I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Disney Live Action Remakes = Lazy Cash Grab.
There is no instance of this being more true than in the remake of The Lion King.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie was great. Every frame of the animation, if you can even call it that, was photo-realistic and I’m sure was a huge technological leap for the industry.
But the problem is that not one part of this movie (with the singular exception of their brilliant workaround for having a meerkat wear a hula skirt) was better than the original. Even as good as the animation was, it lacked what was so defining about the first movie: the artistry.
There are times when these remakes work. I was a big fan of the new “Dumbo” and even loved 2019’s “Aladdin.” I also think the remakes work for older movies that may be too dated to be appreciated now (for example, the exorcism of O.G. “Dumbo’s” implicit racism). In these anomalies, though, the new version was respectful to the old while opening up some new perspective or clever twist.
But The Lion King isn’t that old and is 100% classic status, meaning unlike Dumbo today’s parents probably already watched the original with their kids so it’s not like this is introducing the movie to a new generation. The original Lion King was also one of the first Disney movies that showcased regal, noble African themes (even if the characters took the form of a pride of lions rather than a princess) so it matters to a lot of people on a different level, unlike this near clone of a remake that hardly matters at all.
I get it, I get it. You mess with a classic too much an people grab the pitchforks. I mean my husband almost burned down The Magic Kingdom’s Tiki Room a few years ago when they tried updating it to include Iago and Zazu. On the other hand, you don’t change it enough and you’re accused of making a, well, eh hmmm…lazy cash grab; but The Lion King (2019) took little risk and earned few rewards. Even Beyonce’s rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” failed to soar despite her flawless vocal. And there it is again: technical mastery at the sacrifice of artistic soul.
I also don’t understand having James Earl Jones reprise his role as Mufasa. Nobody could do it better, and I can’t think of a single person who should try but that’s kind of the point of a remake. Nathan Lane equally defined Timon, yet they took a (measured) risk with Billy Eichner and it absolutely paid off. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Eichner and Rogen’s Timon and Pumbaa stole the show. The problem is, the movie’s not called The Meerkat (or Warthog) King.
So, here’s the deal. Disney can animate realistic cute baby animals like nobody’s business (I mean, baby Pumbaa—come on!). But that’s material for a meme, not a blockbuster.
To be fair, I found myself looking around the theater after it was over and there were a lot (I mean a lot) of smiling faces. I was actually thrilled that so many people seemed to enjoy it so much. Still, even though I know this movie will make a ton of money (hence the “cash grab”), I can’t imagine it ever becoming as beloved as the original, baby Pumbaa or not.
Sure, it’s a fun family night at the movies, but family night would be just as fun watching the original on the couch.
P.S. I have to add there’s an inexplicably long sequence of a lock of Simba’s hair floating across the savannah. If you watch American Dad, tell me you weren’t reminded of that episode where Stan turns Steve into the old man so he doesn’t have to deal with a pubescent teenager!