‘The Lion King’ and the Disney Remake Paradox

In Featured, Industry Insights, Tyler Carlos by Amanda Valdovinos

– By Tyler Carlos –

The trend of live action remakes is now in full swing, and there are no signs that it will stop anytime soon. In 2019 alone, Disney will be releasing 3, possibly 4, live-action remakes of some of their most popular animated films, and one of these films is causing controversy among moviegoers and critics about whether the film can even be considered live action.

Inarguably, Disney’s 1994 animated hit The Lion King is one of Disney’s greatest accomplishments to date. The film is Disney’s third-highest grossing film of all time (behind Frozen and Zootopia), and has truly withstood the test of time. It has gone on to inspire one of the longest-running Broadway productions in history, has been included in the widely popular Kingdom Hearts video game series, and has spawned 2 sequels and multiple television series.

And yet THIS is the remake that is causing people to flip out.

The Beginning

It all started when the first trailer for the remake debuted on Thanksgiving day. It was a surprise for many, as Disney had not announced they were premiering their trailer, and initially, it was there was nothing but positivity. The film looks absolutely beautiful. No doubt about it. And with the additional voice over done by James Earl Jones, who is returning as Mufasa in the remake, it seems like the film was meant for nothing but success.

And then, the Internet happened.

All of a sudden, an Internet-wide debate began circulating about whether The Lion King live-action remake is in fact a live-action remake. Can this film, which looks as though it will have no live actors on screen, call itself a live-action remake? One side is arguing that all of the visuals were created using computers and animation, and the only part that the actors really have in the movie is the use of their voice; therefore, this is an animation.

The other side of the argument is that director Jon Favreau, who also directed Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book, actually filmed this remake of The Lion King on a blue screen stage, using state-of-the-art CGI effects combined with traditional live-action techniques. This is similar to how James Cameron filmed Avatar back in the day — Cameron actually developed technology in order to accomplish his groundbreaking film.

So, Which Is It?

This remake seems to stand out amongst the other Disney remakes because this is the first of the animated films to not feature any live actors. The Jungle Book, which also featured heavy CGI, a blue screen stage, and realistic animal characters, at least featured SOME live actors.

So, what do I think? Personally, I cannot call this a “live-action” movie. The entirety of the film’s visuals were created on a computer. Sure, Jon Favreau may have used a blue screen stage, but I would equate someone calling The Lion King live-action to calling stop-motion films like The Nightmare Before Christmas a live action. Just because someone uses a stage or state-of-the-art CGI effects does not make their movie a live-action.

But what about Avatar? The majority of that movie was filmed on a green screen stage with heavy CGI effects, so why couldn’t The Lion King be considered live-action?

Simply put, the actors. Even if there were not scenes with the actors out of their Avatar skins, I would still consider Avatar to be live-action. The actors in Avatar physically acted out their scenes using motion capture suits, which translated, not only their performance, but their facial movements and reactions to the big screen. What we saw on the big screen in Avatar was the actors, but only in a new skin.

Why Is It Even Being Made?

Along with this live-action discussion came the question that no one really wants to answer — if The Lion King is an animated film just like the original, then why is Disney even making it?

For one, when you watch the teaser trailer Disney released on Thanksgiving, it looks nearly identical to the 1994 classic. It literally has the same actor from the original returning as Mufasa. How is this new? How is this a new take on The Lion King? The reason for making the remake cannot be to replace the original film, because that would be a tragedy and an insult to the animation medium.

Unfortunately, this film feels much more like a cash grab than the other Disney remakes. Take a look at Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and even Beauty and the Beast — the live-action remakes of those films definitely built upon the foundation set by their original films. Then there’s Maleficent, which told another side of the story of Sleeping Beauty that we didn’t know. Those films gave us more of the story, so there is a stronger case for them.

But if The Lion King is going to be nearly identical, then why make it?

To be fair, we really don’t know if the new Lion King movie is going to be any different than the original. It has been revealed that there will be at least one original character, and some of the characters are getting slightly updated (it would have been weird to see a live-action hyena in West Africa named Ed). It has also been revealed that the movie will feature 4 songs from the original film: “The Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight.” I guess we’ll have to wait to see in what capacity these songs will be used. In The Jungle Book, the old songs made an appearance but weren’t really featured. But it’s The Lion King — those 4 songs, particularly “The Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata,” just go hand in hand with the story. I just hope we get the full songs, though I must admit, it may look a bit weird to have realistic looking animals belting out love ballads…

Overall, as much as I love The Lion King, the fact that Disney is remaking it just feels unnecessary. And there is some risk with these live action remakes — I, for one, believe the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was a big let down (the transformation scene was bland AND Belle said she loved the Beast AFTER THE LAST PETAL FELL FROM THE ROSE). Unfortunately, we’re in a time when big production companies want to make so much money that they recycle the material they know audiences love instead of taking a risk on new material.

But here’s the thing — everyone, myself included, is still going to go see this movie, just like so many have gone to see The Lion King on Broadway. Disney is recycling material, but it works. When you look objectively at what this movie is, it seems like no one should be excited. It’s a story Disney has already told us many times in many media. And yet, after all that, I’m still excited to see this movie.

I guess that’s just the paradox we live in.

About the Author 

Tyler Carlos is a proud nerd originally from Baton Rouge, LA. He completed his undergraduate in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and graduated from JPCatholic’s MBA in Film Producing in 2016. In his off time, he enjoys Crossfit, escape rooms, and watching Gotham and This Is Us. His ultimate goal in life is to learn how to fly.

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