And who can blame the House of Mouse? When you own decades’ worth of films that are positively stitched into the Americana quilt of pop culture, why not keep going back to that (wishing) well for new returns? Thanks to the evolution of the digitally possible, Disney can now carve out CG remakes till even our children’s children are weaned on this mother lode of repurposing.
Indeed, in touting its teaming with director Jon Favreau for a fast-tracked “Lion King” “reimagining,” the Walt Disney Co. trumpeted that this project “follows the technologically groundbreaking smash hit ‘The Jungle Book,’ directed by Favreau, which debuted in April and has earned $965.8-million worldwide.”
Yes, that golden figure is right there in the studio’s unburied lede. The message: If Favreau’s reimagined “Jungle Book” can gross nearly a billion, just think what a reimagined “Lion King” — which in 2014 became the top box-office title in any medium, when factoring in film and theatrical projects — can gross in its new form.
And yes, there are no illusions of new narrative magic being harbored as the primary motive in the Magic Kingdom. The reimagined “Beauty and the Beast” (with the Oscar-winning Bill Condon in the director’s chair) arrives next year, and should it succeed even reasonably, there is nothing to slow this money train. (And in pointing out this building-momentum trend in April, I see now that I even offhandedly referenced “The Lion King” at that time. Perhaps it seemed inevitable even then.)
“The Lion King” presents its own challenges, though, because it became a classic within the lifetimes of most of us, and so is no dusty nugget. And more important, the double Oscar winner is about as close to animated storytelling perfection as a non-Pixar Disney film has achieved in the past half-century. Many fans hold it dear — nay, nearly sacred.
Which is why this is an appeal to Mr. Favreau: Unlike your “Jungle Book,” please truly reimagine “The Lion King” from a narrative perspective, too, out of pure aesthetic respect.
In the best of all worlds, “Lion King” can be made more like “Maleficent” — a remake that actually, unlike “Jungle Book,” has something new to say. Give the viewer a fresh narrative aria, instead of mere CG bells and whistles.
Mr. Favreau is a smart man, as well as a savvy one. I have sat with him briefly, and he seems to genuinely appreciate the great storytelling he adapts.
And he is, too, a man of emotion when it comes to family. One year at Comic-Con, a few of us offered warm wishes to Mr. Favreau when he let it be known that it was his son’s birthday. He seemed genuinely touched.
So please consider, Mr. Favreau: Some families, like mine, consider “The Lion King” a near-untouchable gold standard.
So don’t take a “Hakuna Mutata” approach to the sense of story in this animated Hamlet. Be inspired by the best of Julie Taymor, and give us something truly new.
That, more than figuring out how to bank the next billion, is the authentic circle of a creative life.