FILM

Disney Doesn't Care About Your Childhood: “The Lion King” Is Just a CGI Flex

Photo-realistic lions singing to each other is an uncanny valley experience you'll never got used to.

Are we sure this isn't a nature documentary?

Disney

The Lion King "live-action" remake, visually speaking, is an artistic and technological marvel.

Every single character in this film is depicted as a photo-realistic animal, right down to the wrinkles on Timone's nose and the tufts of dirt in Rafiki's hair. Even the characters' movements are completely rooted in reality, with each digital character having weight and presence on screen so convincingly real that you honestly forget you're looking at CG characters at all. The attention to detail in this film is truly awe-inspiring.

Look. At. Those. Hairs.Disney

But while the incredibly talented VFX team at Disney rooted every animal in reality, the basic demands of The Lion King story seemed to have been a secondary concern—namely, the singing and speaking. The Lion King is a musical, after all, and what we got in the 1994 original were characters who had moving lips and big, expressive eyes to illustrate their emotions and motivations—you know, the kind of thing you can do with hand-drawn animation. Since Disney decided to have a completely realistic take on these characters, a lot of that personality and expression just doesn't come across. When Mufasa and Simba are having a conversation, for example, it just looks like two lions staring at each other with human voices coming vaguely from their direction. Their mouths move up and down, but their dead, beady little eyes show nothing but emptiness. It's weird.

Which begs the question: Was this the best story to tell with photo-realistic animals? The Lion King is essentially Hamlet the musical, and most would assume that a literal lion might not be able to pull off the emotion and charisma required of a Shakespeare story. With that being said, The Lion King 2019 tries to stay beat-for-beat with the original animated classic. If you look at the original movie's runtime compared to the 2019 remake, you'll notice there's an additional 30 minutes in the remake. Most of that time goes to the first act, which was my favorite part of the movie, with baby Simba and baby Nala simply playing and romping about. Granted, this definitely dragged on way too long before we got the story really going—but c'mon. Did you see the stills from this movie? Baby Simba is cute as f**k.

I mean...Disney

Can the whole movie be about baby Simba?Disney

There were also some character changes in this film that really elevate the experience—namely Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen bring these intensely realistic characters to life in a way that's sorely missing in the remake's other performances. The two have such delightful chemistry that it made me want to just stick with them for the rest of the movie. The decision to add their off-the-cuff jokes to the script was a commendable choice from director Jon Favreau, who clearly saw the talents of these two performers and let them take the lead.

For instance, my favorite line comes at the end of the "Simba growing up" montage, right when it looks like it's going to be a shot-for-shot remake of the original. When Simba continues to sing after the music stops, Pumbaa quips, "You've gained 400 pounds since you started!" I didn't think a Disney movie could be so tastefully meta, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I just want to watch these three for two hours <3Disney

The heroes of the movie.IMDB

As for the rest of the performances, everyone is pretty good. John Oliver plays a great Zazu; but again, his performance is neutered by the fact that his character doesn't have lips: It just looks like a very normal bird flapping hysterically at lions for two hours. Mufasa is actually great, because James Earl Jones has the presence of God in his voice, so at least that loans itself well to watching a photo-realistic king of the jungle roam around the screen. Scar is also good; there have been complaints online about Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance compared to that of Jeremy Irons, but at least Ejiofor's quiet confidence is fitting for his commanding photo-realistic character. Frankly, the animated Scar had so much dimension and expression that complemented Irons' vocal articulation, you're just not going to be able to replicate that expression in CG—let's not forget when Will Smith unfortunately tried it.

#HyenaGangEntertainment Weekly

Since this film is technically a musical, let's briefly touch on the musical performances: They're fine. It really seems like they were an afterthought, and I can't really blame Favreau for this. This biggest challenge to overcome was making literal singing lions seem convincing on screen, and I think he did the best he could. Still, the musical numbers from the original are so poorly replicated here that if they were something you loved from the original, you're going to be seriously disappointed. "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," the song that really kicks off the musical energy in the film, is very lackluster in its presentation. Remember that the hand-drawn original had colorful spectacles and dramatic actions, like Simba and Nala riding on the backs of f**cking ostriches and a cohort of zebras saluting them, culminating with a massive animal tower made of parading elephants, giraffes, gazelles, anteaters, and flamingos, with Simba and Nala standing on top! In comparison, this remake has Simba and Nala running around a pond, with those same animals there but not seeming to notice them: not really the same impact. They also dare to cut down one of the best songs from the original, "Be Prepared," to a 30-second chant, which I take personal grievance with. With the last song of the film, the quintessential "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," Faverou decided to have the whole song sung in Simba and Nala's heads, probably to avoid the awkward lip-syncing issues. It ends up feeling like a Nat Geo documentary with Beyoncé's vocals in the background.

Oh look... some regular a** lions. How romantic.Disney

Surprisingly, the most disappointing performances come from Donald Glover and Beyoncé as Simba and Nala. I would guess they were both picked for their star-power and not necessarily for their voice acting abilities. Glover plays a pretty forgettable Simba, who lacks the headstrong and playful personality that Mathew Broderick brought to the original. That's not a huge gripe compared to Beyonce's performance, though. I'm honestly not sure what happened there. All of her lines are spoken as overly-enunciated statements rather than normal conversation, and it's so, so distracting. At first I couldn't understand why the first interaction between Simba and Nala is so awkward. There are long beats of painful silence between their lines, which gives you too much time to remember that you're looking at CG lions with inexplicably human voices… And then you keep thinking: "Oh, sh*t…Beyoncé's in this movie!"

Mufasa is a badass, even in photorealism.Disney

Honestly, this movie is a lot of fun if you just enjoy it for what it is and don't expect it to capture the same wonder of the original. This movie is a big creative leap for Disney, but it's not exactly what any of us were expecting. The CG effects and character design in The Lion King 2019 are the absolute best I've ever seen, which is enough for me to want to see it again. But if you care more about seeing your beloved musical numbers and characters brought to new life on screen, you might not want to put down $15 to see this in theaters. If you've got kids, take them, and you won't be bored. But if you're emotionally invested, maybe wait for this to drop on Disney Plus in a few months. After all, this is just the latest flavor of 90s nostalgia for Disney to exploit, and amidst the company's ever-growing arsenal of remade animated classics, this one is sure to make a heap of money.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡/5

FILM

Does It Matter That Ariel's Black if It's Still a White Person's Story?

On its surface, this film's casting promises something that it is very clearly not going to do––tell an actual black story.

Disney's live-action remakes may seem progressive on the surface, but they really just amount to cheap, safe, Hollywood liberalism written by white men.

That's not exactly "progress."

The Little Mermaid (1989) isn't a progessive film in the first place—like, in any way. The entire premise revolves around a teenage mermaid who sees a hot guy in a boat and goes: "Wow. He's hot. I will do literally anything to get him to notice me." That's it. Sure, there's a little about "true love" and social alienation, but mostly it's the story of a desperate teenager seeking escape from her monotonous (and emotionally abusive) life in the arms of an attractive man. Upon rewatching, Ariel certainly could use an update.

disney's black ariel written by white men Yes Ariel, you're basic.The Little Mermaid 1989

Disney seemed to have a similar thought. "What's the laziest way we can revitalize this property to milk more money out of our millennial, nostalgia-hungry fans?" The answer was simple—make a beloved character just a little different. Make her black.

disney's black ariel written by white men chloe x halle

Their decision to cast a black actress for the role of Ariel has been met with widespread acclaim and celebration, with some outlets calling it a "an exciting step forward." So, in the spirit of this excitement, let's acknowledge the good:

  1. Black representation in mainstream, commercial films is embarrassingly low, especially from household names like Disney. Live-action Ariel is the first black princess since Tiana in 2011's depressingly underwhelming Princess and the Frog. More ethical representation is necessary.
  2. Halle Bailey has an incredible singing voice and will probably do a great job as Ariel.
  3. People seem genuinely excited about this casting. Little girls and boys of color will have a new princess to see themselves in, and that's a f**king beautiful thing.

Okay, that's all great. But as a person of color who loves big-budget movies, I can't help but feel that casting a black Ariel is a superficial way to appeal to the public's growing demand for ethical cultural representation. On its surface, this film's casting promises something that it is very clearly not going to do—tell an actual black story. I would argue that portraying an authentic minority experience is far more important in our current media landscape than simply giving an old, outdated story a face-lift. Don't we deserve a new black princess? One who represents the times and values that we live in today? The only black representation in 1989's The Little Mermaid was a problematic crab, and I'd rather not revisit the era when that was okay.

disney's black ariel written by white men THERE ARE SO MANY ISSUES WITH THIS The Little Mermaid 1989

On the other hand, Disney's new princess films do seem to be more culturally conscious these days. Disney hired a whole team of anthropologists, historians, and cultural practitioners from the Polynesian diaspora to oversee the production of the 2016 animated feature Moana. That paid off. Not only was the movie a financial success, but it ended up being impactful to people of color, because Moana's story was influenced by the culture she came from. As Hugo Award-nominated film critic Lindsay Ellis put it: "The plot [of Moana] derives from lessons Moana learns about her own culture. The story isn't about a young girl finding herself, but discovering that her ancestors did incredible things and the joy of discovering that." If black Ariel could get the same level of cultural attention paid to her story, that actually wouldn't be so bad...

But here's the rub. In the midst of all our high-fiving and (admittedly dope) fan art, we're missing the bigger picture: Disney is only interested in our money. I'll let ex-Disney CEO Micheal Eisner emphasize this point through an internal memo he penned in 1981 to his team of executives: "We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement - but to make money. ...In order to make money, we must always make entertaining movies, and if we make entertaining movies, at times we will reliably make history, art, a statement, or all three."

disney's black ariel written by white men What we've always wanted... Aladdin's dad.Aladdin: King of Thieves

Even today, Disney still seems to live by this ethos. It's clear that money is the core driving force behind all of these mediocre live-action remakes of beloved properties. Disney has been repackaging and reselling us the same s**t for decades, from re-releasing "Disney classics" like Pinocchio and Snow White on VHS, (and then DVD...and then Blu-ray…) to making a bazillion direct-to-video sequels like Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure and Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World. Live-action remakes are just Disney's newest tchotchke to shill, but with a twist. These movies need to match up to the "millennial sensibility," the "liberal discourse." They need to be steeped in the kind of zeitgeist that demands think pieces and twitter hashtags. As Lindsay Ellis said in her 2018 video essay about Disney's Beauty and the Beast remake: "These live-action remakes seem to pose themselves not as simple remakes, but as responses to criticisms of the films that they are remaking."

The simple truth is that Disney is in the business of making popular movies to make money, and they will follow any trend necessary to do that. Many millennials, including myself, want to see a socially conscious coming-of-age Disney movie featuring a woman of color. Is the new Little Mermaid going to be that story about a young black mermaid exploring the consequences of her identity, both as a princess and a global citizen of the world? Maybe! But from the looks of its current writers, probably not. For now, we can only speculate. The one thing we do know for sure is that Disney is more than willing to address the cultural anxiety around identity and representation in order to get at our sweet, sweet cash.

disney's black ariel written by white men People Magazine

So it's up to you, the consumer, to decide: Is commodifying representation appropriate for this particular Disney princess story? When it comes out in 2020-something, we'll get to answer this question with our wallets. But in the meantime, I implore you to think carefully about the praise you give to a hundred-billion dollar media conglomerate. They don't have the best track record with cultural representation, and I'm not so sure this new Little Mermaid film is going to be the princess story we deserve.

FILM

"Spider-Man: Far From Home" Is the Best Sequel of the Year

Also, Jake Gyllenhaal is super hot and that makes up for his character's cliché motivation.

After the dark ages of Sony's floundering Spider-Man reboot, there's one thing fans and critics can all agree on: We love the new Peter Parker.

Tom Holland has brought fresh life to a character seemingly long-abandoned, and director Jon Watts cemented Spider-Man's comeback with the highly praised Spider-Man: Homecoming. But sequels are notoriously hard to get right, so Spiderman: Far From Home had a very big suit to fill.

And it filled the suit well. The main glowing achievement in this film, as with the previous one, was the superb acting from the main and supporting cast. Every single character was a pure delight to watch, and returning director Watts managed to keep a youthful, light-hearted tone throughout the whole film.

It was a little disappointing that Far From Home wasn't as much a buddy-comedy with Peter and Ned as it was in Homecoming. But what was lost in bromance was made up for with actual romance. MJ (played by the exceptional Zendaya) comes into the fold as the coolest kid you never actually spoke to in high school. Her chemistry with Peter is charming and undeniable; they play off each other effortlessly. I honestly haven't been this invested in a teen romance since Freaks and Geeks was taken off the air (RIP Lindsay and Daniel's misplaced love).

Jake Gyllenhaal's presence in the film is very appreciated, even if it seems to come out of nowhere. His is a really interesting take on the Mysterio character, replacing the magical element of his illusions with science and future-tech. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, Mysterio's motivation ends up being a bit hackneyed.

It could be argued that this was intentional, poking fun at the tired "bad-guy" trope that's permeated the Marvel universe since the first Iron Man. But being tongue-in-cheek doesn't make the premise any more compelling, even if it is playful. Not a huge sticking point, but compared to the spectacularly menacing performance from Micheal Keaton as Vulture in the last Spider-Man film, Mysterio leaves a bit to be desired.

The only real complaint I can see being made about this film is that Spider-Man doesn't really have a character arc. His main goal in the film is to relax and tell MJ how he feels. Maybe what Watt was trying to do was show Peter attempting to have a normal life, then deciding that he needs to step up and take responsibility for his powers.

But that doesn't really happen. Instead, Peter says he wants to have a normal vacation and tell MJ how he feels, but at the first sign of chaos he jumps straight into action. For the rest of the film, he's complaining about having to fight evil, but he doesn't actually make any decisions about it. He just kind of does what he's told.

No one really cares about character arcs, though, so odds are that you won't really be bothered by this. The movie gets so many things right: authentic romance, genuine laughs, touching character moments, and top-notch special effects. The battle scenes, in particular, were thrilling, maybe even making it worth an IMAX ticket. If you loved the first movie, you're going to love this one. And stick around for the post-credit scene, which has definitely been spoiled online at this point—I think we're all ready for the next Spider-Man installment.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡/5