Should We Consider Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Remake Live-Action?

The debate between live-action and animation rages on.
Lion King Disney
By  · Published on December 2nd, 2018

Disney delivered a marketing knockout punch when it unleashed the first trailer for their upcoming The Lion King reboot. Dropped while millennial’s were visiting their families in the familiar trappings of their hometown, the trailer brought back fond memories of the animated classic. It is a big deal to remake one of the best animated films of all-time. Everyone was quick to label this new version with some kind of defining term. Thus millions were now referring to this new Lion King picture as Disney’s attempt at a live-action Lion King. Is this a new genesis of story and CGI a live-action movie? Or is it an incredible achievement of technology that blurs what we deem real and fake?

The first instance of photorealistic CGI becoming accepted was with the release of Stuart Little 2. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was one of the first of its kind approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a possible entry in the Animated Film category. Stuart Little 2 would not earn a nomination, but it was the beginning of a change. Live-Action film and animation blurred like never before. We’ve seen great creations before from The Lord of The Rings Gollum and Planet of the Apes Caesar, but each year another evolution in technology takes place and these characters are becoming more emotional and believable than ever before.

Merriam-Webster defines live-action as: of, relating to, or featuring cinematography that is not produced by animation. CGI creation is animation. The Lion King will be made from countless individuals who have mastered the craft and are using tools and skills to create a photorealistic world for our favorite characters to inhabit.

The Jungle Book was a template for what Disney was hoping to accomplish with this technology. That Disney film would never be as popular as The Lion King will be, but it was a good chance to see what was possible in our modern era. One reason The Jungle Book could get away with being called a live-action film was that it featured actor Neel Sethi in the lead role of Mowgli. Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato worked on Jungle Book and continued his work on The Lion King. Along with returning director Jon Favreau, the mission was to create something so realistic that it would be impossible to see where the line was blurred. During a conversation at NAB Show in Las Vegas, Legato said “You shouldn’t be aware that we were using a computer to make the movie. You have to treat it like a camera, and do no more … or it distracts you from the story. I don’t want to make a visual effects extravaganza, I want to make a movie.”

Disney wants the association of The Lion King as a live-action film. Not only does it place the film in a familiar collection of films, but it is also a testament to the work they are doing. Another reason Disney would want this kind of reaction to their new picture is that familiarity breeds contentment. According to Psychology Today, familiar things make us more comfortable. They are also a sign of something being safer than things that are not. If it is easier for our minds to make the association to a live-action feature, it makes crying over a bunch of computer-animated animals all the more acceptable. There is a lot of emotional weight that these creations will carry, they need to be believable, otherwise, we won’t be able to take that journey.

The new Lion King is not a live-action film, but that won’t stop people from taking part in the debate.

There might have been an objection to the 100% animated once the trailer dropped. Disney could have filmed animals standing still right? That notion was put to rest once PETA confirmed that no animals were used in the film.

Instead of using the shorthand that Disney’s new Lion King film is live-action, another term is needed to define exactly what it is. It was just the easiest way to refer to the film that people would understand, it doesn’t mean that the film was made using real animals. What is needed is a term that can blend the idea of photo-realistic CGI and live-action film together. Perhaps something like Ani-Action. This way it mixes the two principals together while also showcasing the need to differentiate between computer generated creations and those not made in a digital space.

Disney’s Lion King will be an animated film, but it is also a grand artistic endeavor. VFX are getting more impressive by the day and this will be an evolution from what we saw Disney accomplish with The Jungle King. They wouldn’t take on this project unless they were confident they could pull it off. It is one of their most beloved stories. Now we wait and see how they pull of the Hakuna Matata musical number.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.