How the new ‘Lion King’ proves we’ll get used to reboots and sequels
This week brought some troubling news for anyone who thought there were any properties left in Hollywood that were too sacred to be rebooted. Disney announced the development of a live-action/CGI edition of The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau, who just finished netting the company nearly $1 billion for his similar treatment of The Jungle Book. In a business context, it makes plenty of sense - Favreau is a trusted helmer, and what corporation can say no to the possibility of another $1 billion or more in revenue?
In a filmmaking context, though, The Lion King - one of the most beloved films in Disney’s canon from the past 20 years - was thought to be immune from the often-bemoaned industry trend of remakes and sequels. Perhaps in the minds of fans, the film was just “too good” to be reinterpreted. But is the news that Simba, Timon and Pumbaa will be rendered in quasi-realistic computer animation as frightening as some are framing it?
Sometimes I’m skeptical that the remake/sequel trend is as worrisome as some people let on. It’s a little too easy to tar all remakes with the brush of “unoriginal” or “unnecessary”, as though the very act of making a new version of something is inherently anti-creative. Don’t get me wrong - it’s completely valid to criticize a production company for making films purely for profit (the recent Jason Bourne comes to mind). But when I hear someone claim that “Hollywood is going down the tubes with all the reboots it’s making,” the statement feels both exaggerated and over-simplified. And I suspect it's a symptom of the relative age of movies, compared to other kinds of art.
Think of other media like painting or music. Do we reject a painter because they captured the same angle of a landscape that a previous artist did? Do we complain that remixes of popular songs are killing the music industry? We don’t, and I suspect that it has to do with how visual art and music have been with us for millennia, whereas movies have only been around for 140 years (if we’re being generous).
Even though the history of motion pictures has led to thousands of films being made every single year, it’s still a limited pool to draw from when you set the entire catalogue against other types of works. So reboots and sequels make up a larger ratio of the total number of movies out there to watch. And when a studio chooses to remake a beloved film, it may only be the second or third time that the story in question has been presented. The original work is fresh in our minds (or in the minds of people one or two generations back), and so the act of remaking the film feels like a transgression, a robbery of the original creative spark - an attempt to squeeze more money out of an idea.
Couldn’t the same thing be said of any new production of Shakespeare? Or any new recording of a Mozart symphony? You certainly don’t see armies of commentators blasting out tweets with “my childhood is ruined!!!” or sarcastic animated GIFs when an artist announces an upcoming show of paintings of New York City.
Will the new Lion King be any good? Who knows? That’s up to Favreau and his team. If the new Jungle Book is any indication, it could turn out excellent, even if the CGI approach ends up dating it in the years to come. Disney also seems to be on track to deliver a complementary experience with their Beauty and the Beast adaptation next year. If these remakes can succeed, it only continues to demonstrate that our attention shouldn’t be on a movie’s status as a rehash or a sequel, but on how it’s put together. There’s no sense in taking away points from a movie before it has a chance to prove itself.
Whatever the result of Favreau’s film, it certainly won’t be the same as the original. Cash grab or not, it’s a tiny, tiny part of the maturation of movies as a means of expression - something that will hopefully compel the tone of our discussion to mature, as well.