Say what you like about Disney: but they get a plan and they stick to it.
Starting with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, the House of Mouse has been releasing a steady stream of ‘live-action’ adaptation of some of its most beloved animated classics. The sarcastic quotation marks are needed because many of these film have been less ‘live-action’ and more a smorgasbord of CGI. Whilst you could arguably level the same criticism against most mainstream action or sci-fi tentpole these days, the distinction becomes a lot more apparent when watching their latest triumph of digital wizardry: a near shot for shot remake of the 1994 hit, The Lion King.
The original Lion King was heralded as Disney’s return to mainstream culture after a long dry-patch which had seen them make a number of ill-fated stabs at live-action cinema (real live-action this time). The winning combination of the studio’s iconic hand-drawn animation, an exciting untapped setting and the music of Elton John led the original film to a huge box-office campaign, not mention a home video run which would see it solidifying itself in the hearts and minds of children all over the world.
It’s safe to assume that even before the roaring success of Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book adaptation, a Lion King remake was always on the cards and given the general goodwill that the former film received it makes sense that this new remake should be helmed by the same man. The same uncanny attention to detail has been paid to the character models here and, married with Favreau’s nifty VR camerawork, you’d be forgiven for mistaking these 1s and 0s for the real thing if it weren’t for all that pesky dialogue and awkward blocking.
As I mentioned, The Lion King is a near shot for shot remake of the original. Sure, some songs have been given a trim, Timon and Pumba’s relationship has been reformulated as a cypher for a modern queer relationship and one of the villainous hyenas have been given a touch more character treatment – but the film’s emotional beats remain unchanged from the original. You can hardly blame the writers for playing it safe. When you’re working with such a successful blueprint, not to mention the weight of expectation from fans of all ages who will want to see their beloved nostalgia soaked memories treated with respect, it must be difficult to put forward any new ideas.
So we look to the blisteringly real animation and the voice of Beyonce and Donald Glover to reinvigorate interest, but that’s where the film falls flat. Glover, usually an energetic present, is dialling in this work and although Beyonce is bringing her usual A-game to the tunes, she’s not a convincing voice actor and there are moments when you’ll find her delivery cringe worthy.
Critically, The Lion King has under-performed massively falling well short of the high bar set by The Jungle Book and even garnering less positive reviews than the criminally underwatched Pete’s Dragon remake. Disney won’t mind though. Currently the film ranks as the 9th top grossing film worldwide ever and, not even 5 weeks out the gate, it’s not difficult to imagine it climbing higher still. Only time will tell if audiences keep responding positively to more spoon- fed nostalgia, but with six more live action remakes in production and more still in development, Disney aren’t stopping to find out.