Life Matters | Apr 13,2019
On a rainy Friday afternoon, inside one of the shiny cinema halls of Century Mall, Disney gave the finger to one of the most precious childhood memories of mine. The studio did this by producing a remake of - as far as I am concerned - the greatest animated film of all time.
The original version of The Lion King is almost perfect. Few movies in cinema history are able to boast as many scenes as unforgettable as the 1994 Disney movie. Take the opening scene, with its breathtaking song “Circle of Life” playing over a gorgeous African sunset. Recall that devastating scene where Mufasa falls to his death and that even sadder moment when Simba is led into believing that he was responsible for his father’s death.
And who can forget Hakuna Matata, the song as well as its message, and Simba growing into adulthood on that metaphorical tree trunk (I always thought it symbolized how linear and unidirectional time is.)
The Lion King was one of those movies where every cast and crew member suddenly found themselves in a creative binge. From its plot, to the dialogue to the music, there was one in a million chances that the animal-kingdom-version-of-Hamlet would be successful. But it was … we were that lucky.
The remake of The Lion King speaks to the creative bankruptcy and the greed that has come to dominate Disney. As much as I liked the original Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, I could still find it in myself to swallow the pieces of rubbish that were rammed down our throats as remakes. But this is unforgivable.
Yes, this movie will probably make over a billion dollars. But even for a conglomerate such as Disney, there should have been some movies whose artistic merit, and the place they hold in the hearts of children should have been enough protection from being remade.
There is no point to giving a story synopsis. The film is almost exactly the same as the original, but in photorealistic computer animation and somehow without all of the magic that made the original great.
“Despite what the trailers suggest, this film is not just the same movie over again,” Jon Favreau, the director, had said after allegations that the film is a shot-for-shot remake of the original.
He was lying. The film contains almost entirely the same dialogue, jokes, framing, scene transitions and score. The few additions and omissions to the remake, which the average audience would not notice, only manage to make the movie worse.
Ironically, the film has a scriptwriter. Given that the remake is an ever so slightly modified version of the original, this must have been the easiest buck anyone ever made right next to a lottery win. But then again, the scriptwriter is Jeff Nathanson, who has to his name writing credits for awful movies such as Speed 2: Cruise Control and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If we agree to call what he did for this movie “work”, then indeed this is one of his biggest achievements.
Just as absurdly, a new set of actors were called in to voice characters in the movie when the recorded material from the previous film could have merely been dubbed over the visuals of this one. This could have saved money - it is so unlike Disney not to have thought of this.
Most of the voice roles have gone to African-American actors. Donald Glover and Beyonce voice Simba and Nala, respectively. But James Earl Jones gets to reprise his role as Mufasa - they apparently dragged that poor old man (now 88 years old) out of his home to say 90pc of the same lines he already did in 1994.
Worse, Scar is voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a very good actor who nonetheless is not Jeremy Irons. Irons’ acidic voice performance of the memorable villain is replaced by Ejiofor’s dry delivery of those very same lines.
One element about this movie that deserves some level of praise is the special effects. Undeniably, this almost entirely computer-animated movie seems like the real thing. I would not be able to tell the computer-rendered Simba from a photo of an actual lion if they were placed side-by-side.
And yet, this extreme realism was to the disadvantage of the film. Unlike in the original, the facial expressions of the animals in this movie when they are sad, happy, depressed or angry are way too expressionless for comfort.
Given that the animals had to look like animals, adding facial expressions would have not made any sense, and probably would have made the characters look creepy. But this is also an indictment of the fact that some movies belong in the warm, colourful and child-hearted world of traditional 2D animation.
Would a mere 3D rendering of the Mona Lisa make it a better portrait?
I doubt it. It will only show that whoever makes it never understood why the original was great in the first place.
PUBLISHED ON Jul 27,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1004]
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