After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
Disney’s money-spinning mission to recycle its animated back catalogue with “live action” remakes continues apace. In the past few years we’ve had Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin. Coming up are Niki Caro’s Mulan, Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid, and many, many more.
Although consistently profitable, the reason for these reboots’ existence remains questionable. Did Emma Watson make a better Belle than the drawn star of Disney’s 1991 animation just because she’s real with this new (and peculiarly faithful) version of The Lion King however, the question is not whether a remake can improve on an animated classic. Rather it’s what we should call an animated movie that eerily mimics reality while featuring no “live action” whatsoever.
Anyone who’s enjoyed an effects-laden 21st-century superhero movie will know that entire sequences (and indeed characters) are effectively hi-tech animations. Iron Man director Jon Favreau’s 2016 remake of The Jungle Book was billed as part of Disney’s “live action” slate, but beyond the figure of Neel Sethi’s Mowgli, almost nothing in the film was “live”. For The Lion King, which features no human characters, Favreau has simply taken things to their logical conclusion, using cutting-edge technology to create something that looks absolutely real while remaining absolutely unreal.
We open with a carnival of bewilderingly lifelike creatures from “the crawling ant to the leaping antelope” merrily gambolling through the Circle of Life. Remember that sense of wonder you felt seeing the majestic herds of dinosaurs for the first time in Jurassic Park? I got that same sensation gazing at these frolicking beasts, as they follow the familiar story of a young lion’s struggle to live up to his idolised father, wondering whether I should be applauding the animators or animal trainers. While Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia movies may have shimmered with an air of digital artificiality a decade ago, Mufasa’s mane looks so natural you feel you could reach out and stroke it.