Disney’s live-action “The Lion King” remake comes out this weekend. But it’s not really live-action — even in the year 2019, lions still haven’t figured out how to speak. This is an animated remake of an animated movie. Disney’s brilliant innovation is to make the animation super realistic this time around, because the one thing that prevented full enjoyment of the first movie was that the singing warthog didn’t resemble a real warthog.
Actually, this isn’t really a remake, either. Disney used to do remakes. The original “Lion King” was essentially a remake of “Hamlet.” “Beauty and the Beast” was a remake of a 19th century French fable. “The Little Mermaid” was a remake of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. “Aladdin” was a remake of an old Arab folktale. Back in Disney’s heyday, it would take darker, denser, more mature stories and refashion them into fun, silly musicals for modern children. The kitchen utensils don’t break into song in the original “Beauty and the Beast” — that was Disney’s invention. It required actual creativity, wit, and vision to take these stories and make iconic family films out of them. Who knew that a 1,000-page French novel about a deformed freak living in a church could become a cute 90-minute cartoon, or that the true story of a daughter of an Indian chief who was kidnapped and held for ransom by European colonists could become an endearing animated film featuring a talking tree, a raccoon sidekick, and Mel Gibson?
This is how remakes are supposed to work. A remake is a reworking — a retelling — of an old story. Even the original “Beauty and the Beast” is basically a remake. Stories about beautiful women falling in love with hideous men, who then become beautiful themselves, have been around since humans starting telling each other stories. As G.K. Chesterton observed, the lesson of “Beauty and the Beast” is that a thing must be loved before it is lovable. Many similar, yet wonderfully different, tales can be woven around that central premise.
Unfortunately, Disney has long-since given up on “wonderful” and “different.” In recent years, they have stooped to staging dull, pointless reenactments of their old hits. Rather than taking the old premise and exploring it in a new way, Disney reproduces the older version, shot-for-shot, line-for-line. It’s much like an artist tracing one of his old portraits and releasing it as something new, or a band producing a covers album of its own past hits. This is what happens when the creativity well has completely run dry and the only objective anymore is to cash in. Of course, profit has always been a primary focus, but Disney, like many major movie studios, has given up whatever small concern they may have once had for artistic integrity.
And why not? They make a zillion dollars on every lifeless, redundant blockbuster they regurgitate into theaters. If the people will pay top dollar for stale, reheated mac and cheese, that’s what you’ll serve. No need to spend time cooking a gourmet dish if bland leftovers will make you just as rich, if not richer. “The Lion King” is on its way to a record opening. The new “Aladdin” made a ton of money — so did the new “Beauty and the Beast,” the new “Jungle Book,” the new “Cinderella,” the new “Alice In Wonderland,” and the new “Dumbo.” Surely, the new “Little Mermaid” and the new “Mulan” will be moneymakers, as well. Soon, Disney will just hire someone to look into a camera and say “Hey, remember Lilo & Stitch?,” and the three-second film will earn $850 million in its first month of release.
The film “Idiocracy” depicts a terrifying future filled with morons, where the top-rated television show consists of a guy getting repeatedly kicked in the groin. We have arrived at that dystopia, except that in our case, the top movies and shows are the ones that kick us in the proverbial groin. Hollywood has no respect for the intelligence of its audience and does not attempt to give us anything unique or interesting. Just reenactments, sequels, and superheroes all the way down. I am not one to call for boycotts, and I’m not calling for one now, but I do think we should respect ourselves enough to stop giving our money to movies that exist for no other reason than to take it.