Lion King Remake Bridges Generations
For many children who grew up during the '90s, the experience of watching Disney classics like The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast was nothing short of a miracle. Now, those fully-grown adults are hoping to share some of that magic with their kids as they watch the recent CGI remakes.
The highly-anticipated remake of The Lion King opened last week, already earning $531 million worldwide and breaking several box office records. With a knockout cast including stars like Beyoncé (Nala), Donald Glover (Simba) and Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), many fans were counting down the days for the film’s release.
“We’ve been waiting for so long for this,” said Bellaire resident Ahmad Boston as he prepared to see the new film. “When we saw the trailer, we were so excited.” Ahmad recalls being “mesmerized” when he first saw The Lion King as a child when it was released in 1994. On the new film’s opening day last Thursday, July 18, he was excited to watch the film with his wife Whitnee and six-year-old daughter Kylie Kazmierski.
But coming out of Edwards Greenway Palace Stadium 24, Ahmad and Whitnee couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed. Aligning with some online critiques of the film, the couple felt the remake failed to live up to the animated classic. “We felt like the original was just so much better,” Whitnee said. “This was like the original, but it had no personality. The scenes that were exactly the same weren’t as powerful as the original. It was still a great family movie, but if you’ve seen the original, I think this was a let-down.”
Whitnee isn’t alone in feeling this way. Many online reviews have criticized the film for its lack of emotion. As film critic A.O Scott wrote in The New York Times, “It may be that the realism of the animals makes it hard to connect with them as characters, undermining the inspired anthropomorphism that has been the most enduring source of Disney magic.”
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a weak score of 53 percent on its “Tomatometer” and, in short, said the film “lacks the energy and heart that made the original so beloved.”
Having seen both films myself, I sympathize with this point. There’s something about the cheerfulness of the characters – apparent in their wide googly eyes, larger-than-life expressions and unnatural exaggerated movements – that makes the original touch your heart in a way the new one doesn’t. The remake is so lifelike that some of the charm is lost.
At the same time, though, the new film is a masterpiece of its own. The stunning nature scenes, the comedic exchanges between Pumbaa and Timon and the sheer visual mastery is impressive in its own right. And, the film achieves what few ’90s films can: appealing to the “iGen” (those born between 1995 and 2012) and “Gen Alpha” (those born between 2013 and 2025).
Children today seem disinterested in the original animated film. When I chatted with young kids at the movie theater on opening weekend, most had seen the 1994 film with their parents, but few remembered the characters, or felt any sort of attachment to the film.
Kylie had a hard time remembering the characters from the original, saying she liked “the girl lion” (aka Nala) the best. Likewise, four-year-old Christian Bohorquez-Burke had watched the film with his parents but had little recollection or fondness for the film.
On the one hand, this saddens me. At Christian’s age, I was playing The Lion King soundtrack on repeat and watching the film on VHS all the time. But on the other hand, I get it. As a kid, watching the latest movie sounds more appealing than watching a classic from our parents' generation. As a kid, I never would’ve opted to watch my parents’ go-tos like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Star Wars.
By remaking classics, Disney is appealing to a new audience who may never have the same appreciation for the original.
Seen in this respect, perhaps we should look at the new film as its own masterpiece, instead of comparing it to the original.
“I remember we used to perform The Lion King in school,” said Christian’s mom, Jessica Burke. “It was so big that for your fourth or fifth grade performance, you’d sing all the songs because it was such a big hit. It’s a really special thing to be able to share this with our kids and inspire the next generation of Disney lovers."
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