Even a king has his corporate overlords.
And so with Disney's confirmation that the studio will remake its 1994 classic The Lion King, the idea that you don't mess with perfection has just been felled in a corporate gorge, if not a financial gorging.
Yes, as Disney gallops along in its plan to tap its animated gold mine through live-action and CG remakes, the classic titles are being lined up for repurposing like freight cars restocked with billions in bullion. The recent Cinderella and The Jungle Book proved it: There's a mint to be made in blasting open Disney's vault of beloved cartoons and re-creating them through new technology.
And who can blame the House of Mouse? When you own decades' worth of films that are positively stitched into the Americana quilt of pop culture, why not keep going back to that (wishing) well for new returns? Thanks to the evolution of the digitally possible, Disney can now carve out CG remakes till even our children's children are weaned on this mother lode of repurposing.
Indeed, in touting its teaming with director Jon Favreau for a fast-tracked Lion King "reimagining," the Walt Disney Co. trumpeted that this project "follows the technologically groundbreaking smash hit The Jungle Book, directed by Favreau, which debuted in April and has earned $965.8-million worldwide."
Yes, that golden figure is right there in the studio's unburied lede. The message: If Favreau's reimagined Jungle Book can gross nearly a billion, just think what a reimagined Lion King - which in 2014 became the top box-office title in any medium, when factoring in film and theatrical projects - can gross in its new form.
Yes, there are no illusions of new narrative magic being harbored as the primary motive in the Magic Kingdom. The reimagined
(with the Oscar-winning Bill Condon in the director's chair) arrives next year, and should it succeed even reasonably, there is nothing to slow this money train.
Yet The Lion King presents its own challenges, because it became a classic within the lifetimes of most of us, and so is no dusty nugget. And more important, the double Oscar winner is about as close to animated storytelling perfection as a non-Pixar Disney film has achieved in the past half-century. Many fans hold it dear - nay, nearly sacred.
Which is why this is an appeal to Mr. Favreau: Unlike your
, please truly reimagine
from a narrative perspective, too, out of pure aesthetic respect.
In the best of all worlds, Lion King can be made more like Maleficent - a remake that actually, unlike Jungle Book, has something new to say. Give the viewer a fresh narrative aria, instead of mere CG bells and whistles.
Favreau is a smart man, as well as a savvy one. I have sat with him briefly, and he seems to genuinely appreciate the great storytelling he adapts.
And he is, too, a man of emotion when it comes to family. One year at Comic-Con, a few of us offered warm wishes to Favreau when he let it be known that it was his son's birthday. He seemed genuinely touched.
So please consider, Mr. Favreau: Some families, like mine, consider The Lion King a near-untouchable gold standard.
So don't take a Hakuna Mutata approach to the sense of story in this animated Hamlet. Be inspired by the best of Julie Taymor, and give us something truly new.
That, more than figuring out how to bank the next billion, is the authentic circle of a creative life.