I should have hated this with a passion. When I first heard of it, I was pretty incredulous. Remaking the animation classic The Lion King seems rather akin to remaking Citizen Kane or Blade Runner or The Godfather. I’m not necessarily comparing the Disney original to those other films regards quality or reputation you understand, but really, whats the point remaking a film that is perfectly fine by itself?
Not that anyone would admit it, but the entire point, the central reason any of these recent Disney live-action remakes of their animation classics exist, is as an exercise in making money. To be fair, the reason ANY film is made is in order to make money, any artistic value is almost incidental, possibly accidental, as long as a film is made that gets bums on cinema seats or downloads and streams clogging the internet. Disney of course is enabling a new stream of fresh content for its Disney+ service as well as updating its back catalogue for generations that think those old flicks are rather dated and the animation rather old-fashioned compared to the dazzle of contemporary stuff.
The animated Lion King of course was released in 1994, just twenty-five years ago. Its been a long time since I last saw it- back in the days of DVD I think, so my memory of it is rather hazy. Watching this new 2019 version brought it all back mind, because its pretty much the same movie, Or at least it seems to be. I suspect there are more differences than audiences realise, many tweaks and updates that pass us by, but on the whole its the same movie, except that it looks so astonishing.
Astonishing really is the word for these visuals, mind. Watching this in 4K UHD is a pretty breathtaking experience, particularly on a OLED panel. I doubt it looked anything like as good as this at my local Cineworld. There is bad CGI and good CGI of course, and this is very, very good CGI. They can do anything, it seems, fake anything, when given sufficient money and time to get it right. When NASA (or its Chinese equivalent) gets somebody back on the moon, and the conspiracy theorists bring back their claims at fakery and hoaxes – well, maybe they might be onto something, because they really could do that now. In The Lion King, you’ll believe a Lion can sing.
Or maybe not. There is a curious uncanny valley being brought back here, in just the same way as the virtual thespians of Final Fantasy; The Spirits Within didn’t wholly convince. The CGI creations here are much superior and more convincing (often its like you’re watching outtakes of the BBC’s Planet Earth or The Blue Planet etc), but the issue here is seeing such realistic creatures doing such odd things like following the directors instructions or talking and singing. Its weird how watching hand-drawn animated characters doing such stuff rather suspends disbelief and enthrals us, and yet seeing something that looks so real doing it looks so odd.
Fortunately another curious thing is that, as its based so closely on a film that simply worked, this astonishing-looking, albeit weird and possibly ill-judged remake inevitably works too. Its difficult to love and easy to distrust, but its hard not to get swept up by it anyway. It looks so ravishing it works a strange magic. I’m still deeply sceptical and suspicious of Disney and these live-action/CGI remakes, and still rather feel these new editions will be forgotten long before the originals- the cynic in me has a few doubts however, thinking I’m giving the younger generations and my fellow viewers too much credit. Maybe they will actually prefer the new films and the originals will fade into obscurity, lost in some hard-to-find corner of the Disney+ service. That would be a terrible thing but one has to wonder.