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‘The Lion King’ proves emotions and cash rule Disney’s box office decisions

On a visceral level, the new “Lion King” trailer strikes all the right notes. The sunrise, the building crescendo, James Earl Jones, the beginning of the stampede scene as James Earl Jones talks about his demise, and the African Call that is the original movie’s signature. It inspires goosebumps and causes the heart to speed up. Remember! Let’s face it. People are going to see this remake, and they are going to love it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the idea of it.

Same Old Stories

Disney has gone into their film vault, dragging their beloved animated classics into the light and exposing them to live-action remake status. Some may point to 1996’s “101 Dalmatians” with Glenn Close as the first successful live action remake. It was successful enough, and possibly sold enough toys, to inspire a sequel.  However, 2014’s “Maleficent,” with Angelina Jolie who was born for the role, started the current era of live action adaptations. It was followed by “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and Christopher Robin.” With one movie released every year. “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Lady and the Tramp” are on the docket for 2019.

That’s four live action adaptations in a single year. Those aren’t new stories; they are recycled stories that required less creativity to make and provided more stability for the financial side of the ledger. People may say they want new stories; they don’t. They want properties they know they are going to enjoy, especially when they are spending $15 a ticket. If people wanted new stories, “Kubo and the Two Strings” would’ve been a box office hit. And from the looks of it, “The Lion King” is going to give the audience what it wants. The trailer shots are ripped straight from the animated film. This isn’t a remake or remodeling; it’s a straight up rerelease.

Sequels and Remakes

The Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars film factories are releasing, or distributing, 12 films next year, including “Glass,” a sequel to “Unbreakable,” and “Split.” Of those 12, only “Artemis Fowl,” the DisneyNature release “Penguins” and, possibly, the Marvel production “Captain Marvel” are not sequels or remakes. Giving “Captain Marvel” the benefit of the doubt, the same universe doesn’t necessarily make a sequel or prequel in this case, only 25 percent of Disney’s 2019 releases are new stories. That’s bad for writers and people who are creating new ideas. And let’s face it, “Penguins” is more like a public service, which I’m totally going to go see because, uh, PENGUINS! (Shameless plug: Come on, my website is “penguinate”and my wife makes stuffed penguins, which you should buy!)

Not Live Action

“The Lion King” is being lumped in with Disney’s live action remakes of animated films, but it isn’t live action. No matter how beautifully rendered, the characters are computer animated. At least in “The Jungle Book,” Mowgli was a real actor on screen. (Props to Neel Sethi who had to act against the green screen.) “The Lion King” is computer generated images that, at least as far as the trailer is concerned, will match the animated classic in every way. Fire up the computer and redo every Disney Classic that way; maybe, it will allow Disney to extend the copyright, again, of “Steamboat Willie” before it expires in 2024.

Disneyland and Mary Poppins

There’s a story that at the end of the premier of the original “Mary Poppins,” P.L. Travers had some suggestions for making the film better. Walt looked at her and said something to the effect of “Pamela, that ship has sailed.”

One of the many reasons that Disneyland exists is because Walt wanted something he could change. Once the movie was done, there wasn’t any going back and redoing it to make it better. That ship has sailed, except now, The Walt Disney Company is remaking the films. They just aren’t making them necessarily better.

Where’s the Creativity?

The original “Lion King” made just under $1 billion dollars worldwide in 1997. It was the highest grossing animated film of all time (not adjusted for inflation) and remained at the top of the list until “Toy Story 3.” The new “Lion King” might not live up to the original, even if Disney gets it right – whatever that may mean. Maybe only die-hard fans will see it a second time, but judging by the Twitterverse… God, Disney’s going to make some cash, and that’s bad for creativity. (See Pixar.) Why take a risk when you can take a known commodity, change its medium slightly, and make a boatload of money?

Want More Creativity?

If you want more creativity in the world, I urge you to find several independent authors and artists and support them. Give up one movie this year and use that money to pledge $1 a month to someone on Patreon. Go to a comic convention and find an artist in Artist Alley; buy something from them. I’d love for it to be me. Mostly, I’d love for us to get more original stories out there. We all have a story to tell, but they need to be supported financially in order to get heard.

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