Grasping at Straws: The Lion King

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

Brought to you by Sour Cat 

Image result for the lion king

This may possibly be the Grasping at Straws that draws the most backlash I’ve ever received, but the grasping can not be denied. Someone has to make these unpopular points, and I have never shied away form a challenge.

This past weekend I saw Avengers: Endgame, and one of the previews before the film started was for the upcoming CGI remake of The Lion King. Right then, the seed was planted for a new Grasping at Straws.

No, I will not be arguing that The Lion King is overrated or you shouldn’t see this remake. The Disney classic is unassailable and an essential part of a whole generation’s childhood. As a result, I am thrilled to see the new version and am eagerly awaiting its July release.

That being said, there’s just no way it can come close to matching the wonder and immersion that the original produces.

It’s an extremely daunting task to begin with, simply on account of it being a remake. You can count on one hand the amount of remakes in film, music, and TV history that were better than the original. It’s too difficult to overcome nostalgia. Once something becomes beloved and timeless to the extent that The Lion King is, it usually gets put on such a tall pedestal that no remake, no matter how good, can quite match it.

And I think this new version has a lot going for it too! The voice cast is elite, with Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and countless other talented individuals headlining the film. Jon Favreau is directing, which is also very encouraging for its prospects of being a good movie.

But when you remake THE LION KING, “good” is miles away from where you have to be. Expectations are already sky-high, and often times when hype is this great it can tend to dominate the narrative of a new product, even after its release. A prime example of this is Drake’s divisive album Views. It had been primed to fans for almost 2 years as the culmination of Drake’s career to that point, the crowning achievement and legacy-defining project. While the album set basically all the streaming records at the time, fans and critics alike generally agreed that it underwhelmed. It was nearly impossible for the final product to deliver on the massive anticipation, and this precisely became its legacy instead.

For this new The Lion King to be genuinely praised as a worthy generational successor, it has to not only match the visual spectacle and emotional power that the original created, but it also has to somehow possess a slight twist to the story that sets it apart. If every story beat plays out exactly like the original, the new one will be absolutely unable to hold up in comparison. First always wins when it comes to things like this. Ghostbusters, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and many other beloved films with much-maligned reboots can attest to this.

All of the previous reasons for my dubiousness toward The Lion King remake pales in comparison to this: the nature of the photorealistic CGI they use for the remake almost certainly won’t allow the characters to be as vibrant and expressive as they were in the original. I mean, just look at the header photo I used for this blog. Will they be able to prop Pumbaa up on his hind legs, one hoof over his chest, head thrown back, eyes closed, and just locked in to “Hakuna Matata.”

It’s one of the most important moments in the entire story, a make-or-break sequence that truly kicks off Simba’s redemption. If I can’t really feel that song, and the conviction with which those characters put behind the song, then it’s going to fall short. There’s no other way around it; that song has to hit a certain benchmark. I have to be grinning like an idiot and getting the warm-and-fuzzies in the theater.

Of course, that’s not the only part I’m concerned about. Scar holding Mufasa at the edge of the cliff has to be filled with a fraught uncertainty. I don’t know if that will be possible if both of them are just making regular-old lion faces. You know what real animals can’t do? Smile, and arch their eyebrows, and dance, and perform all the human movements that we can relate to. If the CGI is as realistic as it seems in the trailer, then the characters won’t be able to properly emote what is necessary to captivate the audience.

Will organic tears truly fall from my eyes if Simba is looking at his father’s still body with nothing more than this face as opposed to this one?

This is the stuff that matters most when strapping yourself in for The Lion King. We love this story so much because it levels our emotions like a Category 5 hurricane and makes us wonder why we’re not all jungle animals. The resonance of the moments that get us there have to land in such a specific way that every little facial tic matters. It’s an extremely delicate balance that I’m worried the filmmakers won’t be able to nail.

There’s so much more great details from the original that are unlikely to be carried over correctly to the photorealistic remake. The juice from the fruits that Timon and Pumbaa bite into, the effervescent colors of the jungle, the majestic volume of Mustafa’s and adult Simba’s manes. This all contributes to the excellence of the original, and if it is inferior or absent in the remake, it’s going to be a crucial detriment to its overall quality as a film.

The original The Lion King is among the most masterful of all of Disney’s masterpieces, and the reverence it holds from the generation that grew up with it is unparalleled. I’m not mad at all that they remade it. I certainly understand the decision from a financial perspective and, despite what I’ve written in this blog, I am also looking forward to seeing it. I truly want to have faith in everyone involved in making this, and I’m confident that they all put their best efforts into it.

Sure, I’ll be skeptical as I walk into the theater come July. I’ll probably be quick to point out a flaw that I notice compared to the original. That doesn’t mean I don’t want this thing to be great. I’d rather be proven wrong and have this whole blog thrown back in my face. That would mean one of my all-time favorite childhood stories has been done justice in a remake. There’s nothing more I can ask for than the opportunity to experience the power of The Lion King for the first time twice in my life. I’m hoping this could happen, I’m just not expecting it.

I could be definitely grasping at straws. Or I could be not grasping at all. I suppose we’ll find out soon.