By now, the assembly line for Disney’s live action remakes of their animated classics is a well-oiled machine, and audiences should be used to what they’re going to get. The basic trappings of their favorite films will be preserved but within them will be completely unnecessary changes as well as tweaks to pander to the prevailing social justice wings. Gaston is now capable of cold-blooded murder. Jasmine sings about female empowerment. Mulan no longer sings “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” The “live action” version of The Lion King sees these additions and raises the stakes, turning a beloved children’s cultural cornerstone into a parable for communism.
The movie opens with a near shot-for-shot remake of the iconic song “Circle of Life.” If it had continued down this path, it wouldn’t have been without its problems–the biggest being that the concerns born from the trailer were proven right. The animation style seemed to remove the humanity from the film. At many points, the movie seemed to be more of a nature documentary with weird Disney musical interludes than a story about anthropomorphized animals that reflected our world. It’s near impossible to care about the human drama in the animal kingdom when the animals are just animals.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the animation style that erases the humanity from Simba and his pride. Instead, writer Jeff Nathanson (scribe of sequels such as Speed 2, Rush Hour 2, and Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest) takes little liberties with the source material until Timon and Pumba are nihilists, Scar just wants to sleep with his brother’s wife, and Sarabi preaches the power of compassion before punching a Hyena in the face. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow recap, but I will warn you with the lowlights.
Deep in the evasive Hakuna Matata portion of his journey, Simba (voiced at this point by Donald Glover) is listening to Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) pontificate as they knock over the hiding place for their next meal. Timon says, in an integration with the film’s concept of the circle of life, that life is actually just a straight line with no meaning which is why they don’t need to bother with worries. Yes, what was once a storyline about about immaturely avoiding responsibility is now a horrifying flirtation with nihilistic hedonism.
This hedonistic strain of selfishness, of course, is directly contrasted with the narcissistic strain of Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in a scene that almost immediately proceeds it. Sitting atop Pride Rock, Scar didactically debates with Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) about obligation and selfishness and why it is better for a ruler to take rather than keep the context of the entire circle in mind. Scar is, for all intents and purposes, a sociopath, especially as he demands Sarabi give himself to her as he is now the alpha male.
Perhaps all of these ideas would have been fine if this movie were a nature documentary. The animal kingdom is ruled by, well, animalism. They have no higher ability to reason beyond hedonism or narcissism. Of course, they have no idea what those concepts are, and they can’t talk. Theoretically, this movie is for kids, which makes it all the more strange that a story with talking animals about the difficulties and responsibilities of growing up in the world has been turned into a naked argument for communism.
I really wish that I could write this review without such loaded language and with more subtly. Unfortunately, it’s the year 2019, and this approach is the new Disney.
They tempt us with nostalgia and take advantage of our desire to have an enjoyable moment of relaxation without thought because, to them, we’re all easy Marx.