I’ve been pretty on the fence about this current trend of making live-action remakes of Disney films. That might be changing for me as this morning, the trailer for The Lion King dropped. On the one hand, it’s natural to want to use new technology to tell old stories. We’ve been doing that for as long as there have been humans. On the other hand, ouch! This is my childhood we’re talking about here! I wore out the tape of my VHS copies of these movies and the soundtracks had regular rotation in my CD player. In my heart, they were perfect in all their hand-painted animation cell glory. So, I’ve never been interested in seeing any of the remakes.
I have to admit. This trailer looks gorgeous!
The trailer opens with Simba and Nala coming upon the hyena cave while Scar’s voice muses about the unfairness of life. It’s a bold change from the soaring optimism that begins the 1994 trailer but is no less striking. Right away, we know that there will be darkness in this movie; we’re told so by Scar himself. Fans of the original will be rewarded almost at once with shots that replicate the animated version: the cubs walking through the cave as a hyena’s shadow moves secretly passed them, the hyenas emerging as a trio from the shadows, Simba and Nala pulling away from the threat. This trailer is already showing us that we can expect some close attention to detail.
We cut from the dark shadows of Scar’s world to Mufasa giving Simba a very different treatise on life. Now everything is bathed in the light of the Savannah sun. We see Zazu fluttering to land in front of Simba, some leaping gazelles; this is the Lion King world that we remember. The incomparable James Earl Jones is the only returning voice, but it is absolutely the right call; there is no one else in all the land where the sun touches that could voice that character. The choice of dialogue from each character does an excellent job of presenting the dichotomy of world views that are at the heart of this story.
Mufasa and Scar are brothers who both mentally divide the world into two. Scar sees it as those born to feast and those made to beg for scraps. Mufasa sees it as those who look for what they can take and those who look for what they can give. This neatly explains the central conflict to the new generation who may not be familiar with the original. All this, while treating old fans to the comforting fatherly advice of the best lion king ever.
From here, we get more familiar shots: the wildebeest stampede, Rafiki painting the cave wall, Simba growing up while he walks with Timon and Pumba. The cinematography is beautiful, and the mix of live-action and CGI is seamless. Just to make sure we don’t mistake this for some serious monarchical drama, the trailer closes out with Timon and Pumba singing the opening refrain to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It neatly tugging at the nostalgia strings and reminding us that this remake promises to bring the same joy that the original did. I showed the trailer to my kindergarteners this morning, excited for this new generation to experience one of my favourite films, even if it does look a little different from the film I loved as a child. It’s all part of the circle of life.