Everybody already knows that Disney’s new remake of The Lion King is a sham; that its “live-action” selling point misrepresents the fact that the real-looking animals are actually digitally generated images. Only the casual acceptance of this blatant deception is new.
Disney’s “family entertainment” crest, a decades-old axiom, is also a euphemism for the millennium’s new reorganized cultural habits. Parents are expected to induct children into the process of mindless consumer gratitude. Knowing you’re being rooked is part of the fun, which gives new meaning to Mufasa teaching his cub Simba to appreciate his role in the never-changing production-purchase cycle — called “The Circle of Life” in the highly merchandized Oscar-nominated theme song.
The rite-of-passage storyline of the original 1994 animated Lion King is based on traditional themes — successfully employed in the reimagined Broadway adaptation by classically trained Julie Taymor. But canonical concepts of the social order (the lions’ pride), family honor, individuality, and courage belong to conventions that are now in chaos. Challenges to patriarchy sever The Lion King’s connection to the teachings of myth.
What the 1994 cartoon treated as cute satire — in the song “Hakuna Matata” sung by warthog Pumbaa and meerkat Timon — rings hollow in this new version where those creatures possess ugliness rather than charm and promote special-group interest. None of this can be defended as a trendy political allegory as some reviewers contend. Besides, the underlying praise of monarchy is always a problem for fashionable, egalitarian, supposedly woke Afrocentricity.
Disney’s blatant cultural agenda explains the disaster of The Lion King. We can clarify the film’s deception by highlighting its production-purchase cycle and recognizing the unmistakable — not coincidental — political objectives of the filmmakers. This is how it works. It’s a Dishonor Roll:
Jon Favreau (Director): After turning Marvel’s Iron Man to visual dung, he is now Disney’s fake-reality hack and is key to understanding how this digitally rejiggered Lion King (like Favreau’s Jungle Book) continues the con job of Marvel’s Black Panther. Favreau’s unnamed African veldt might as well be New Wakanda.
Donald Glover (Simba): His dubious street cred as rapper Childish Gambino distorts the film’s bildungsroman concept, as he sells a CGI version of his ghetto-pathology TV series Atlanta.
Chiwetel Ejiofore (Scar): Evokes the grim horror he endured in 12 Years a Slave by voicing the mangy usurper — no longer Jeremy Irons’s effete, gayish, villain of 1994.
John Oliver (Zazu): HBO’s political “comic” becomes the herald of Pride Rock; he controls the film’s narrative.
James Earl Jones (Mufasa): The one 1994 veteran repeats his original role as Simba’s father, adding sonorous Darth Vader cred.
Alfre Woodard (Sarabi): The dotty house wench in 12 Years a Slave becomes Mufasa’s mate, Queen of the Pride Lands, and Simba’s mother. Progress?
Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari) and Eric André (Azizi): These peanut-gallery TV comics serve as Scar’s Spotted Hyenas henchmen, Antifa-in-waiting.
Seth Rogen (Pumbaa): Channels his dirtbag shtick into the warthog who sings the “no worries” theme song “Hakuna Matata,” a nihilist philosophy.
Billy Eichner (Timon): TV’s harassment comic, cast as the meerkat, harmonizing on “Hakuna Matata” about life as “a meaningless line of indifference” without irony.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala): Not just Simba’s love interest but the era’s leading purveyor of Afrocentric kitsch. As the film’s cultural linchpin, she accuses Simba, “You don’t even know who you are!” Her rhythmic diction on “You’re not the Simba I remember” is pure Destiny’s Child. And during the live-action uprising, her call “Are you with me, lions!” awakens the Beyhive. It is the Disney corporation’s single most calculated moment since buying the Star Wars franchise.
None of this wink-wink inauthenticity was a problem when Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole — the most exquisitely designed animated film since Fantasia — respected the moral values in coming-of-age narratives. Biblical and Shakespearean archetypes are trivialized by the new Disney. Its style of fake realism prevents one from imaginatively projecting onto the animation. When Simba comes into his own and must defend his tribe against his scheming uncle Scar and the menacing, invasive Hyenas, there’s no emotional power. The Lion King’s parallels to the historical lessons of Greek mythology or fairy-tale morality just feel like vague memories.