The Lion King remake struggles to recreate the magic of the animated classic

Disney’s summer blockbuster is the latest in a long line of shot-for-shot remakes, which begs the question: are they necessary?

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

By: Marco Ovies, Staff Writer 

Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King was an immensely fun and nostalgic movie, and its familiar characters shone as brightly as the amazing scenery and visual effects. The film felt like you were watching a National Geographic documentary, with each computer-generated animal nearly indistinguishable from the real thing — until they broke out into song. The movie also featured a star studded cast including the likes of Donald Glover (Simba), Beyoncé (Nala), and Seth Rogen (Pumbaa). Each of these actors gave newfound life to the classic characters that we’ve grown up with. 

But with all of The Lion King’s highs, it also had its downfalls. 

To start, Beyoncé’s new song “Spirit” felt out of place, lazily thrown into a scene featuring Nala and Simba running home. Neither of the characters were singing in the song and it lasted for about 30 seconds before cutting back to the regular movie we’re familiar with. This would be a recurring issue in the film for me: throughout it, there was a feeling of separation and something just being off. 

There was also the issue with the live action characters, despite how visually appealing they were. What was great about the classic, animated version of The Lion King was how expressive Disney was able to make all of the animals. The beauty of the original animation is that they were not limited to real life; the animators could make the animals say and do anything. But with the remake, they run into the issue of how to make a lion look happy, or how to make a bird have any expression at all. Despite this talented cast’s best efforts, they just didn’t have the ability to add enough emotion to these animated animals. It made me feel distant from the movie, adding a barrier that I just couldn’t quite get passed. 

You could argue that photo realism is superior to the 2D animation of the first Lion King, but the expressiveness that can be captured in the original is irreplaceable. It gave the characters familiar faces and relatable problems, breaking down that barrier I had previously discussed being an issue with the remake. When making the original film, it was never about replicating a realistic likeness of a lion, but instead about replicating humanity. 

With that in mind, the danger of these live remakes is that they will age terribly. With technology improving nearly every day, we’re able to differentiate real from fake far easier. A couple of years from now and these films will be forgotten, much like the straight-to-DVD sequels Disney released in the 90s. Which do you remember more, Beauty and the Beast or Belle’s Magical World?

If you’re unable to recognize the opening scene in the film with all of the animals rushing towards Pride Rock to see the newborn Simba, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The inclusion of a shot-for-shot remake of this iconic animated scene is what inspired the thought: what’s the point of this film? There’s no way to watch the new Lion King without thinking of the old one. The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that most of the complaints I had about the movie were with the new additions to the classic scenes from the original version. 

So why all the remakes now? The simple answer: money. This film is the latest in a long line of recent films that uses nostalgia in order to fill seats, but Hollywood is no stranger to this practice. The same thing happened with the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1998. The film was nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 horror classic of the same name, this time with subpar actors and improved graphics.

The worst part of all of this is that I wanted to watch the new Lion King movie despite knowing I was going to be disappointed. It’s the same impulse we all share that makes us watch our Snapchat memories and binge on our favourite childhood snack — the impulse called nostalgia. 

At the end of the day, I did enjoy watching The Lion King. It was a fun movie with amazing graphics. However, Disney has to tread carefully. There are only so many remakes people can handle before the classic stories we loved as kids are ruined.