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It’s official: The Lion King remake is another massive hit for Disney. It also now reigns over Harry Potter’s last hurrah in 2011 for the best July release EVER. Now, it’s not a matter of if it will pass a billion worldwide, but when. This isn’t a huge surprise; the studio probably could see it a mile away. The Lion King is Disney’s crowned-jewel and remaking it was just as close as printing money as the House of Mouse could get (even at a $200 million-plus budget).
But think about this: did you go and see the new Lion King because of Jon Favreau’s specific photo-realistic vision or were you going to be intrigued about a new take on Lion King for the big screen either way? I’d guess audiences would have poured in from the blistering summer heat to enjoy a live-action reimagining of Lion King from Disney even if the remake went bolder than it’s nearly shot-for-shot and line-by-line product theaters are playing.
With Lion King, Disney missed a shot to flex its creative muscles. By no means was the studio backed in a corner to make the same movie it did 25 years ago. It chose to. Tons of fans seem to be perfectly content with seeing a rerun of the animated classic drawn with new brushstrokes. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have waited in line for a different, more inspired concept based on The Lion King characters.
Why The Remake Is Uninspired
The central problem with The Lion King remake to get riled up about is how much of a copycat it is. Many of us had the animated original on repeat as a kid. Even if you didn’t, chances are you remember the iconic shots, lines and big moments of the original. So to go to the movies only to end up mouthing the words before the characters get a chance to is arguably a passive and lazy movie-going experience.
Let's also not forget the writers and animators of the original movie that have been mimicked. Some of the creatives even spoke out earlier this year about not being credited or compensated for the film, since the remake heavily borrows from the specifics of their work. (It should be noted that this is partly due to the Animation Guild’s shortage of protection and residuals for its members’ work.) Some critics have also pointed out the lack of emotion the central characters have in the photo-realistic format, especially considering they are known for cracking jokes and singing show tunes.
I got you, Disney! If one of you happen to have your hands on a time machine (they must by now, right?) and would like to give it another shot, I have a couple ideas for some more inspired versions of the “live-action” Lion King. They are still pulled from the studio’s already existing material, but do require a bit of additional creativity and reimagining. I think Disney missed its chance to draw from the Broadway musical version of the movie or The Lion King 1 ½ in a remake!
Live Action Goes Broadway
There may not be cutting-edge CGI of the African Savannah, but what if Disney really leaned into the live-action characterization of Lion King and actually made it feature the actors? (I don’t mean like Cats. Stage makeup!) Audiences would have no problem buying a ticket to see Beyoncé's presence grace the big screen either way, and she’s amongst a star-studded cast who would have crushed it performing the Broadway version of the film. Would witnessing the actors in headdresses really be any more odd than true-to-life lions being made to talk?
The Lion King cast is packed with talent who would have been enhanced by in-person performances. Come on, seeing Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre riff as hyenas in person would have been a treat! Disney has largely ignored the Broadway versions of its animated films in past live-action remakes, for example, by skipping fan-favorite songs “Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin and “Home” from Beauty and the Beast. They also missed the shot here to explore Lion King musical numbers including “Shadowland.”
Live-action aside, even if the photo-realistic version had implemented more of what came from the musical could have enhanced the film. Beauty and Aladdin brought in new prominent songs for the characters to sing and they are the highlights of the remakes! We're living in a time when full-fledged movie musicals are making money and inspiring audiences! Just think about the success of La La Land, The Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins Returns and Mamma Mia 2!
Switching Up The Perspective
The new Lion King has been heavily praised for Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s Timon and Pumbaa. The reason why their characters are standouts in the film is because they did a ton of improv together and changed up some of the original material. Now, what if they had served as the narrators of the Lion King remake? Fans can’t get enough of the iconic duo as it is! Disney could have borrowed from the underrated 2004 straight-to-video release The Lion King 1 ½!
The reason why implementing this sequel into a retelling of Lion King works is because it is self-aware that people know about the original. In Lion King 1 ½ , Timon and Pumbaa regularly break the fourth wall and take creative liberties to tell the familiar story from a refreshing perspective. I’m not saying Disney should have recreated Lion King 1 ½ shot for shot, but instead found inspiration in its format to use Eichner and Rogen’s talent even more.
There’s a glimmer of this a couple times in 2019’s Lion King and they are some of the best moments. For example, when Timon doesn’t stop Pumbaa from saying “farted” in the new version of “Hakuna Matata” it’s self-aware that audiences are expecting Timon to stop him. Also, when Timon sings "Be Our Guest," it pokes fun at other Disney properties and gets the biggest laugh in the film. If Timon and Pumbaa had room to play around with the story, we could have also delved into their backstories and maybe the relationship with Mufasa and Scar more deeply as well.
Or maybe Disney can give the green light to a Timon and Pumbaa spinoff? Although this article clearly goes into “what if” territory too little too late, I think Disney and audiences are settling for more of the same when we could be encouraging more imagination and surprises from our remakes. If the studio is going to go back into the old cookbook, the least it could do is spice it up a bit!
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