Thursday, August 1, 2019

Was this Hero’s Journey Really Necessary?

Anabelle and I went to see the new photo-realistic CGI Lion King.

And we are confused.

It was beautiful, the scenery and animals looked real, and contrary to the Aladdin live action film, most of the changes were the best parts of the story and we’re definitely adding it to our collection on home release.

But we both felt more like we were watching a technical experiment than a story telling experience.

Here’s the thing- 
Beauty and the Beast was very close, but added character expansions and new musical numbers.
The Jungle Book used similar technology, but played with the story and added a great deal of embellishments and variations, while maintaining the themes.  
Dumbo had nods and references, maintained the spirit of the original, but told a different story.

For The Lion King, most of it was a shot for shot recreation, but looking like “live action footage,” and that’s what hurt it the most.

I remember reading as a kid somewhere (excellent use of references there, Jeff) that Disney had proprietary ratios and formulas for the size of and distance between facial features that allowed them to get far more emotion out of their characters’ looks than other animation companies.

That all went away when the animals looked realistic, because real animals (and people) don't have the elasticity of expression that cartoons have, which allows them to convey feelings far more effectively. 

To simplify, in this movie where many of the main characters are big cats, some George Carlin insights:

You know why [dogs] have so successful a look, cause they got eyebrows. Dogs have eyebrows, or at least little ridges that pass for eyebrows. They got little things… that they can manipulate, just like we do. Oh, please… please daddy, one… more… treat.

Cats can’t look at you like that. Cats don’t look at that… cats look at you coldly, as if they’re testing new eyes. Reason cats look different, cats don’t have eyebrows. Cats have a bunch of **** sticking out of their head.

Keeping the lion faces (and the rest of the animals) looking amazingly realistic, robbed them of the ability to fully emote with facial expressions.  

Similarly,.keeping the settings photorealistic prevented color and shape changes of the environment to stylistically influence the storytelling.

This is why the Broadway Show worked so well as another version of the story.  With the puppets, minimalist sets, and general feeling of tribal storytelling, the live performance came out more stylized than the cartoon. Because of that, it felt like a fresh, expanded version of the same story, also with strong emotional impact.

The key word for the "live" animal version is “muted.”

It was pretty, since nature is, it was a good story, because its base tale is, but everything felt toned down.

The natural environments were amazing looking, but Hakuna Matata Land wasn't as bright as the cartoon, just like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” wasn’t as romantically highlighted, and Scar’s pride lands weren’t as bleak.

The muting of the characters expressions from stylized animation to real world has the same effect.  Not to mention changing the tone of some moments.  One cartoon trying to eat another is inherently funny. Not so with "real" animals.

Rafiki was far, far too sane, and as i said  (much to my daughter's dismay) every single time those animals were on screen, "I miss Ed."  

I believe it was a wise move to have “Be Prepared” be more of a spoken word section than trying to equal what may be the greatest villain song in Disney history. At least they know their limits.  It was still strange to leave in Scar's “You have no idea,” line which lost its allusion to the actor, and much of its power.

The areas where the movie worked best were what it did new. 

Timon, Pumba, and Zazu were all voiced by different comic actors than last time. The same is true for the two new named subordinate hyenas. (Man, I miss Ed)  It was clear those performers infused some of their own ad libs into the characters, adding many sparks to those scenes. 

Although my daughter made sure I pointed out that when they showed baby Pumba it looked much more like a red river hog piglet,

Than a warthog one.
Don't mess with her and cute wild pigs.

We both thought the reimagining of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as a full production number was inspired, lunatic and wonderful.  I’m tempted to buy the soundtrack just for that. (Because I’m a crusty old Disney fan and the concept of buying and downloading a single song is still weird to me.)

This is why it is such a confusing film.  It’s fun, it’s gorgeous, we want to own it and watch it again, but as proven by a viewing as soon as we got home from the theater, it in no way measures up to the original animated feature.

It leaves the open ended question of why did Disney do this…

Aside from the obvious, “To make pant-loads of money.”
Over $950 million in less than ten days answers that question from a practical side.

I have to wonder if they tied this to a mega successful and beloved story they knew even people who didn’t like the remake would have to go see to explain why they didn't like it, in order to fund the technology to make it allowing that tech to be used on other projects.

“To make pant loads of money” is all the motivation most companies need.


Brian said...

Ah I was wondering it this felt like just a rehash of the original. I'll see it for the fresh take but yeah kind of bummed they didn't take the opportunity to do "more".

Jeff McGinley said...

That's why its so weird. Its really beautiful and well done.

Yet nowhere near the original.

I really think it's like billion dollar technology crowd funding for other films.

thanx for playing , Jeff's weird ideas, the home game.

longbow said...

I think we saw the original together. I remember loving the playful music parts but having a problem with the theme. Dude just sat on his butt after running away and they're like "you're the only one who can save us even though you've got no experience and don't know the community". I realize it's the flip of that message: you can't hide from your responsibilities. But it's always stuck in my craw a little.

Jeff McGinley said...

Yeah, the release was around the same time as the Aladdin "little kid bonking me on the head" incident. Luckily the music was catchy enough and the comedy was strong enough to gloss over the whole, "only hereditary monarchy will being prosperity" and other such messages.

Thanx for reading and commenting!