives in You" from the 1995 "Inspired by the movie" CD Rhythm of the Pride Lands and the Broadway musical based on the movie, and it is delectable, and we of course wouldn't have it if the remake didn't exist. So, I mean, I'm grateful for that.

*Why post-1960? Because Disney's Sleeping Beauty came out in 1959, and not even the best of that studio's 1990s output is a patch on the ass of Sleeping Beauty.