This new barrage of live-action Disney remakes have managed to make their mark at the box-office, but not in our culture and in our lives by comparison to the original films. Failing to adapt these culturally reverberating classic animated films into modern times, their new idea is to replicate the original, almost line by line and shot for shot, but turn the animation into live-action – by using photorealistic CGI.
This cinema experiment of carbon copying, previously utilised by Psycho (1998) and Funny Games (2007), is the equivalent of copying someone’s homework, without even changing the words at all, but at least adding distracting technological wonders to try getting away with it.
We all know the basic story, but here it is again: young cub Simba (JD McCrary) is eager to take over his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) as king of the land and its animals, but his jealous uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) forges a plan to take over the throne, forcing Simba into exile from the community, where he grows up into an adult (Donald Glover), leading a hopeful new life (as a lion that only eats bugs and insects) with his new friends Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen).
All the jokes, life lessons, action and excitement of the original are exactly replicated, but with the expressive animated style replaced by a photorealistic mundanity. This kind of remake is emblematic of both our culture’s nostalgia and amnesia, a commercialised longing for what Disney believes has been forgotten and is in need of repeating. All the memorable songs – Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Hakuna Matata, and a semblance of Be Prepared – are given the cover treatment by the varyingly musically talented voice cast, with Spirit sung by adult Simba and Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) being one of the very few new additions.
The voice work, and singing, from the legendary Donald Glover and Beyoncé is at least one of the very few improvements over the original. But the 1994 animated classic did have its story problems here and there, and this Xerox makes no effort to correct or smooth over any issues. Audiences will decide how much originality they want from these Disney live-action remakes, but so far this experiment in an incredibly lucrative new business model for Disney is a soulless, depressing and unnecessary piece of story rehashing.