Given the success Disney has had with their live action remakes of their classic animated films, it makes sense that they keep making them. While they’ve been experimenting with this format since the 90s, which saw Disney-backed remakes of The Jungle Book in 1994 and 101 Dalmatians in 1996, the trend really kicked off with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. And they routinely pull in a billion dollars in worldwide gross for most of these releases.
So, from a business perspective—and, as a movie fan, it’s important to remember that show business is still business—I can’t really fault them for milking their sacred cow as hard as they have over the last decade. People keep seeing them; they keep making them. It’s a simple calculation. I’m not really concerned with why they feel the need to do it because the demand keeps proving that they should. End of story.
I can, of course, quibble with the artistic merit of these releases. While I admit that often the films manage to capture a special kind of magic—Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast come to mind—they just as often fall completely flat and feel like little more than the cash grab they so clearly are. Such is the case with The Lion King, out now on Blu-ray and DVD.
Jon Favreau’s “live action” remake of the beloved animated film pulled in $1.6 billion worldwide when it was released earlier this summer and will probably pull in similar numbers in the home video market. This despite the fact that it’s mired in mediocrity. Oh, sure, it has its moments, and there’s no denying that the technical considerations of the film are sincerely a marvel—computer generated imaging has rarely looked this lifelike, which by itself almost justifies the film’s existence—but this was a risk that did not pay off for Disney artistically.
Lifelike as the savannah animals might look on screen, the film, as a whole, is a lifeless, tedious affair. Favreau’s commitment to maintaining realism for his animals—per his rules, the characters of the film couldn’t do anything that animals couldn’t naturally do…except talk, I guess, but I digress—robs The Lion King of much of the charm found in the original animated version.
Mouth movements feel stiff and stilted, the expressiveness of the voice acting is muddled by the lack of expression, the songs feel lifeless on the screen, and it’s just not fun to look at anymore. Even while the Hamlet-inspired tale of Simba still feels fresh and intriguing, there’s no compelling reason to watch this over the original once you get over the technical achievements of the film. Which doesn’t take that long, honestly.
While there are a few high points, notable Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa and John Oliver as Zazu, this is ultimately a film that doesn’t need to exist and does a poor job convincing you of its necessity. Still, I guess you can’t knock $1.6 billion and I guess that number ensure we’ll keep getting more Disney remakes. Fans will find plenty of special features to enhance their enjoyment of the home release including plenty of behind the scenes documentaries, commentary by Favreau, and a sing along version that will keep the kids entertained.
This is all, of course, assuming you don’t already own the original on DVD or Blu-ray. If you do, I’m not sure why you’ll want to revisit the notably inferior version of the classic story. Maybe you’re a Disney completionist and have to own them all or maybe you just like the movie. That’s fine too. For my money, however, the cost of the Blu-ray would be better spent in savings for your next trip to Disneyworld.
The Lion King is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.