MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
I remember my first computers and how much I enjoyed changing the animated screen savers – just because it was something new to do. It was fun to play with technology. (I let my screen just go to black on standby these days.)
I feel that way about current animated films. Hundreds of programmers, colorists and camera operators spend thousands of hours tweaking and refining CGI to make the next movie more spectacular than the last (because they can). And the writers spend a couple of weeks to crank out a script, matching beautiful animation to dull stories (i.e. Wonder Park). The folks at Pixar, Laika, and the creative team behind the “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy are better at coming up with quality features. Disney used to be exceptional, too.
Walt Disney Studios had a string of hand-drawn features in the 90s that managed to match beautiful animation with great stories and above average songs, similar to the string of classic Disney films from the 40s and 50s. In recent years, however, the Mouse House has begun remaking the older films with the new technology, creating a category that is now known as “Disney Live Action Reimaginings”.
The Lion King is the most recent in this series, combining perhaps the most impressive computer-generated animation yet with one of the dullest remakes that I’ve seen in quite a while. Director Jon Favreau and Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel worked overtime with their team to create their beautiful African animal world. But realistic lions, hyenas and warthogs spouting cartoon dialogue is a creepy combination. There is so little that can be done with facial expressions, the menacing lion villain Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) just looks mangy and tired. Instead of wacky cartoon choreography, songs like “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” are linked to scenes of animals simply running around. The voice work is just okay, with the exception of Seth Rogan and Billy Eisner, given plenty of room to have fun with their dialogue as Pumbaa the warthog and Timon the meercat.
The original plot of the 1994 original film is the story of young lion cub Simba (JD McCrary and Donald Glover) and his coming of age journey to become the heir to the throne of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) while having to deal with the duplicity of his Uncle Scar (and the loss of his father). The story borrows loosely from Hamlet but takes time for a diverting side trip in which Simba considers abandoning his vocation for a life of “no worries” with Timon and Pumbaa. It’s a touching emotional journey.
This version adds roughly 30 minutes to the original version. This added time is primarily used for long stretches of beautiful nature scenes (which should bore little kids) and long scenes of intense violence (which should terrify them). How this movie escaped a PG-13 rating is beyond my comprehension. If you have younger children, let them continue to enjoy the 1994 version in all of its glory and keep them away from this film for a while.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: Beautiful lifelike computer animation attached to animal fantasy makes for a semi-dull remake.
Three pitchforks: Lies and deception; murder; many scenes of realistic animal violence; nihilistic warthog/meercat prattle; flatulence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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