As a kid in the ‘90s, I grew up with a lot of Disney movies. To say they influenced me would be an understatement, and to this day I’m likely to reference them on a fairly regular basis. For example, I almost always misquote an old expression by instead quoting Cogsworth from “Beauty and the Beast” — “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.” Disney has been on my mind a lot again these days due to the number of remakes they’re releasing. After seeing the most recent “The Lion King,” Cogsworth’s line came back to my mind. I think Disney may need to remember its own line, and re-examine what is or isn’t “baroque.”
Disney making live-action versions of previous movies isn’t a new phenomenon, but over the past few years it’s become an obvious trend. At this point it seems obvious that Disney plans to keep working its way through its animated classics, giving us live-action versions that seem bigger and better. But not everyone is convinced the new versions are either of those things.
While Disney remakes remain popular in the box office, they also face a lot of critiques. Many think the remakes are nothing but a money grab, an unoriginal way to play off the nostalgia of millennials who grew up with the originals. Personally I think there’s some truth to this — but as a millennial who grew up with the originals, I, for one, will happily let them both play on my nostalgia and grab my money.
I am, overall, a fan of the Disney remakes. That’s not to say I can’t also find fault with them. Some I enjoy immensely, while others I don’t care to see more than once. My main criteria is that a remake needs to find a balance between honoring the original and finding its own unique take on the story. “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” have been my two favorite remakes so far because I felt that they both balanced following the original plot, paying homage to people’s favorite parts, but also enhanced the story, filling in plot holes, developing characters, and adding a distinctive spin.
I hoped “The Lion King” would achieve this balance. When I saw the movie, I did enjoy it. But walking out, I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed.
“The Lion King’s” well-intentioned efforts mostly backfired. It erred so far on the side of honoring the original that it didn’t distinguish itself enough, and any attempts to be unique felt like an afterthought that never fully developed.
The film did attempt to add to the story and characters, which sometimes worked. Zazu was both funnier and a more valuable character. Timon and Pumba and the hyenas added clever new humor. However, most changes fell flat. Attempts to develop Scar, Sarabi, Nala, and Shenzi’s backstories didn’t feel meaningful or necessary. Rafiki, on the other hand, was minimized, seeming less mysterious, magical, and wise. Many changes struggled due to timing — insignificant moments were stretched out until they became boring, while emotional moments and dialogue felt rushed.
“The Lion King’s” strongest attempt to stand out came through its realistic CGI animation. And it succeeded in being visually gorgeous. But by focusing so much on looking realistic, it lost much of the story’s impact. Yes, the characters are animals, but the story and emotions are human. Trying so hard to look real undercuts the expression and loses impact.
But “The Lion’s King’s” main problem wasn’t what it changed, but its failure to change enough to become its own story. I’ll admit, I loved that the opening “Circle of Life” song was essentially a shot-by-shot recreation of the original. That felt like an appropriate homage to the genius of the original. But after that, I expected it to become its own film. But a vast majority of the script and many shots were unchanged. This left me constantly comparing the two films and questioning the necessity of any changes. And as I watched it, I just kept wanting to see the original. I did rewatch it later, and couldn’t help thinking that most of what I liked about the remake actually came from the original, where it was done better.
For all my criticism, I think the new “Lion King” is absolutely worth seeing. The animation is gorgeous, the cast is excellent, the music is beautiful, and the humor is spot on. However, I know it’s not one I’ll come back to often. If anything, I’ll just watch the original more.
Some critics of the remakes argue that Disney is unoriginal and lazy, reusing the same stories instead of coming up with new content. While I agree that original stories are important, I would argue that very few of Disney’s movies, including the animated classics being put on a pedestal, are totally original. Most are fairy tale retellings, and even “The Lion King” is a twist on “Hamlet.” Humans throughout time have told the same stories again and again. The point is finding why that story is important, sometimes adding to it or telling it from a different angle in order to bring out its relevance again. I believe that’s what the Disney remakes should do.
Unfortunately, I believe “The Lion King” missed the mark. Remakes should be unique enough to justify their own existence. If it’s the same story, why not just go back to the first? In other words, if it’s not “baroque,” why try to fix it?
Hannah Romero is the circulation assistant at the Rocket-Miner. She can be contacted at email@example.com.