Every remake has to prove one thing: that it was worth making.
The Lion King (2019) does not make a convincing case.
There are moments when that argument is stronger. Billy Eichner’s Timon and Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa are a delight together, making two of Disney’s best sidekicks even more lovable. Some of the songs are a treat. And baby lions are cute.
But by-and-large, I spent most of this movie wondering, why? Why cut "Be Prepared" in half? Why recreate shots from the classic animation, just without any of the zest or colour? Why is Rafiki so unnerving this time around? And more generally, why at all?
Why, in the days of Spider-Verse, is a live-action remake of an animated classic something worth making?
You can compare every frame of the new Lion King to the cartoon, and not a single frame looks “better”. The content of this movie is not improved by the change in medium. There are bits and pieces where it’s interesting to see the transformation; Mufasa’s call-to-action for example.
But still, character is lost. The expressiveness of the faces, the clear character designs, the beautiful colours are all gone. There are no clear differences between the lionesses. The dim lighting of the final fight between Simba and Scar makes it impossible to tell who is winning the fight. You won’t know which hyena is which until they start talking.
I’m a fan of Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book. That movie brings a new atmosphere to the original cartoon, finds genuine stakes, and creates a sense of discovery. You can forgive that the songs aren’t as cheery and the visuals aren’t as bright.
But The Lion King’s plot and story beats are identical. There’s only two real differences: the actors and the visuals. And if I had to choose between listening to this movie and watch it, I would choose listening. And that’s not cause the movie looks so horrible. Or because the vocals are so incredible. If anything, it’s a bit of both.
The Lion King remake isn’t horrible. It isn’t great. It’s a strong bit of nothing, that leads to a powerful craving to go re-watch the original.
And you can bet, there’s going to be a whole lot more.
Remakes shouldn’t be a result of the passage of time. They should stem from something deeper, something that makes this story pertinent, that warrants our attention again. The Lion King doesn’t manage to do this, beyond getting Beyoncé to release more music.
I hope the remakes that are coming can figure out if the change to live-action actually means anything. And if it doesn’t, it at least doesn’t come at the cost of what made the originals beautiful in the first-place.
Cause Pride Rock looked pretty good the first time. We didn’t need to visit it again.