Lifelessness from Life
There are two things to say about Disney’s unnecessary remake of their 1994 animated smash. The first is that it’s a technical marvel; a breathtakingly detailed photorealistic rendering of African planes and the myriad of animals that populate them. As a technical achievement that follows the work on Jon Favreau’s previous Disney remake, The Jungle Book, it’s virtually peerless, pun intended. Hundreds of digital animators can pat themselves on the back with their furry gloves, they’ve synthesised something close to life; a backdrop teaming with finely detailed particulates, insects, flowers, and landscape shaping atmospherics – the wind, the rain, fire. They’ve successfully inverted the Disney animation ethos of old by grafting their story and their characters on to the real world, instead of reimagining the real-world as a heightened, anthropomorphised, colourful piece of art.
The second thing to say is that by choosing to mimic life rather than remake it, they’ve ripped the guts out of what made the original film both touching and endearing – namely, empathy and an emotional connection with humanised characters. This is an ontological error so severe and so profound that it’s a lance through cinema’s very soul.
What is it that makes us love the movies we love and return to them on a regular basis? Why are we fascinated by a documentary on foxes, but can personally relate to and enjoy the Disney film in which Robin Hood is a fox and Maid Marion a vixen? The former is fascinating but the latter is a human story adapted to synergise our love for fable with our love of animals.
The Lion King 2019 wants to have its cake and eat it. The filmmakers think they can provide both the Shakespearean narrative and the animal kingdom, and achieve the same synthesis. But you can’t feel the same looking into the eyes of a photorealistic lion than you do when looking at one that’s been adapted to emote like us. Doing so, imposes a constraint on the voice artists and on the expressivity of the characters that turns a story full of life, into a cold a matter-of-fact nature documentary with a plot.
Nostalgia alone will mean a guaranteed smash hit for Disney, from which they will learn the wrong lesson, namely that what children today want is the hyperreal. But they’ve never wanted that. What children have always craved, and what they’ve historically turned to Uncle Walt’s house of mouse to provide, is in escape to a safe and magical realm, which is informed by real-world considerations, but detached from them, producing compelling
fantasies. The original Lion King will never date, because it’s a timeless piece of hand drawn animation with a universal sensibility. This technological marvel will only be remembered as a visual effects milestone. But a visual effects milestone without a human connection is a movie in name only.