Disney should be using its resources to do more than remakes

Nostalgia piques interest, but are CGI upgrades enough to charm viewers?

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios, The Lion King Official Teaser Trailer

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Disney, the omnipresent giant of entertainment, has been enthusiastically pumping out live-action remakes, fully capitalizing on the brand of its Renaissance movies like The Lion King and Aladdin. However, despite the awe-inspiring graphics and the realistic CGI art style, much of what endeared the original animations to their fan base seems to have been left behind in the updates. As such, I would much rather see new content come to life in 3D realism than have my expectations dashed by HD clones.

Being able to recreate old films in stunning realism is an impressive feat. When Rafiki raises Simba at the cliff for the iconic opening scene, I get a sense of the scale of how many animals there are, big and small, all bowing to the tiny little lion cub. On their own, the visuals are beautiful, and that can definitely be very appealing for some.

It also doesn’t hurt that there are updates to the soundtracks of these movies — I love hearing how the iconic ballads have been reinterpreted. For example, the end title for Aladdin, “A Whole New World” covered by ZAYN and Zhavia Ward, has a deeper, more mature timbre than the original.

However, I still don’t think that live action captures my imagination as well as the original animations do. There’s something about the versatility of cartoon animation that is lacking in the hyper-realistic CGI of the reboots — the latter tends to verge on the uncanny.

When Scar tells Simba to never come back to Pride Rock in the original, Simba’s emotion is palpable and relatable. What we see in the trailer of the live-action movie is Simba blankly looking at Scar, before turning to run from him. The live action has culled the characters’ expressions, which is unfortunate, as so much of the love I have for the original animations came from their emotive charm.

As much as the studio tries to dress up the remakes in swanky computer graphics and all-star voice casting, it cannot hide how muted the live-action remakes feel compared to the original films. This is pointedly obvious in the time-lapse of the “Hakuna Matata” scene in The Lion King’s trailer. As CGI Simba, Timon, and Pumba walk across the bridge, I cannot help but think of the confident, relaxed struts of their animated predecessors, and feel underwhelmed by their updated clones.

Right now, the Disney Renaissance remakes aren’t drumming up much anticipation from me. They come off as hollow replicas of their animated twins — cynical cash-ins on the nostalgia of an established viewer base. By coasting on CGI updates of old, well-loved Renaissance films, Disney loses out on applying their advanced animation technology in fresh, new stories.

It’s not as if Disney hasn’t done live action well before, either. Enchanted, a movie that mixes animation with live action, is especially underrated. The musical numbers are charming, and the live-action parts have as many lively beats as the animation does. I also adored Maleficent. Even though it reimagined the original Sleeping Beauty, it reintroduced Maleficent as a sympathetic villain. I could have just lived off of similar villain adaptations. Give me The Lion King from Scar’s perspective! But it seems like Disney is content being comfortable and safe, and that is really a damn shame.

Disney has the power to do something great here; it is an entertainment monolith that is financially secure enough that it can afford to be daring. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, of course, and to have these new renaissance remakes allow me to relive all the magic and wonder of the originals. From what I’ve seen from the trailers, however, Disney would be better off investing its resources in ideas outside of its comfort zone.