I’m not a believer in the idea that a childhood can be ruined. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I’m not a believer in the idea that the remake of a once beloved film, good or bad, can ruin a childhood. Those films you grew up with, whether updated to appease today’s crowd, will always be there, despite how hard or how often movie studios along with the bottomless depths of the internet attempt to replace them. What you felt when you saw those classics growing up will still be present. When George Lucas began tampering with the original Star Wars trilogy, fitting each one with a ridiculous amount of updated special effects and in some cases, brand new characters, there were scores of protests from rabid fans claiming that Lucas had marred the integrity of those earlier films, thereby pissing on childhoods across the globe.
To be fair, I was one of them. Those same desperate chants resurfaced when Lucas’s prequel trilogy was launched in 1999 with the release of Episode 1, gradually inviting an even greater amount of scorn from some of the franchise’s devoted fanbase. But regardless of how one saw its portrayal of key characters (do we even need to talk about young Anakin Skywalker and Boba Fett) nothing Lucas did, however curious, ruined my childhood. Watching the remake of Disney’s The Lion King, I was reminded once again of those incessant cries of betrayal. While not nearly as culturally significant as Star Wars, The Lion King is still a classic very much adored by its fans. It remains one of my all time favorites of Disney’s animated movies. But it’s a film I can still enjoy with my family without this newer, and if I’m honest, far inferior version, getting in the way.
The remake, released earlier this month, brings loads of updates. New special effects, some new songs, and aside from the return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa, all new voices. But while sitting in the theater, marveling at the spectacle before me, I couldn’t help but notice how often its special effects soiled the quality of the film’s original story. It was no longer a celebration of character. It was a self congratulatory high five of its own technology. Impressive, yes. But it left me cold. What I got was a sort of new and improved Mr. Ed, a hyperreality that looked, well, kind of silly. Gone are the playful antics and human expressions that made the characters in the original movie so endearing, and strangely, more believable.
What this new outing gives us are very real-looking CG animals designed to mirror the behavior and bodily movements of their real life counterparts, thereby making every moment these animals open their mouths to talk all the more bizarre. What director Jon Favreau did so well with 2016’s The Jungle Book, another remake of a classic that upped the ante on effects, was allow the characters their playful moments, where singing and dancing and goofing off kept the fantastical elements of the story somewhat intact. While not a perfect movie by any right, it was certainly an enjoyable one. The Lion King, however, felt like I was watching footage of a National Ge0graphic documentary being used for a late night television bit, where a yapping human mouth is superimposed over an animal’s face.
When the musical numbers arrived, all the animals really did was walk around. There was no swinging on vines, no karate-skilled baboon. Jesus, even the hyenas were boring. How the fuck do you make hyenas boring? The laughs it did generate, for me anyway, were more reactive than earned. And then there are the characters. A favorite of mine from the original has always been the brooding Scar, voiced to perfection by Jeremy Irons. So, listening to the remake’s completely sterilized rendition of Be Prepared was jarring to say the least. I sat in my seat thinking “Wait. That’s it!?" I’m being harsh, I know. I realize how excruciatingly difficult making a feature film truly is and how much work and moving parts had to go into the making of this. It really is a beautiful looking film. But it confirms that just because you can make something better, doesn’t mean you will.
In all fairness, I don’t believe that’s what Jon Favreau and his team were attempting to accomplish. I feel it was always meant to be a homage to a classic movie he loved, reimagining it in a new era of ever-growing technology. It just didn’t quite work. In a way, it made me think of the trailer for CATS, the film adaptation of the popular broadway musical coming out this December. When the first teaser premiered last week, it was met with a heap of online ridicule. The CATS just looked… odd. Using what director Tom Hooper labeled “Digital Fur Technology” the actors were doused in CG animation I suppose to make them look more cat-like? I really don’t know. Considering they still possessed human facial features, the result was truly horrifying.
Other than commercials I saw on TV as a kid, I know next to nothing about the story the musical tells. So I ask. Is the route the film’s animators took with the characters, no doubt lead by its director, appropriate? Only time will tell. I can say for The Lion King, that it wasn’t. But what do I know? A recent article I read announced that in just five days, its domestic box office approached $243 million. Despite what many critics have said, its momentum appears in no way to be fizzling. In the meantime, let us all bask in the possibility of an avalanche of reboots and remakes that are sure to hit the big screen. Maybe we’ll get a long overdue update of 1987’s Adventures In Babysitting, which follows a physically enhanced, ex-military soldier Chris Parker as she treads a post-apocalyptic Chicago with a band of army brats in search of her mom’s Subaru Forester. The tag line at the top of the poster will read:
In the future, only SHE can get out without singing the blues.
You never know. It could happen. In fact, it should.