Is Technology a Big Distraction?
Overpowering the strength of the story and the splendor of the visuals in Disney’s new live-action remake of its classic African savanna parable The Lion King, is the nagging question of why? Why is Disney leaning so hard into its ambition of regurgitating all of its animated content as live-action remakes?
Are we so creatively infertile that we’re no longer capable of original thought? Are there no more great stories left to tell? Recent news of the gaps in worker disparity coming from inside its theme parks hints at a Disney driven purely by unbridled greed. So it’s no stretch to consider that the Mouse House has sold its soul to the perfumed inner thigh of shameless capitalism. And now, it seems, that corporate greed has grown tentacles which stretch beyond its parks and are now penetrating the walls of its animation studios.
Think about it, other than 2013’s Frozen, what was the last great original Disney-proper animated film? Big Hero 6, anybody? Zootopia? Moana? Planes? Anybody? While those were certainly good films, and worthy of the Walt Disney Animation Studios banner, their transcendence into popular culture has certainly failed to materialize like Disney films of yore used to do. Let’s put it this way: When Frozen II comes out later this year, you can rest assured that it won’t boast the tagline “from the makers of Bolt and Valiant.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with director Jon Favreau’s reimagining of The Lion King (2019). Technically astute, and visually awe-inspiring, it is truly a marvel to behold. Stunning shots of animals, velvety waterfalls, and rocky outcroppings challenge reality with hyper-realized visual renderings. Then there’s that wonderful story which Disney’s go-to wunderkind uses to draw upon our love of the original while remaining respectful of the source material. But a bit too respectful, as his offering gives us very little new.
We know the story well. Returning is the tragic wildebeest stampede, lion cub Simba’s (JD McCrary) scheming uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the foreboding hyenas, and Simba’s Hakuna Matata pals Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner). It’s all there. But what’s missing is the surprise. We know what danger is coming, and we’re familiar with the consequences. Even composer Hans Zimmer’s familiar score is back for another go-around with those catchy numbers from Tim Rice and Elton John that have survived through the years thanks to the long-running stage musical. But we’ve seen and heard it all before as Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson have changed very little of the story’s structure and plot points.
As beautifully rendered as it is, the technology used in The Lion King becomes one of its biggest distractions. It is truly spell-binding to realize the advances CGI technology has made, even in a few years, as artists are finally able to lend a sense of weight and presence to rendered animals as toes spread, skin stretches, and individual hairs move on lion paws that push off on rocks. However, missing are the emotions and expressions we remember seeing in young Simba’s eyes as he comes face-to-face with his inevitable fate. Lions, meerkats, and even warthogs are certainly cuter -- not to mention amazingly more life-like -- when done as digital creations, but they aren’t better at story narration, proving the point that technology does not drive heart.
Look, I get it. Remakes are inevitable. It’s all about the money. And I know it is egregiously unfair to compare a reimagining to its predecessor. But in this case, it is absolutely necessary to do so. Though not an exact frame-for-frame remake, the fact that it sticks so closely to the original, coupled with the relatively short amount of time that has passed since the original’s release, makes the comparisons inevitable.
Updating some of the studio’s older animated film’s might make much more sense given that there would be an opportunity to modernize some of the messaging and update the antiquated themes. But, with remakes of Mulan, The Little Mermaid, and Lilo and Stitch already in the pipeline, it appears the studio is headed down a path of updating them all… regardless of age. But, that doesn’t change the fact that not all of them need to be revisited.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.)