Do We Really Need a New Lion King?

Michael Rossler

The sun rises slowly over the horizon, bathing the savannah in a soft red glow.  An antelope raises its head from the grass, looking outward across the plains, while a flock of cattle egret swoop past, gliding gracefully over a large, slow moving river.  Nearby, a massive rock juts out above the earth, casting a broad shadow on the animals below. On top of the rock, a baboon lifts a lion cub in the air, displaying him to the waiting crowd below.  Does this picture seem familiar to you? It should be, considering it was one of the biggest movies ever released. However, this version of the Lion King seems quite a bit different than the classic animated movie we grew up with.     

Originally released in 1994, the Lion King was an animated movie featuring the life of a young cub named Simba, and his subsequent journey through tragedy, hardship, and eventual maturation into adulthood.  The film was extremely well received by audiences across the world; in fact, accounting for inflation, the Lion King is the sixth highest grossing film of all time, and at its release was the highest grossing film ever until it was overtaken by Titanic in 1997.  Therefore, it was quite a shock to viewers of the Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins game when a trailer for the Lion King began to play during halftime. However, there was one big difference. Simba, Mufasa, Rafiki, and all of the

other beloved characters looked completely different.  Instead of appearing as animated characters, these new ones looked real, as if they could be plucked out of the screen and put in front of you as a live animal. According to Disney, this new movie is a “live action remake,” a term that had viewers confused. As one Twitter user commented, “I just watched that new Lion King trailer and I completely misunderstood what live action meant because I kept waiting for Beyonce to appear in a lion costume.”  This confusion has sparked a debate between many; is it an animated film, or is it a live action movie?

Traditionally, a live action film is one in which actors portray all roles, performing everything that the characters in the film do.  They can then be covered in a CGI (computer generated image) skin, enabling them to morph into a variety of people or beings. One notable example of this is in James Cameron’s Avatar, where actors Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana use motion capture cameras that transform their movements into the bodies of the ten foot tall Na’vi.  An animated film, however, does not use physical movement to create the final picture. They are either created by taking pictures of individual images and then combining them together into a film, or by using computer software to create the image online. By this definition, the new Lion King is in fact an animation. Rob Legato, the VFX supervisor for the film, however, believes that it is the opposite, due to the use of VR tools to do things like “explore cinematic angles from different characters viewpoints.”  Regardless of whether or not it is in fact an animated movie or “live action remake,” the real question is, are people going to see it?

The Lion King was not meant to be a success.  In fact, it was meant to be no more than a filler film while Disney worked on a different movie.  The “A” team was currently off working on Pocahontas, leaving everyone else to their own devices. This lack of oversight could be evidenced by things like the fact that one of the original titles for the Lion King was “King of the Jungle,” until someone finally noted that the story actually took place in the savannah.  When it came time for screening, however, everything was flipped upside down. Mike Eisner, the head of Disney’s reaction following a showing of the trailer exemplified the reaction of the entire country. He gathered the Lion King creative team together, and told them they had messed up. When asked why, he responded, “Because now the rest of the film has to be this good.”  When the movie was finally released in 1994, it upheld the standard it had set in its previews, and became an instant hit. As Scott Sampietro put it, “Of course I loved the Lion King; it was a classic, everyone liked it.” The charts and statistics agree. It was the highest earning movie in the

Domestic Box Office ever up to that point, and still holds the highest spot for hand animation movie, and G rated movies.  In total, it had a gross earning of more than $900,000,000, which adjusted for inflation is equivalent to approximately 1.6 billion dollars. If the reaction to the remake is anything like it was to the old, then it is sure to be a massive hit. Already, the numbers look good. Within 24 hours of its release, the trailer was viewed 224.6 million times around the globe, making it the second most watched debut trailer ever behind Avengers: Infinity War, and breaking the Disney record of biggest debut.  Not everyone is getting excited though.

Beyonce, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Eric Andre, and Keegan Michael-Key; these are just a few of the names of the brand new, all star cast.  If these aren’t enough, then add in one of the most iconic voices in Hollywood, and the voice of the original Mufasa, James Earl Jones. Despite the hype behind the release, some have a certain amount of skepticism towards the remake.  Diego Horisberger believes that the new Lion King “prays on nostalgia” in order to gain popularity, and has no plans to see the movie when it comes out, as he believes “the original is better.” These feelings can be seen reflected in around the world; in particular, some are worried that the movie will be an exact copy of the original, just in HD.  If that is the case, then why, as the saying goes, would you “fix something that ain’t broke?” Another movie produced by Disney that has fallen under the same “live action remake” category, The Jungle Book, released in 2016 under the same director, (Jon Favreau), followed the general plotline of its predecessor, but included new and different content that differentiated it, and enabled it to stand as its own film.  So far, the Lion King has not proven itself in any way to be anything more than a copy of the original, although this could be an intentional withholding meant to build suspense.

The Lion King is an American classic that is sure to live on and thrive for generations to come, whether it be through the original animated film, or the “live action” remake.  The lessons it teaches will remain prevalent until the end of time. The most important lesson of all?  Always be careful of what you do, because, as Scar put it, you’re “surrounded by idiots.”