Talk about taking the easy road. Almost every film on your resume is a remake, reboot, or re-imagining of Disney/Marvel property. The only wrinkle in your whole filmography might be A Wrinkle in Time, a high-profile flop that no doubt had you doubling down on your profit-obsessed strategy to reduce, reuse, and recycle whatever’s already in the vaults of the Magic Kingdom.
Enter The Lion King - arguably the crown jewel of Disney’s modern animated classics. The original film is so good, I couldn’t even feign cynicism at the prospect of seeing it all again on the big screen. I was in from the word go; at the theatre on opening day. No thanks to any marketing from you, Mr. President. I avoided all trailers, press promos, and soundtrack releases so I could go in fresh. I was more than ready to let the photorealistic palette seduce me and for the songs to once again send me soaring into nostalgic bliss. One note from the opening song, that’s all it would take.
And then the movie starts: “Naaaaaaaaaants ingonyama…”. I don’t speak Zulu, but I’ve always felt I understood exactly what’s being said - or at least felt the emotions they hope to convey. And for the first few minutes, that understanding continued. The song is still epic, and that opening does still manage to induce an appropriate amount of awe.
But slowly, as the film continued, I could feel the emotional intentions of the story being lost in translation, somewhere between the 2D animation to whatever this movie wants to call itself (The Lion King: Live Action is the way its credited on IMDb, even though no live action elements were ever actually filmed). The eyes looked somehow both realistic and lifeless. The mouths were moving, and voices were ostensibly attached to those mouths, but somehow, they rarely ever felt connected. In turn, I struggled to connect (or re-connect) to a story I already knew inside-and-out.
This isn’t all that different from the first time I saw The Lion King in 1994. I had owned the soundtrack on cassette for about a month before seeing the film, leading to a sort of plug-and-play relationship between the movie and the music from day one. But this was different. I had been told (in whatever promotional/hype that penetrated my filters) that the film was presenting game-changing technology. Get ready to be blown away.
But that’s all the movie felt like - a demo for technology inside a familiar amusement park. Rather than eliciting an emotional response (the primary objective for filmmaking), the film simply demanded my respect. It was like I was a gazelle, bowing down to the new king being raised before me even though I know full well I’ll never be considered more than his lunch. But still, I should be grateful for being fed. That’s the way it works: Disney/Marvel take a story we’ve already been dining on for years, regurgitates it, shoves it back down our throats with a bit of sugar on top, and tells us to smile at how sweet the whole thing tastes. Even if critics get mad and shit all over it, Disney just picks it back up and turns it into something else. Over and over we go. It’s the modern circle of life, where easy marketing is all that matters.
Good to be king, isn’t it?