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"The Lion King is out today - but why do Disney keep producing these rubbish remakes?"

PUBLISHED: 10:00 19 July 2019

The new photo-real revisiting of the Disney classic The Lion King Photo: Disney

The new photo-real revisiting of the Disney classic The Lion King Photo: Disney

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Audiences and critics have panned the movie giant's live-action remakes, however the box office figures speak for themselves. Should the classics be left alone?

The Farrier family with Dumbo  in Tim Burton's idiosyncratic remake of the Disney anaimated classic Photo: DisneyThe Farrier family with Dumbo in Tim Burton's idiosyncratic remake of the Disney anaimated classic Photo: Disney

Today, the long-awaited live-action remake of The Lion King finally hits UK cinemas. Hot on the heels of Aladdin and Dumbo, the CGI spectacular is Disney's third reboot of the year, as it storms ahead on its quest to remake its archive of animated classics.

While The Lion King's adorably fluffy photorealistic Simba might be worlds away from Tim Burton's googly-eyed Dumbo and Will Smith's bright blue genie, the film has one thing in common with its live-action predecessors: less than favourable reviews.

When the film's first teaser trailers hit the web, fans were quick to comment that something seemed missing - that the bold, bright colours and the larger-than-life characters of the 1994 original had been abandoned in favour of hyperrealism. Eagle-eyed viewers also observed that the trailers appeared to avoid showing any close-up shots of its animals speaking or singing, fuelling speculation that Disney was loath to reveal this simply because it looked, well…bad.

The critic reviews are now in, and on the whole, they appear to confirm fans' worst fears - that the magic is gone. Despite widespread praise for the film's dazzling visuals and remarkable attention-to detail, the general consensus is that the emotional heart of the film is missing. By opting for realism over fantasy, critics contend that the film fails to hit the same emotional beats as the animation. Simba and Nala's photorealistic faces might look beautiful, but they can't express emotion.

Lady and the Tramp, a classic date night over spaghetti. Photo DisneyLady and the Tramp, a classic date night over spaghetti. Photo Disney

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It's this fundamental issue that makes live-action a strange artistic choice for The Lion King. By their very nature, realistic animal faces are limited in terms of expression, which is why animation has served Disney so well in the past. With animation, anything is possible, allowing animals to give impassioned soliloquies, fall about laughing, perform acrobatic choreography, shed a tear and convincingly convey emotion. Animation lets the impossible become real. It gives life to inanimate objects, lets animals talk, sing and laugh, and transports us to far-away fantasy worlds, bursting with colour and brilliant vibrancy.

Why then, is Disney so intent on taking its films out of the magical realm and grounding them in photorealistic reality? There's one short and simple answer: box office success. Despite somewhat scathing critical reviews and lukewarm audience reactions, Guy Richie's Aladdin has emerged as one of the year's biggest hits, bringing in $900m and leapfrogging three Harry Potter films on the list of all-time biggest box office earners. The Lion King is fully expected to enjoy the same success, with industry experts predicting that it might even topple Avengers: Endgame as the highest-grossing film of the year. Critics might not like it, audiences might not like it, but it's set to be a roaring big hit all the same.

As long as Disney keeps making money from its live-action remakes, it will keep making them, no matter now poorly they are received. Just days before the film's release, a clip from the newly rebooted The Lion King went viral on Twitter, and for all the wrong reasons. The clip showed a side-by-side, shot-for-shot comparison of Simba, Timon and Pumbaa singing along to one of the film's most beloved hits, Hakuna Matata. While the animals in the original cartoon danced their way through the technicolour jungle, swinging from vine to vine and diving headfirst into a turquoise pool, the CGI animals in the updated version are shown simply walking through a thoroughly nondescript patch of jungle. Gone are the vibrant backdrops, the near-constant sight gags and the facial acrobatics of the original. Instead, we have a group of hyperrealistic animals making their way through a dull and unremarkable stretch of forest - it's as though a Disney soundtrack has been laid over a clip from a David Attenborough documentary.

This latest wave of backlash will do little to dissuade Disney from pursuing its live-action mission. A photorealistic Lady and the Tramp will be hitting Disney+ later this year, and live-action versions of Mulan, The Little Mermaid and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are all on the horizon. According to a US study released earlier this month, 91% of remakes actually score lower with audiences compared to their original versions, but for some strange reason, we keep going to see them. So, don't expect live-action reboots to disappear anytime soon - whether we're feeling the love or not.

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