Luke Owen looks at the backlash to Disney’s live-action Lion King remake…
Since Tim Burton re-imagined Alice in Wonderland in a live-action format in 2010 to an incredible box office return (the film earned over $1 billion), Disney have their new mission statement: re-telling animated classics for a new generation in live-action. This success continued with 2014’s Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie as the titular villain from Sleeping Beauty which earned over $750 million worldwide, and although the 2015 follow-up Cinderella wasn’t quite as successful, it still brought in over $540 million, making it one of the biggest movies of last year.
And so a slew of announcements followed. A live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was announced, as well as an Aladdin prequel Genies and new versions of Dumbo, Mulan, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, The Sword in the Stone and more. As with all remake announcements, however, the Internet wasn’t overly keen on the idea. “Don’t ruin these beloved movies,” they cried. “This is just lazy Hollywood,” others shouted.
But then came The Jungle Book.
Announced in 2013 and released earlier this year, The Jungle Book was a critical smash and a box office giant. It opened to a massive $103 million domestically, and it’s earned just under $1 billion worldwide. Directed by Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book was praised by audiences for its photo-realistic animation, superb acting from the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson and its wonderful storytelling. Not content to just rehash what had been done in the 1967 original, Justin Marks’ script and Favreau’s vision was tied closer to the Rudyard Kipling’s book, but still retained the fluffy Disney exterior including two of its toe-tapping numbers “Bear Necessities” and “I Want to be Like You”. I recall being un-enthused about the idea of a live-action version of The Jungle Book (it’s far from my favourite Disney movie), but was taken aback and stunned when I was shown footage at a Disney expo shortly after the first trailer landed online. It was simply stunning, and hard to believe this came from a computer and not real-life.
So with universal praise for The Jungle Book and a lot of people excited about next year’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, it was very surprising to me when everyone reacted badly to the news that Jon Favreau was teaming again with Disney to do a live-action version of The Lion King. What’s there to be upset about? We’re getting another film which has all the chances of being great because it’s coming from a director with a proven track record, and its based on one of Disney’s best animated features of all-time. Aside from this being an announcement we should have all seen coming (given that Disney’s tentpole projects are Marvel, Star Wars, computer animation and live-action remakes), what’s not to love about this news?
I asked this question on Twitter, and got a variety of responses.
@ThisisLukeOwen Not upset, just bored.
— Adam Lowes (@adlow76) September 28, 2016
This is a very common complaint about ‘the lack of originality’ in Hollywood. Looking at the top 10 films of the year so far (worldwide), only two are not sequels or based on existing properties, and only one came from an American studio (Zootopia). Compare that to the top 10 earners of 1996 where six movies were based on original ideas (Independence Day, Twister, The Rock, Ransom, Jerry Maguire and Eraser), and only three were based on existing properties (Mission: Impossible, The Nutty Professor and, ironically, Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians). In 1986, seven of the top 10 were original, and the rest were sequels (The Karate Kid Part II, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Aliens). So it is fair to say that Hollywood is ‘lacking original ideas’ when compared to years past.
However, the argument is that there is a demand for these live-action remakes. Quite clearly, as the box office figures for Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, The Jungle Book and (to a lesser degree) Cinderella all suggest audiences are lapping up the idea of classic cartoons being brought to life in new and interesting ways. Let’s also not forget that a large portion of the target audience for these movies were not born when these films were out. Most reading this article weren’t either. So this is a way for Disney to bring these stories to a new generation of viewers. As a jaded adult who is sick of a lack of original ideas coming from The House of Mouse, news of a live-action Lion King might be boring, but to a kid who hasn’t seen the animated feature this could be a very exciting prospect. And that’s not even considering the fact that The Lion Guard, an animated spin-off, is currently one of Disney’s biggest properties and a huge hit with kids.
Further to that, making a movie like The Jungle Book takes more original and creative thinking than a lot of people are giving Jon Favreau credit for. It’s not just that it’s a stunning movie with a great story and wonderful characters, it’s also an incredibly well-directed movie. Favreau’s vision for this world was sublime, and the patience, drive and skill it took to get The Jungle Book to the level its at should not go unnoticed. He and his team pushed the boundaries of computer animation, and motion capture technology. Like the great directors who have preceded him, Favreau is using technological advancements to improve the cinematic experience and he can do this again with The Lion King.
And let’s not forget that The Lion King was a remake of Hamlet, so it’s not like that film was dripping in originality to begin with. We should also remember that Disney did release an original movie last year called Tomorrowland, and no one went to see it. Probably because it was rubbish.
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