The Lion King 2019: Is Cashing In On Nostalgia Always A Bad Thing?

As the many fans of Disney’s The Lion King get ready for the 2019 release of the remake and relive the epic story that has moved so many, I am stepping in to question the criticism that it has been receiving in the media. I challenge a Lion King fan to watch the teaser trailer and not feel a chill of anticipation when ‘Circle of Life’ rings out over that iconic Pride Rock landscape. I then found it baffling reading The Guardian’s criticism of the remake as ‘too nostalgic’. Is it possible for anything to be “too nostalgic”? Never once in my life have I wished nostalgia away. It is an inherently positive emotion and seems a moot point when criticising the film. I realise that I am what The Guardian identifies as the target audience here, being a millennial and an avid original Lion King fan, yet I do not consider that a negative place to be. I am more than happy to be targeted by Disney if it means I get to hear Beyoncé as Nala and Elton John again working his musical magic, and I will also appreciate every bit of nostalgia thrown my way.

The central argument of Ben Child’s article in The Guardian gravitates around the deconstruction of the teaser trailer, which ultimately cannot say a great deal about the overall product of a film. Disney has obviously made a creative decision here, recreating the most famous shots from the opening sequence of the original film. Child criticises this take on publicity and asks the question ‘Why did Disney feel the need to recreate the moment almost shot for shot?’, putting it down to laziness or lack of creativity. However, I cannot see any depth in this argument. There is nothing lazy about the exceptional cinematography used and the skill of the CGI, VR and motion capture that has taken two years to create an African haven in a blue screen studio in LA. By matching the images to the original film we are able to see how far technology and animation techniques have advanced in the last twenty-five years since The Lion King’s original release, and it really is immensely impressive. Director Jon Favreau has remarkable skill in pushing the limits of CGI which is clear in his remake of The Jungle Book in 2016. The endeavour created a spectacle of jungle life and eerily realistic animals, not to mention its huge success grossing $966 million. The Jungle Book had only one live actor, and The Lion King has none, creating a realistic world completely through technology. That is not lazy, that is remarkable.

Indeed, the trailer undeniably draws on nostalgia to entice past fans of the film, and there is nothing wrong with this. The scenes created in the original are already visually impressive and create an amazing fictional world for an audience to lose themselves in for an hour and a half, and why change this if it works? After all, the original Lion King was met with great critical acclaim in its time, winning four Golden Globe awards and oscar nominations. Looking at the income from The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast (over 1 billion), it’s not surprising that Disney was pushing for another nostalgic remake. I would love to pretend that money was not a motive – that Disney ran on passion for storytelling alone – yet I know that this in itself is a fairy tale. Nostalgia in these remakes creates much of their success and money, but if people enjoy the final product then Disney’s motives seem inconsequential. Fans can find solace in that the cast and crew clearly have a passion for the story, with people like James Earl Jones and Elton John keen to once again be involved and Beyoncé finding time for the role despite her jam-packed schedule.

Beyond nostalgia, the opening shots shown are powerful, whether you have seen the original or not; the atmosphere that it creates is remarkably chilling with the intense music and the voice of James Earl Jones as Mufasa once again. This film is not just for nostalgic millennials, it will introduce a whole new generation to The Lion King. Children will listen to the music and follow the story for the first time, and in twenty-five years from now they will hear the call of ‘Circle of Life’ and also feel the warmth of nostalgia. They will see the trailer and be drawn to the film for no other reason that it’s atmospheric effect and cinematic excellence. After all, it was viewed a whopping 224.6 million times in the first twenty-four hours of its release, so Disney must be getting something right.


Ella Carter