I went to see the new Lion King and came out of the cinema feeling cheated.
At first I didn’t quite understand why. After all, having already seen a clip of a dead-eyed Simba lip-syncing woefully to “Hakuna Matata”, I went into the experience already knowing that this version of The Lion King (directed by Jon Favreau) would not measure up to the original. I wasn’t expecting it to be groundbreaking. Hell, I didn’t even expect it to be good. But, despite my low expectations, I still left the cinema feeling as though I have been cheated in a way that I wasn’t cheated by, say, the new Beauty and the Beast or the new Aladdin. As though, this time, Disney has finally gone too far with their strategy to achieve world domination by exploiting our collective sense of nostalgia.
Aside from Cinderella, The Jungle Book and the upcoming Mulan, not many of these new Disney remakes have added anything new to the original stories or have reimagined the characters in any significant way. Make no mistake: The Lion King is a major technological achievement. Everything looks insanely realistic, the entire film could pass for a National Geographic documentary. But when it comes to talking animals acting out a Shakespearean family drama, being too realistic might not be such a good thing.
Of course, the reason why these remakes have been made and will continue to be made is because they represent guaranteed cash for Disney. And as viewers, we’re willing to go along and suspend our cynicism if we’re present with a shred of genuine emotion to cling onto. The new Aladdin, for example, might not have a villain that lives up to its animated counterpart or has a story that diverge much from the original, but Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine are just charming enough to make the film entertaining, while the impressive sets and lavish costumes manage to bring the world of Agrabah to life in ways the animated film can’t.
Sadly, this new version of The Lion King has no such benefits for us to cling onto; no new human element that could provide a fresh new dimension to this beloved story. What we get are an almost beat-by-beat recreation of the original, an okay Beyonce album and CGI animals that can’t really emote. The comedic talents of Seth Rogen (Pumba) and Billy Eichner (Timon) aside, the film completely fails to recreate any of the fun, excitement or emotional gravitas that made the original film such a phenomenon.
Instead these extremely infuriating questions are what we’re left with:
- Why does the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” sequence take place during the day?
- Why is JD McCrary’s lively rendition of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” undermined by the fact that Simba, although cute and fluffy, has, to quote Hermione Granger, the emotional range of a teaspoon?
- Why does Mufasa fall to his death with such a dramatic “NOOOOOOO” but with his mouth gaping open as if he’s simply yawning?
- Why is Simba’s ascension of Pride Rock so devoid of emotion and grandeur that what’s supposed to be a triumphant coronation scene is just a bunch of wet lions standing around in a circle?
- Why is Beyonce’s “Spirit”, a decent enough song, clumsily shoehorned into the scene of Simba returning to Pride Rock instead of the original iconic score?
- Why are there no elephant skeletons in the elephant graveyard?
- Why is one of Mufasa’s most important lines from the original version that’s key to Simba’s character arc — “You have forgotten who you are, so you have forgotten me” — omitted?
- Why is “Be Prepared” so short and understated?
- Why isn’t Scar’s mane darker? (We all know the darker mane matters, goddamn it!)
- Why isn’t no one talking about the possibility that Simba and Nala might be half-siblings? (They probably are. Think about it.)
- What’s the purpose of having realistic-looking lions if they can’t convey realistic emotions?
- What’s the purpose of adhering to the original if everything’s not going to be as good?
- Why aren’t there more colours? More life? More…soul?
- Why does this film exist at all?
- Why did I pay money to go see it?
- What is the point?
What. Is. The. Point?