For the increasingly fewer people who grew up in a world not dominated by streaming and the benevolent Russian hackers who bless us with their pirated content, movies seemed to have a higher level of importance. There was less content in general, and if you wanted to watch a movie, you either had to beg your parents for $15 and get them to drive you to the theatre, or you had to have your parents drive to a physical video store and ask some pimple-stained guy if they had the movie you were looking for. This meant that when you actually saw the movie, it felt like you accomplished something meaningful when in reality you’re not developing at all as a person and will one day make what you think is a good reference about said movie on a date with a girl, have her not understand the reference, and then spend the next three to four minutes trying to dig yourself out of a hole (we didn’t go on a second date).
The main feeling of importance for movies as a child, however, came simply from the fact that you were a child. If you fell in love with a movie, you truly fell in love with it the same way two young, stupid kids do, both of whom don’t know how to spend their lives not with each other. It, or he/she, holds a special place in your heart that can never be removed, no matter how much time marches on.
There’s an entire generation of children, and it seems to be truly the entire populace of a generation, that holds Disney’s The Lion King with a special place in their hearts. From the characters, to the story line, the landing of key lines, the redemption, the tragedy, the songs, and wondering how these animals managed to have a functioning government when the King & his family are most likely trying to constantly eat them, the movie was an absolute home-run.
In their infinite wisdom, the powers that be at the Disney Corporation decided to commission a remake of the original and take a sledgehammer covered in arsenic drenched spikes to all the aforementioned aspects that made the original movie a classic. Let me be clear: I do not care how much money Disney makes. I don’t care because like most Americans who don’t spend their days figuring out which big corporation do we now attach new labels of evil & greed to, I have more important things to worry about. Anything that I encounter in my day-to-day world, such as do I eat lunch at my desk or downstairs, trumps obsessing over how Disney’s stock price does.
Everyone knew this film was a blatant cash-grab, even though attaching that label doesn’t make much sense considering that any well-run company, especially one like Disney, builds a product in order to make money. My first thoughts when I heard there was a remake wasn’t excitement, but more so just asking “why?”. Many people, like myself, mocked the idea of a remake but we all knew we were going to see it–and so did Disney. Disney knows that it’s much more financially sound to do a remake or borrow from an existing brand like Amazon is doing with Lord of the Rings, than to invest in making a new show and hoping that it one day amounts to anything significant.
The original Lion King came out in 1994, which means that anyone who was a child then, let’s use the ages of between 4-12, is now at the age where there’s a very good chance that they have kids and that they are looking to share a big experience of their own childhood with their kids in a modern format. Rather than simply never ordering a remake of the original and just letting these parents stream the movie off Amazon for $3, Disney decided to give the youth of this nation a very early lesson in the importance of keeping your shareholders happy.
The movie was billed as having cutting-edge animation, as though that would make it better. Part of what makes older animation great for so many people, think prime Simpsons and early Family Guy, is that it’s not very good, but it’s exactly that which gives the animation it’s heart & soul. It was near-impossible to establish any sort of connection with the characters for this very reason, especially the lions as their faces simply didn’t change even when their moods would swing dramatically.
The movie’s cast was billed as the best of the best, as though being a good screen actor, singer, or comedian makes you a good voice actor for a role like this movie. Granted, Seth Rogen is a comedian, a screen actor and probably the best part of the movie, as well as the fact that I have no idea what actually makes a good voice actor. Regardless, the cast just didn’t fit the characters; Donald Glover and Beyonce were not well-suited, John Oliver has been elevated to a place in society that he does not deserve, and the lack of Whoopi Goldberg was appalling. The remake’s cast was actually too famous, and it played against them. I like Donald Glover, but I just couldn’t see him being the prince who fights for his throne in order to save the realm and become King. Beyonce’s accomplishments go without saying, but too my knowledge, she has such limited acting experience that I didn’t understand why she was in the movie in the first place.
These shortcomings most showed up at key moments, especially in lines that defined the original movie. I cannot think of more than the most egregious one off the top of my head, but every line that was memorable from the original was delivered with less conviction and landed with less of an impact in the remake. Hands down, the most damning example of this was when Scar kills Mufasa and says, “Long live the King.” In the original, it is such a memorable line that conveys the true weight and thought of Scar’s betrayal; in the remake it was almost as casual as ordering Wendy’s.
The music from the original was done a tremendous disservice in the remake as the iconic songs that helped launch the Lion King into a different stratosphere of popularity, and I’m assuming a big player into turning it into a Broadway hit, just didn’t fit into this new world. The movie’s refusal to have the characters move around during the songs in such an unrealistic way as they did in the original hurt the music in a way where what should’ve been a slam dunk turned into a half-hearted layup. Scar’s “Be Prepared” ballad from the original was memorable in that it was 1) a great song, 2) showed just how truly devious he was, and 3) was an entire generation’s first introduction to the marching formations of the Third Reich.
The music also goes into the larger point of where I refuse to call anything that they just copied and pasted from the original good, even if it was actually good. It doesn’t take any skill or a Masters in Writing from NYU to hit Control + C on your computer and then pawn it off as some new sort of content that deserves respect or money. Everything that they took from the original was done either at a similar or subpar level to what they put on screen back in 1994. Nothing that they added, with the exception of one line from Seth Rogen where he took a vague shot via a food comment at the psycho hippies who despise Disney for simply existing, was a worthwhile addition.
Much of my critique towards the Lion King felt somewhat inevitable. There’s only so much you can do in a remake about lions because, after all, they are lions; they are Godless killing machines who worry more about ripping an animal’s throat out than plotting out their policy initiatives for when they one day sit on their father’s throne. Lions do not have a human element as they are obviously not human; Disney couldn’t get an actual Lion to speak and act, at least not without dealing with those bastards over at the Actor’s Guild first. Disney wasn’t going to remake the movie with animation that even somewhat resembled the original; if they were going to do it, it had to be with a clearly superior animation format and that ultimately played a role in the movie’s failure.
Despite my many beefs with this movie, I do have hope for another Disney remake, Mulan. While similar to The Lion King, in that the animation is from a completely different era and relies heavily on music and very cartoonish character movements, Mulan can use actual humans to act. The actors can reshape the characters that many loved and give them new personality. They do not have to be pigeon-holed into repeating lines from the original and doing the music (It’s been reported they aren’t); they can bring new life to what is a timeless tale of growing up, honor, overcoming discrimination, family, and the reality that there are times in your life when it is worth picking up your sword (metaphorically or physically) and fighting for what you believe in. Mulan’s relevance will definitely be helped by this new gender-obsessed world that we live in where there’s never such a thing as being too woke. That ease with which Disney could pander to that world is obvious and would make sense if they’re looking to appease lazy mainstream critics and The New York Times’ Gender section; I don’t think they will because Mulan’s initial failures are essential to the movie. I believe they will focus more on not offending Chinese culture, and showing the true difficulty that Mulan faces in a world that focuses on limiting her ambition. If the remake brings disgrace to the incredible legacy of Mulan, I will refrain from engaging with any Disney product unless absolutely necessary, which basically means watching any content online or on TV.
Given all that I mentioned, what should we do? Do we fight back against these forces of unoriginal content? These remakes, spin-offs and new adaptations of classical and beloved content are coming, and they don’t appear to be stopping given the changing and uncertain world of how people access content, coupled with the fact that Disney has brought in a cool $400million to date from their abomination of a Lion King remake. Rather than fight back, I suggest we all just embrace this and hope for the best. Go on and live your life worry-free of what Disney or any of these companies might reboot next. Go read a book, learn an instrument, or call your parents; all of those things are better than realizing that your childhood and all it’s fondness is nothing more than a product of a handful of corporations who have been planning this all along.
- Nostalgia is an Invention of Disney Executives to Get Your Money - August 3, 2019