In retrospect, the Lion King remake has everything going on for it: Great technology coupled with great casting including the likes of Beyonce, Donald Glover, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, and there’s even James Earl Jones, the original voice of Mufasa. Yet somehow, it still came out… lacking
Don’t get me wrong. It was visually stunning. Acclaimed cinematographer Caleb Deschanel obviously went over and beyond for this production. The finest details—down to the sinewy features of the animals, seemed crazy realistic. It was almost like watching a wildlife documentary, except of course, you have talking and singing animals.
Yet this photorealism is also its downfall. Like News.au pointed out, “It means its characters’ faces are not particularly animated (Timon and Pumbaa seem to be the exception), and you lose so much of the emotion as a result.” Adding, “Many of the sequences, such as the I Just Can’t Wait to be King song and dance, feels dialled down by about 20 percent to accommodate the photorealism, and it feels flat, losing that extra sparkle that made the original The Lion King shine so brightly.”
In terms of storyline, it was pretty much the same. It’s somewhat understandable. According to Den of Geek, the original film released 25 years ago was the “highest-grossing of Disney’s traditional, non-CG animated classics.” With total earnings reportedly at $968 million worldwide, “the original is arguably the most beloved film of the Disney Renaissance era.” Director Jon Favreau probably felt that the classic tale a large generation have become attached to cannot be beaten. He then played it safe by sticking to the original film as close as possible. But clearly, his tactic did not work. For a couple of reasons. One is that the soundtrack didn’t quite fit the same way it used to. Datebook notes, “It points up the danger of moving from one medium to another: Change one thing, and you have to change other things, because now the other things mean something different.” For the cartoon animation, it obviously works because the theatrics of the music matched the theatrics of the cartoon. Aside from the I Just Can’t Wait to be King number, Scar’s Be Prepared sequence also fell short of the original one.
Moving on to other key moments in the film, of course, we have to talk about that scene. Just to clear, yes, Mufasa’s death was still heavy and heartbreaking in this remake. But obviously, watching a realistic lion fall to his death is a different experience. See, while Favreau mostly stuck with the original narrative, he did make it darker, evident through the literally dark scenes, as well as his take on Scar. Upon the release of photos, fans worried that creators made Pumba scary. But they couldn’t be more wrong. It was actually Scar who was legit scary in this remake. It is common knowledge that The Lion King’s narrative was based on Hamlet, and safe to say, Favreau’s version was closer to its Shakesperean roots.
That wasn’t the only notable change in the film. Apart from the original soundtrack, they also added in a new song—Beyonce’s Spirit. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I felt like Beyonce didn’t really fit in the whole movie. Honestly, her voice was distracting. It felt forced.
In conclusion, I can say without a doubt that the original one has more heart. Ultimately, it just felt like Disney wanted to show off their technological capabilities. They focused too much on the technical aspect of it, that somewhere along the way, they lost the Disney magic. Goes to show that technology alone, no matter how advanced, cannot give viewers the soul they are looking for in a story.
Regardless though, experts still say the movie is expected to top at the box office. Business Insider reports that it is “already outpacing Aladdin in ticket sales in the US, as well as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast.” In China, it earned $54.7 million in its opening weekend, topping Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, and even projected to ultimately make over $170 million, which would make it the highest-grossing Disney remake in China. In fact, from these numbers, Fandango predicts that The Lion King will be the second-biggest pre-seller of the year, following Avengers: Endgame.
So hey, Disney still wins. I guess in the end, the real loss here is with the new generation, who gets to grow up with this version of The Lion King.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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