CGI character from Disney's 2019 "The Lion King" Timon, Pumba, and Zazu face their respective voice actors.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures
Live Action Timon, Pumba, and Zazu go face-to-face with their voice actors from the new live-action “The Lion King’ Billy Eichner, Seth Rogan, and John Oliver.

With the recent release of Disney’s live-action adaptation of ‘The Lion King,’ moviegoers are once again packing the seats of cinemas across America for a story they’ve seen before.

This isn’t a knock on remakes of older movies, as some of the best releases in recent memory have been remakes, i.e., ‘A Star is Born.’ This is a criticism of a thorough understanding of what makes a remake good. The understanding that you need to be respectful to the source material while attempting new ideas. This is something the 2019 version of ‘The Lion King’ fails to do, bring enough fresh ideas to make the movie worthwhile. This is a problem shared by multiple recent Disney remakes.

Over the last handful of years, Disney has been on a binge remaking animated classics into live-action films. From ‘Aladdin’ to ‘Dumbo,’ it seems that every classic Disney film will eventually see the same fate. 

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look no further than 2014’s ‘Maleficent,’ a movie that climbed to at least moderate critical success because it brought a new spin on a classic character. A point not lost on Disney, as the Angelina Jolie led flick is set to receive a sequel this year.

The most recent offender of this, as brought up earlier, is 2019’s ‘The Lion King.’ The remake overlooked the reason that the original is viewed as such a classic, and important to many people’s childhoods. That reason being, crisp and beautiful animation. 

In both remakes mentioned, Disney has forgone classic animation techniques in favor of live actors with heavy CGI work. And in the case of ‘The Lion King,’ just CGI work. The vast majority of the shots in the film, even those of just landscapes, was CGI work. CGI is an amazing technology and is a phenomenal tool for filmmakers. CGI has taken us on incredible journeys from outer space to the center of the earth. However, when I have to stare a frighteningly realistic-looking warthog for half a movie, I for one, lose some immersion. 

1994’s ‘The Lion King’ was filled to the brim with colorful displays of animation mastery. From Simba singing “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” surrounded by multicolored animals, to the haunting rendition of ‘Be Prepared’ sung by Scar with streaks of green neon flashing on screen. These moments help to draw audiences in by using colors to portray and draw out certain emotions. Something in the 2019 version, I can’t say drew me in once.

This was admittedly a concern when the movie debuted its first trailer. However, a pair of nostalgia goggles and a star-studded cast shielded me from looking at it objectively. Actually, the cast is one of the only saving graces of the movie, as the majority of the cast are at their best here. The film just lacks heart, and unfortunately for Disney, that’s a common theme in many of these remakes. 

Disney’s remake of ‘Aladdin’ couldn’t escape this either. However, that movie may have been doomed for a different reason. One that goes beyond casting or anything that anyone on the project could have done. There are certain characters, and roles, that should not be tampered with. And in the case of ‘Aladdin’, that character is Genie.

In the original, Genie was portrayed by the late Robin Williams. Willams reportedly improved a large portion of his lines, only reading off the script during musical numbers. The 2019 remake cast Will Smith in the role, and upon the first trailer’s release, fans didn’t take Smith’s involvement very well. They weren’t angry with Smith, but were rather angered by the use of CGI. The animators at Disney recreated the classic Genie design, then they appeared to just photoshop Smith’s face on the CGI body. To say the design was not received very well, doesn’t even begin to cover the backlash Disney received over it. 

Even though both of these films were not reviewed very highly by critics, they both have gone on to box office success. ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ have both grossed over a billion dollars, ensuring more live-action remakes are on the horizon. 

Hopefully, Disney learns from the critical bashing both of these films got. Though, when you gross over a billion dollars, it’s kind of irrelevant what the critics think, isn’t it?

Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or its staff. Ryan Freeberg is a student at the University of Nevada and studies journalism. He can be reached at rfreeberg@sagebrush.unr.ed and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.