Remake, reboot, retread, 2D cel animation to computer-generated animation to live-action animation – The Lion King (2019) opens the Pandora’s Box on an array of cinematic terms, trends, and terrors.
The terms (remake, reboot, and retread) refer to the ongoing epidemic of America no longer being able to make anything original in the last two decades. Here’s proof of what has happened (just look at how the majority of remakes are post 2000): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_film_remakes. Here’s the proof of what’s still to come (have a bucket handy for redundant regurgitation): https://www.imdb.com/list/ls052091214/
The trends refer to the animated evolution of 2D cel (celluloid) classics like Bambi (1942) and The Little Mermaid (1989) being replaced by Pixar computer technology in such works as Toy Story (1995) and The Incredibles (2004), and these being one-upped by photorealism, the recent movement to take what was previously animated (animals singing) and making them ultra real (real animals singing). A good example of the photo-real or live-action animation is The Jungle Book (2016).
The terrors refer to the divisive response this movie has instigated because we don’t know what to think about real animals singing. Back in ’94, the 2D “cartoon” ones emoted just fine and were a part of a Disney masterpiece, beloved by all. That movie was called The Lion King. So, why is there another “Lion King?” This causes confusion and terror.
Let’s face it, we know why this live-action retread was made in the first place – money. And, if our youngsters never saw the original, they won’t know the difference and psychologically cannot be nostalgic for the original anyway.
No, the most conflicted audience member for this movie is someone like me. I already saw this brilliant postmodern Hamlet tale of the living Savanna when it was animated. I cried when I saw the animated Simba shed a literal cartoon tear after his father was murdered by the sinister (and animated) Scar. (Shout out to film critic, Jay, for this keen observation on that tear: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/80182352/posts/42477.) I remember the sunrise animated. Heck, I remember Elton John’s voice “animated!”
I was already a jaded mark before walking into the theatre.
So, what did I think of the remade “Lion King?”
I loved it.
The visuals are awestriking, the story – even as a rerun with some brilliant minor additions – still pushes the right typical-Disney emotional buttons, the brand new vocal acting is refreshing (especially Seth Rogen, whose Cookie Monster voice works here, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who does the impossible and seamlessly replaces Jeremy Irons), the singing and score are fantastic (welcome aboard, Beyoncé – you’re very talented, and thank you for coming out of retirement, Hans Zimmer), and I found myself teary-eyed twice, so something must have worked.
Interestingly enough, because the so-called photorealism isn’t 100% clear and polished, and it’s difficult to see the real animal mouths speak and sing, these imperfections actually make it easier to suspend disbelief, thus imitating the experience of watching cartoon animals. To the movie’s advantage, we know these human trait behaviors can’t really happen in animals, but the fun is in trying to believe. Call me a sucker. I’ll call myself pleasantly surprised.
Now, I can’t go much further with my praise of this remade “Lion King” because it’s still a shameless Disney cash grab, and it’s still a copycat (mind the pun). However, there is still some depth and escape in this new, state of the art technology. It is the stuff that can only happen in the movies. And, isn’t that what the movies are all about?
The Lion King (2019) ***1/2