For the Millennials who experienced The Lion King as children, Disney’s mega-popular 1994 animated feature likely didn’t require much suspension of disbelief. Sure, there was a Hamlet-esque regicide plot line among some lions. Yes, animals of all stripes communed in relative harmony before that. But the royal intrigue and interspecies relationships were tied together with some undeniably catchy musical sequences, and the vividly rendered animations created a dynamic cinematic universe. All things considered, it made sense.
The forthcoming CGI remake of the film, which will have its wide release next Friday, demands a bit more of the adults who grew up with the tale. The new Lion King is among the first few in the litany of live-action remakes that the entertainment conglomerate has begun debuting. As such, it’s both a stand-alone work and a fascinating example of Disney’s competing business and artistic priorities. The Jon Favreau–directed movie is at once a nostalgia play—Some millennials have kids of their own now!—and an attempt by the company to reach younger audiences.
The new Lion King hews closely to the original’s script; Disney teased the overlaps with a trailer that replicated the early-’90s promotional video shot for shot. But even if Millennial audiences are capable of feeling the devastation of Mufasa’s death anew, the 2019 movie presents larger concerns. The remake’s divergences yield uneven results, and ditching the wondrous possibility of animation creates a quandary: Cartoon chameleons resting near animated lions are one thing, but it’s harder to place lifelike renderings of these creatures next to each other on a sun-drenched savanna and make the whole scene look natural. The ensuing film is an uncanny production, a sometimes bizarre mélange of Planet Earth–esque visuals and youthful, animalian dialogue.