The Lion King trailer dropped today. Disney’s latest “live-action” remake of a classic animated movie features a star-studded cast and mind-bendingly realistic CGI, just as 2016’s The Jungle Book did before it.
Nothing about the trailer is screamingly bad. In fact, it’s mostly fine. The animation is just fine. The aesthetics are fine. The voices are fine. And all that fineness adds up to a heaping pile of unoriginal garbage covered by a thin layer of celebrity voices to distract us from the smell.
Major studios are scared of original ideas. Original ideas are risky. No one knows if they’ll appeal to audiences. Superhero movies and remakes, by contrast, are safe bets. They either have fans or a widespread awareness of their brand. Disney understands this better than anyone, and it’s why they’ve released Star Wars sequels and prequels nearly every year since acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012.
The Mouse House understands that the same recycling approach applies to children’s classics as long as the movie features a celebrity or two to hook in adults. The Jungle Book grossed $966 million in 2016, so naturally The Lion King needed its own reboot with celebrity voices ranging from Beyoncé to Seth Rogen. Aladdin, due next month with a notably less famous cast, features Will Smith’s weird-looking Genie.
The original Lion King original didn’t suffer for lack of celebrities or because the animals didn’t look real enough. It succeeded as an original story—or at least somewhat original. The animation was on point, Elton John cranked out some bangers and the only voices you remember besides James Earl Jones’ Musafa were Nathan Lane’s Timon and Whoopi Goldberg as the lead hyena. Instead, we’re left with a lifeless retread devoid of the emotion that made its predecessor great.
— Lights, Camera, Pod (@LightsCameraPod) April 10, 2019
Disney could develop new animated franchises. And considering that 2013’s Frozen is one of their greatest successes, it seems to make money sense. But there’s a greater chance of failure with originality. Thanks to timid executives, we’re treated to another ‘90s kid nostalgia play from the company that created it in the first place.