We saw The Lion King this weekend and boy was it an acid trip without the campy yellow submarine style animation!
I was 16 years old when the original Lion King was released in June of 1994. It was a bit passed my age demographic but I had young nieces at the time so I wound up watching it at some point and really enjoyed it. I say this to punctuate the fact that the desire to see this movie was not driven by a nostalgic itch to relive my childhood or anything like that. My desire to see this movie was almost purely driven from the technical aspect of things.
This movie represents what I think is an experiment in the future of movie making.
If you didn’t already know, this movie is not a “live-action” remake. It is almost 100% (with the exception of one shot thrown in just to see if you’d notice) animated. Disney has used cutting-edge video game VR engines to create an immersive and expansive world for the filmmakers to play within.
Directed by Jon Favreau, this incarnation of the Lion King is not a shot-for-shot remake but it comes very close. Some of the more cartoonish aspects of the original just couldn’t be pulled off, with a reasonable suspension of disbelief. I mean, we are already being asked to believe that a photo-realistic lion cub can improvise a polished broadway tune. I don’t think the audience would buy a giant, cheerleader-style pyramid of elephants, flamingos, and water buffalos. To be quite honest, I didn’t notice or miss the things that were omitted. Some critics reviews will harp on the fact that animal mouths don’t move accurately in relation to their dialog but, it didn’t bother me. In fact, there were very few times that the visuals actually looked like digital creations. And that was only because I was really looking. Some of the small details were missed in some scenes like how sand and dirt react to footsteps but this is being super nit-picky.
As for being an experiment in filmmaking, I believe that we are seeing a first in a long line of Photo-Realistic Animation feature films. The big question is…. How will this impact the film industry? Let’s take a look into the future. With the success of this film and it’s earlier experiment (Rogue One, A Star Wars Story) Disney is trying to move towards being able to brand a franchise with a character who never gets old, never gets injured, never renegotiates a salary, or holds out on a movie because of a political or philosophical disagreement with whomever/whatever. Being able to animate your characters, use voice actors to fill the role without their likeness erases what I call “The Indiana Jones” factor. There is not another actor that could play Indiana Jones. At least not while Harrison Ford and the memory his version of the character is still alive. Animation trumps that. Disney can now create a character and a franchise for that character that can go on for as long as it makes money, regardless of the actor who plays character’s condition.
Converting the entire filmmaking process to digital also brings down production costs. Since there is almost no On Location filming, cameras, gaffers, grips, stunt coordinator/performers… position that are absolutely required on a film set are reduced to a minimal need.
The post production process changes as well. Re-shoots become more manageable as directors no longer need to coordinate with actors, locations, crews, etc… it’s becomes about putting on the VR Goggles and making your adjustments.
Are these changes good? For Disney, I’m sure they are! For the audience? I’m not sure yet. It worked in The Lion King well. It worked pretty well in Rogue One. There are still advances to be made in making the physiology modeling of the human characters especially in the facial features and movements. We will probably see more of this type of filmmaking in the near future combined with MoCap and PCap so don’t worry, Harrison Ford will still be Indiana Jones.
Overall, I really enjoyed 2019’s The Lion King. The filmmakers are trying their best to not call this an animated movie and striving for the Academy Award Nominations in the Technical categories. At the core though, this is an animated movie. Maybe one of the unintended results of this film’s production will be that the movie industry will begin to give more validity to animated feature films. I mean, SpiderMan: Into The SpiderVerse was amazing and so is The Lion King!
See the trailer here: