Remakes, for better and for worse, are a way of life for movie studios, and the reasons why are straightforward. They’re safe. They have built-in audiences and a story that doesn’t require much (if any) reworking. The material is already there. It just needs to be reshot.
Some remakes are pretty good. Some are even legendary. (“Ben-Hur,” for example, comes to mind.) But most are largely unnecessary. And some are better left forgotten. (I refuse to believe there is another version of “Psycho.”)
Director Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of Disney’s “The Lion King” falls somewhere between the two poles.
Favreau’s dilemma is obvious. The original animated “Lion King” is one of those legendary films. It demolished box office records at the time and provided the artistic foundation for an entire generation of kids — my generation specifically. The mountain for Favreau to climb is tall indeed.
But this isn’t his first rodeo.
Favreau remade “The Jungle Book” in 2016, and that was one of the best movies I saw that year. It gave me hope that a live-action remake of a classic was possible. But that was “Jungle Book.” This is “Lion King.”
And for the most part, it’s pretty good. At times it’s great.
The remake is about as close to its source material as possible. The story — lion cub Simba’s exile and later return to become the rightful king — is exactly the same. (If you lined the two films up together, I’d be willing to bet a lot of the shots are the same, too.) And this works for and against the film.
Remakes are most successful as vivid retellings of their originals. This requires a decent amount of creativity and risk-taking, which, depending on the original, will probably tick off a whole lot of people. So maybe Favreau was just playing it safe here. It’s hard to say.
Everything else is great. The voice actors (new and old) are fresh with the characters. The animation, without a doubt, is beautiful. Honestly, if you’re seeing “Lion King” for the first time, and this is your introduction, you will likely love what you see.
Where does that leave the rest of us? I’m not sure.
Beloved classics will continue to receive updating. A handful will be incredible. The others less so. As long as you know that going in — as long as you set your expectations — you’ll probably enjoy things just fine.