Hey, welcome back to Quoth the Raven. Today’s topic, as you can probably guess, is that I’m not too pumped for the new Lion King “”live action”” remake. With an all star cast including Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, and [Beyoncé??] and animation so refined it looks real, you might wonder why I don’t want to see it though I claim to be a diehard Disney fan. I mean, I saw the new Aladdin despite being concerned about how that would turn out….
But with The Lion King things feel… different. For one, live action remakes of films with humanoid characters have actual human actors. Meanwhile, animals are often animated or augmented with CGI, meaning emotional range is the responsibility of the animators, and good expression comes from love and attention to detail. There’s also stuff like context and intent – are Disney adding something new to the story or making it more culturally sensitive/”politically correct” or is it just a money grab with no substance?
Part 1: Corporate Gains
It’s common knowledge that Disney is a multi billion dollar company with hundreds of successful movies, TV shows, and toy lines under its belt. In recent years it’s also secured several other entertainment companies, including Marvel Studios and Pixar, allowing the company to distribute and profit from even more media. Disney holds massive financial, and therefore social, power due to how this capitalist bitch of an Earth works. Further evidence of this corporate hell included the mistreatment of Disney’s underpaid staff. Last year several news groups reported on this happening at Disneyland in particular. The LA Times reported that admission prices to Disneyland and overall revenue had increased but employees’ pay dropped by 15%, and found in their survey of 5000 Disneyland employees, that 85% of them are currently paid under $15 per hour including over half of the full-time employees. 1 in 10 at the Anaheim resort reported having been homeless at some point in the last 2 years and 3 quarters said they can’t afford basic expenses. The Bononi Law Group has a list of other examples of employee mistreatment on their website, including gender and religious discrimination.
A different, but not separate, issue within the Disney empire is its long tradition of racism. Walt Disney, as some of you may know, seems to have been a massive racist. He was especially anti-Semitic, having had associations with the Nazi party and made racist comments at Jewish animators, and anti-black, using racist caricatures of black people and other people of colour in early movies. This racism is still hotly debated but there is evidence for it, and it has left a long lasting impact on the company, going on to encompass the generalisation of brown peoples and Islamophobia in the Disney Renaissance. [refer to previous videos] Money, power, and getting away with racism – or remaking older movies to be less racist – are all intertwined so I felt that was important to mention. Maybe it’ll come up again in this video, maybe it won’t, we’ll see.
So, why does a wealthy corporate giant with a legacy of racism keep remaking content instead of making new stuff? Surely they can make original works people will still love and use that to add diversity or show off their animation? The answer is pretty simple: to play safe and still get cash. And its effective, for a few different reasons.
These reasons include copyright, brand loyalty, profiting from actually representing people of colour, and being able to do all of this with minimal effort. By rehashing movies that Disney knows were successful, they have an excuse to continue selling toys and other merchandise. Sometimes they’ll “fix” things to better represent cultures incorporated into their stories, like with 2019 Aladdin. In the case of remakes of older movies like Dumbo, Cinderella, or Maleficent, this goes a bit further: it allows Disney to maintain copyright, and therefore the rights to sell merchandise of, that intellectual property for much longer, in some cases decades. After some rule changes affecting works differently before and after 1978, this copyright could last up to 70 more years. Keeping your work out of the public domain is definitely a good way to keep your brand safe so you might say it’s just that, or a byproduct of making remakes, but I think it’s more than that. But Disney’s enterprise is built on calculated marketing, so to me, money is the most likely motive. I could go further into all of this later if you guys want because it is really complex and I definitely didn’t explain any of this thoroughly or effectively, but knowing the basics helps explain why Disney might be making so many remakes. It’s a multilayered means of holding onto not only your brand but power and profits, making use of copyright extensions and films people already like.
Part 2: All Roar, No Bite
I can rant about Disney remakes being another cog in the corporate machine for as long as I like, but the reality is, even if they’re basically feature length ads, I like some of these feature length ads. The new Aladdin, for example, was good, and I also really liked Beauty and the Beast. Maleficent was also really good, because it took an older film and added some cool twists, turning the villain into a misunderstood hero and mother figure, and having some interesting commentary about the lasting effect of abuse. Also ravens and dragons are dope. And sure, The Little Mermaid and Mulan are probably just being made to profit off diversity without introducing any new characters of colour, I’m gonna see them anyway. God, Disney is messed up.
What sets the new Lion King apart from all the other remakes is, for me, something totally different. The production. From looking at clips, including the trailer and sneak peeks, we have a pretty good idea of what the movie looks and feels like. And in short, it’s just… bad. Like i don’t have jokes for this, it’s just dull. I understand that they wanted the movie to look like live action, but there’s nothing live about it. Circle of life-less, to be honest. The movie has lost its magic, the character’s faces are devoid of expression, and the timing and camera angles seem uninteresting and mediocre. I mean, it’s not like my own animation has great angles or timing, but I’m an amateur, and Disney is a million dollar company with thousands of accomplished storyboarders, designers, and animators, and state of the art technology at their fingertips. And yet the movie turned out with lions that are less diverse and expressive than actual lions! And it’s possible to make animals expressive in 3D animation, look at Aslan from the Narnia movies or the Guardians of Ga’hoole. Even these individual frames have more emotion than the whole Lion King trailer. And although they’re stylized, Disney and Pixar both have examples of expressive animals in the Zootopia cast and Doug from Up. So The Lion King has no excuse. It really does look like, to me at least, that Disney just wanted to flaunt their realistic animation and make some money without putting effort into creating new, original material or…. anything that actually looks good. To me animation is about movement, expression, and doing the impossible, not making an empty husk of a film for the sake of profits and copyright.
So, in conclusion…. yeah. The Lion King 2019 looks like garbage. And because it looks like garbage, and because the reviews also say it’s garbage, I think I too can safely assume it’s a bit garbage. It looks dull. And it’s also concerning to me that a company worth tens, no, hundreds of billions will spend their money on a remake with no actual merit like improving diversity or adding a unique twist instead of making original content. Or maybe, you know, they could put that money towards living wages for their employees? Just a thought. Honestly that’s all I have to say. The Lion King 2019 looks like a disgrace to the original film, and capitalism is one hell of a drug.
1: (images via) Velvetvetiver, Tumblr. https://velvetvetiver.tumblr.com/post/186222000361/the-lion-king-reviews-are-out-lol.
2: Bernie Sanders, “Disneyland workers face ruthless exploitation. Their fight is our fight,” The Guardian, June 7, 2018.
3: Joel Mendelson, “Disney World is Anything But Magical for its Employees,” Jobs With Justice, December 5, 2017. https://www.jwj.org/disney-world-is-anything-but-magical-for-its-employees.
4: Merrit Kennedy, “Some Disneyland Employees Struggle To Pay For Food, Shelter, Survey Finds,” National Public Radio, February 28, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/28/589456403/some-disneyland-employees-struggle-to-pay-for-food-shelter-survey-finds.
5: Peter Dreier and Daniel Flaming, “Op-Ed: Disneyland’s workers are undervalued, disrespected and underpaid,” The LA Times, Febuary 28, 2018. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-dreier-flaming-disneyland-employee-survey-20180228-story.html.
6: Bononi Law Group, “Employment Practices At Walt Disney Company,” accessed July 17, 2019. https://www.bononilawgroup.com/Resources/Articles/Employment-Practices-at-Walt-Disney-Company.shtml.
7: Micah White, “Walt Disney: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Man & the Magic,” Biography, November 26, 2013. https://www.biography.com/news/walt-disney-biography-facts-video.
8: (images via) Lanre Bakare, “Disney Plus streaming site will not offer ‘racist’ Song of the South film,” The Guardian, April 23, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/23/disney-plus-streaming-site-will-not-offer-racist-song-of-the-south-film.
9: Aramide A. Tinubu, “Disney’s racist cartoons won’t just stay hidden in the vault. But they could be used as a teachable moment,” NBC News, April 25, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/disney-s-racist-cartoons-won-t-just-stay-hidden-vault-ncna998216.
10: Saul Jay Singer, “Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, And The Nazis,” Jewish Press, July 11, 2019. https://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/walt-disney-mickey-mouse-and-the-nazis/2019/07/11/.
11: U.S. Copyright Office, “How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?” accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html.
12: Stanford University Libraries, “Copyright Basics FAQ,” Copyright and Fair Use, accessed July 18, 2019. https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/faqs/copyright-basics/.