Remakes have been very popular in Hollywood, especially now more than ever. Disney is Hollywood’s biggest studio, and it relies heavily on the repetition of popular productions’ successes. “The Beauty and the Beast,” “The Jungle Book” and “Aladdin” are three of their most beloved animated features that have been remade, and “The Little Mermaid” is next. “The Lion King” was eagerly awaited by the fans, as it is one of Disney’s most popular classics, but does it hold up to the immense expectations, and does the technical progress of the last 25 years alone justify the remake?
The plot of “Lion King” is well known, but if you haven’t seen the original film or need some context, here’s a quick rundown: When Mufasa, the king of the Pride Lands has a new cub named Simba, his brother Scar envies the little lion for being next in line to the throne. Simba idolizes his father and can’t wait to follow his example in leadership, but after a successful intrigue from Scar, he is forced into exile. Shortly after, his uncle takes over the crown and starts a terror regime with the help of Hyenas. When Simba learns years later what happened, he decides to return and challenge Scar for the crown, but it isn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Luckily he has a wild bunch of friends who will help him!
First things first, Disney is aware of the movie’s popularity. This is after all the best selling videotape of all times: it was a two-time Oscar-winner, and the second most successful movie in the USA in 1994. For the new film, production did not change it up a lot. The most striking differences are the slightly slower pacing and a new song from Beyoncé, who also voices Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest. Since already published songs don’t qualify for Oscars, adding a new one to the repertoire doesn’t come as a surprise move. Of course, the beloved classics written by Tim Rice and Elton John are still there, and über-composer Hans Zimmer is again responsible for the score.
The voice actors all did a fantastic job. James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, while Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover as Scar and Simba respectively don new accents for their roles. It is also remarkable how many roles were cast with African Americans, in particular as the lions. The success of “Black Panther” really shook up Hollywood, and we keep seeing more diversity in blockbuster movies now. That being said, the biggest scene-stealers are Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as Pumbaa and Timon, as well as late night host John Oliver as Zazu the bird.
Disney also did an outstanding job with the animation. It is hard to believe, but this movie consists of 100% CGI and is not a real-life-version of the famous animation, as often falsely stated. The quality is not only photorealistic but also displays the perfect anatomy of the animals; you can even see muscles and bones moving underneath the fur. Furthermore, the lighting is so spectacular in that when the light breaks on the fur of these animals, it illuminates the tiny water drops running down their skin, and you completely forget that what you’re seeing on screen is completely animated. Critics and audiences were just raving about the quality of “Toy Story 4″, but this is on a whole new level. However, this is also the biggest point of criticism: In this photorealistic world of speaking animals, the charm and the cuteness of the animated version completely is lost. Obviously Mufasa doesn’t bleed in the cartoon version, but in a photorealistic world, something isn’t right when he lies there like he’s sleeping after being trampled to death by a stampede (this is not a spoiler anymore, is it?). The same problem was already clouded “The Chronicles of Narnia” film series as well.
We can remake every movie every 25 years, but who wants that? There are plenty original ideas out there that deserve more attention than all these remakes. Imagine if Pixar remade the first “Toy Story” instead of creating the best-reviewed movie series of all time. What’s the better approach? In the end, the answer is of a financial nature, but more original stories and less uninspired CGI showcases would get my vote. If fewer kids will see the original version, this otherwise wonderful movie wasn’t worth making. It seems the sole justification of this remake was technical progress, but that isn’t enough.
Clearly, Disney doesn’t need to worry. This remake of “The Lion King” will be successful. There’s a whole generation that wants to see the new version of their favorite childhood movie. Likewise the same can go for the generation of technology today; who may be so used to ultra realistic graphics that a perceived hand-drawn animation doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Sadly, the perfect, photorealistic animation will never come close to replacing the love and imagination that made Disney cartoons so successful in the first place.
The Lion King (2019); Directed by John Favreau; Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson; Starring Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones; Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel; Music by Hans Zimmer; Edited by Mark Livolsi, Adam Gerstel; Produced by John Favreau, Jeffrey Silver, Karen Gilchrist; 118 min, PG.