OK, so first of all we need to address the lion in the room, Disney’s The Lion King (2019). Originally, I was going to make a review and sum up my feelings about The Lion King, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t really have any feelings towards it. The Lion King (1994) is a cinematic classic, and near perfect movie, and at best Disney could only ever really strive towards a poor re-creation – and that’s exactly what they got. While the added production value and new cast might have been able to breath life into a twenty-five year old franchise, the majority of the cast seem to simply be going through the motions – aside from Chiwetel Ejiofor who gives an exceptional performance as Scar.
The use of upgraded animation was presumably this movies highest selling point, following the ‘Live-Action’ remakes that Disney has been so obsessed with lately, but it mainly acts as a disservice to the story when you’re either focusing on the looks of the background to notice what’s happening with the story, or the refusal to exaggerate any animals features just takes away the characters ability to emote enough for the audience to connect with – and I’m sure we’re all familiar with a certain scene in this movie that should bring a large number of us to tears, but without the characters ability to portray emotion, it all falls flat. This use of ‘realistic’ design also means that characters rarely open their mouths, despite the amount of singing that goes on throughout the movie.
That being said, go see it if you want. I don’t care.
In the case of how I would’ve handled the creation of a live-action Lion King, I would’ve used the new technology to its strengths – as that seems to be Disney’s only criteria for these movies. It also might’ve been beneficial to tie The Lion King to their upcoming streaming service, Disney+, as this was the most anticipated of the three live-action remakes this year and this could have been an ideal way to attract customers to the service if it had been exclusive to it, rather than having a theatrical release.
Disney+, for those unaware, is an upcoming streaming service in the vein of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but specifically for properties created by Disney. The service is set to produce original content for the likes of Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and, as a result of Disney’s purchase of Fox, National Geographic – and what better way to recreate the Lion King in live action, than as a nature mockumentary.
Rather than simply recreating what’s been done before, take the project in a completely new way and create a David Attenborough style documentary, where we follow the inhabitants of Pride Rock throughout the life of Simba. It could give a new look on the story if we as the audience are given the chance to connect with the characters purely through their actions, with some voice-over narration. This can allow us to keep the same plot, but with a possibly new take on the overall story – especially if we stay at Pride Rock during Simba’s absence, and we’re forced to witness Scar’s bastardisation of the kingdom he rules over.
The removal of an extended cast of, presumably highly expensive, talent such as Donald Glover and Beyoncé can mean a higher budget going into making the already impressive effects look as true to life as possible. With that in mind, it might be an idea to have James Earl Jones provide the narration, given his iconic career in voice work – most specifically as Mufasa in both iterations of the character. It could even work to take inspiration from Lion King 3 (or 1 and a half, if that matters), and have the narration be provided by the new voices of Timone and Pumba, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, to give it a more comedic feel.
Generally speaking, a lot of the footage could be kept the same – as a lot of times in the Lion King it feels almost like a tech demo for such a documentary. This type of project could sit alongside the original Lion King in the Disney+ vault with stark contrast that entices the viewer with the promise of something new, rather than a shot-for-shot remake with updated animated that serves only as a second rate imitation. It could also work as a gateway from the live action remakes of late that have held closely to their sources, like The Jungle Book and Aladdin, to upcoming projects like Mulan that are taking strides away from the content of their original Disney animations.
But most importantly, it would be a highly anticipated launch title for Disney+ that would bring in a lot of subscriptions to the service for Disney.
And who doesn’t love money?