I am putting myself in a very dangerous position by saying this. At risk of being labelled a party pooper, overly contrarian, or a freak of nature, I have to say I am not even remotely excited or pleased about the upcoming live action remake of the 1998 animated classic The Lion King.
The recent cast announcement put adored celebrity darlings in the well-known roles—Donald Glover as Simba, Seth Rogen as Pumba, and Beyoncé herself as Nala. This is not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last, of Disney’s latest, blatant, cash-grabbing strategy. Their business model in recent years has been very simple: Take an old idea, throw millions of dollars at it, and cram it full of big-name celebrities. And there you have it — a cinematic masterpiece.
The craze all started with the live action reboot of Cinderella (2015). The film took the classic, albeit dated, 1950s movie following the titular character’s route from involuntary servitude to crowned queen of the kingdom. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching this little treasure recently, I’ll save you the time with this quick refresher — 75 percent of the run time is a cat chasing some mice around the house. Seriously. There is hardly anything to the story at all. But that did not stop Disney from stretching the threadbare plot into a nearly two-hour blockbuster. It’s also important to mention this movie has already had two modern-day spin-offs, both starring Disney Channel stars, and two direct-to-video sequels, without even mentioning the countless other imaginings of this same tale not in relation to Disney.
Now let’s take Jon Favreau’s crack at The Jungle Book (2016). Setting aside the highly problematic Rudyard Kipling thing for another time, let me point out the obvious real quick. There was only one physical actor in this so-called “live action” remake. They literally just remade the whole movie with CGI animation instead of hand-drawn. Calling it “live action” — when the whole filming took place with one kid in front of some green screens and the rest got slapped together during post — is laughable. But Scarlett Johannsen and Bill Murray signed on so we (including me, I begrudgingly admit) flocked to the theater to see it. Oh yeah, and Andy Serkis is making a second Jungle Book remake set to release next year because no one uses motion capture without him getting involved, if he can help it.
And if you don’t believe me by now, here are some more examples: Beauty and the Beast (2017). Maleficent (2014). Alice in Wonderland (2010). Aladdin (2019). Mary Poppins Returns (2018). Christopher Robin (2018). Mulan (2018).
So, maybe you will forgive me for not getting pumped about a remake that will probably be a subpar, needlessly bloated disambiguation of the original. With all the great minds and resources at their disposal, you would think Disney would spend a little more time developing new ideas instead of subsisting off nostalgia for their earlier imaginings. I cannot fairly blame this all on Disney, however. The movie industry as a whole has too heavily fallen back on remakes and franchises and prequels instead of original ventures. Disney is simply not immune to this trope.
Putting famous people in a movie does not automatically make it meritorious. Hedging your bets by recycling an already beloved story does not count as creating a good film. It is cheating, and as an overly-passionate-moviegoer, it is unsettling. To say I am skeptical would be an understatement.
But will I watch it? Of course. I love The Lion King just as much as the next person. The nostalgia and curiosity will lead me straight to AMC’s doorstep, debit card already outstretched and ready to go. Disney depends on it.