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Pros and Cons: Reacting to the First Trailer for the Live-Action ‘The Lion King’

On the one hand: The new ‘Lion King’ looks exactly like the old ‘Lion King.’ On the other: The new ‘Lion King’ looks exactly like the old ‘Lion King.’

CGI Simba Walt Disney Pictures/Ringer illustration

A new Lion King movie is coming. We’ve known about this—along with the new film’s star-studded cast of Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, John Oliver as Zazu, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, and James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa—for a while. But on Thanksgiving, we finally got our first real look at the coming attraction with a 90-second teaser that showcased Mufasa’s (identical) speech to Simba about life, death, and primogeniture, and Simba’s (identical) introduction to the noble and tax-paying (OK, unclear, but identically so) creature-subjects of the African savanna:

The new film isn’t out until July 2019, just a few weeks past the 25th anniversary of the O.G. Lion King’s 1994 release. (You’re old; I’m old. If you start bracing now for learning how many people in your life were too young and/or not yet alive to see the original, you may decrease your chances of horror-induced stroke. Also, Aspirin.)

Per Entertainment Weekly, the new teaser’s first 24 hours online made it the second-most-viewed trailer in a single day, behind only Avengers: Infinity War—which is to say that there is some excitement around this thing. Now, as we emerge from our collective tryptophan haze, it’s worth asking: Is this blockbuster revisiting of a childhood classic—a film that also, by the way, had the 19th-biggest box office gross of any film after taking into account inflation—uh, actually going to be any good?

Pro: This Appears to Be a Shot-for-Shot CGI Remake of the Original Lion King

Everything the light touches is safe, and sacred, and ready for you to recite the lines to. The first movie’s soundtrack picked up two Oscars (Best Original Score as well as Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” a category in which “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” were also nominated) and three Grammys. You can expect all of that to be reproduced here, and probably pretty darn faithfully: The trailer included a snippet of the Zulu opening to “Circle of Life” that could easily have been ported directly over from the original. Seriously:

Con: This Appears to Be a Shot-for-Shot CGI Remake of the Original Lion King

I mean shot-for-shot: The new trailer even kept intact the angles of our first looks at baby Simba, Pride Rock, and assorted Rafiki-royal-baptism attendants.

A skeptic might ask what the point of revisiting the story is if nothing—big or very, very small—is going to be changed. We’re also getting a new Aladdin next year (original release: 1992), and its first teaser suggested faithfulness to the original but also some playing around with style. It looks fun, and also like it might have some surprises for Aladdin diehards.

A no-risk reproduction of The Lion King is especially a bummer given that the story has proved to be a fundamentally malleable text. The Broadway iteration of The Lion King has been in continuous production since 1997 and is now the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time and the third longest-running Broadway show ever. If you’ve seen it, you know that it both scratches all the attendant Lion King itches while also being—admittedly largely out of necessity given, uh, humans—quite a different experience than watching the movie.

This sort of CGI treatment can also veer into the uncanny valley pretty quickly. Lion King director-producer Jon Favreau’s last credit is at the helm of the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, a similarly star-studded endeavor. That movie won critical acclaim and box office love, but also got kinda weird:

Here’s hoping that having an all-animated-animal cast in The Lion King will keep some of that strangeness at bay.

Pro: They Cannot Mess Up the Script, Because the Script Has Already Been Written

OK—it’s possible that it’s just James Earl Jones, a.k.a. Mufasa, whose lines have been kept intact; our once and future regicidee is now 87 years young and could be forgiven, perhaps, for requesting some consistency. But that the trailer had everything down to intonation precisely the same, and that this is the section Disney opted to highlight, suggests that very little has been changed.

Pro: If the Script Really Is the Same, We Will Get to Hear Beyoncé Complain About Baths


Con: What Exactly Does the Remake Have Against Rafiki’s Coconut?

The single biggest story difference revealed in the new trailer is that while the original film features Rafiki anointing baby Simba with a paste taken from a coconutesque fruit, here the anointment occurs with some sort of root. Imagine watching The Lion King and thinking that the fleeting appearance of a coconut was its greatest and most glaring logical inconsistency: Naturally, a room of Disney executives agreed, the zebras worship their lion overlords, but we all know that there are no palm trees on the savanna! Justice for the coconut, Lion King 2K19’s only apparent victim.

Con: So, Wait, We’re Really Never Going to Learn How Scar Messed Up the Pride Lands So Badly?

Sure, we can assume that Scar’s selfishness and general villainy led to the waste and famine that Simba discovers on his (spoiler alert) eventual return to Pride Rock. Or maybe our guy just got unlucky, and his reign began at the start of a historic drought! Also, far be it from me to tinker with a masterpiece—but if The Lion King’s few female characters got a little more room to stretch out, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. (Is Kovu canon? What if we spent some time with Mrs. Scar?)

Pro: Chiwetel! Ejiofor! Singing! Be! Prepared!

Words I learned from this song: retention; sordid; tenacity; coup; quid pro quo. (Scar’s words are a matter of pride.) Can Chiwetel sing, you ask? Specifically in a kinda-creepy, kinda-threatening way? So glad you asked:

We’re also looking at a Beyoncé–Donald Glover “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” If you’re looking for a place where a change is likely: Nala has, by my count, one (1) solo line in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” My suspicion is Queen Bey’s Nala will have a little more to say about the monarchy this time around.

Con: The End of the S-E-X Cloud Controversy

I’m not making this up.