After holding off reading any press whatsoever about Disney’s newest “live-action” remake — I guess we’re all just having a little bit of shared fun with that insane descriptor, noted — I found myself suddenly with a friend, a night off, and a ticket to see a hotly-anticipated reimagining of an old childhood favorite.
I found myself seated with audiences around the world for the opening “Circle of Life” recreation and marvelled with childlike joy. And over the next two hours, Disney showed us that we had, in fact, just paid to see a re-skinned, re-casted (mostly) film with a depressingly familiar sound.
The same dialogue. More than just an homage, like Favreau might try to sweet-talk you into believing before opening night, this movie lifts entire passages of text from the original. It may not be a 1:1 copy/paste, but with all of the rest of the recycled material, it certainly feels that way.
The same music…and score. I’ve been an Elton John and Hans Zimmer fan for years as both a cinephile and a hobbyist composer. The Lion King (1991) original score has been a mainstay in my library, along with about half of Zimmer’s other film repertoire. But in this context, rehashing the same melodies played and sung more or less the way we’re all intimately familiar with them just signals to the audience that they’re in for the same thing they already paid to see nearly three decades ago.
The same plot. Once again, Disney’s wannabe nature documentary took the safer path of following the same story structure as the original, leaning too hard on enhanced realism and marketed nostalgia while carrying over none of the animated fun or fantasy.
The same shots. Full scene recreations, just in CGI. I don’t even have to work at this now, and I’m feeling pretty bummed, so I’ll list some more.
– Zero facial movements that aren’t snarling.
– No color anywhere to be found.
– A random original (not great) Beyoncé song for 30 seconds over a montage of two lions running through a lot of sand and no I am not kidding.
No amount of acting experience or active performance effort helped brighten things longer than a moment or two. Not Billy Eichner, with his beautifully wasted voice. Not Seth Rogen, one of the funniest humans and — I’ve recently discovered — person most likely to be a real warthog dressed as a human. Not even Donald Glover, who from 30 Rock to Community to Gambino to Atlanta has never put out a single piece of work I’ve disliked until, well…very recently.
I’m not rabid about Bola Deposit Pulsa , but she seems at a glance to be a good person and an undeniably talented singer. Here though, in her duet with Glover over a jarringly mid-day rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” her vocal gymnastics just come across as callous and (no apologies for the sweet pun) tone-deaf to the slow derailment occuring around her.
Even James Earl Jones’ act of role reprisal gives the whole affair a very theatrical feel, but with none of the dynamism of the Tony-winning musical. They seem to have wanted to make a stage play that was true to the original source, while overlooking the fact that what they wanted to do already exists.
This film, marketed for millions of dollars to billions of humans, is just that: a new film, technically. Disney seems to be employing the Tommy Wiseau school of award nomination by printing something, anything onto celluloid, running it for two weeks in a theater, and knowing that in due time, all things will even out in the end.
It’s a dazzlingly brilliant thing to look at, that on approach turns out to be the most expensive and beautiful swing and utter miss I’ve ever seen.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Favreau stated in plain words the crux of the issue: “How do you take advantage of all the new technological breakthroughs but still maintain the soul and the spirit of the original Lion King?”
After years of painstaking work and loving craft by some talented artists and animators, and some notable technological development, the answer is still a frustrating mystery.