Disney's extraordinary slate of 2019 movies starts with Captain Marvel and ends with Star Wars Episode IX. But of all the films the Mouse House has slated for next year, perhaps the most highly anticipated is the "live-action" remake of the hit 1994 animation The Lion King. The animal-centric fairytale is Disney's most ambitious remake so far in the burgeoning genre, and the first The Lion King live-action trailer suggests the results will blow audiences away.
The main draw of these remakes is the wonder of how technology has advanced over the last 90 years Disney has been in existence. The first live-action remake was 2015's Cinderella, initially released in 1950 when a computer took up an entire suite of rooms. Nowadays, the effects that caused Disney to create it as a cartoon, like the CGI mice and the pumpkin turning into a carriage, are small potatoes compared to most films.
But The Lion King is far more complex. Unlike Cinderella, or even 2017's Beauty and The Beast, there are no humans at the center of the story for CGI or motion capture creations to orbit around. The cast is entirely made up of animal characters, meaning a "live-action" production has to get creative about how to approach it.
The first trailer for The Lion King reveals which way Disney decided to go.
Like Beauty and the Beast, the first trailer for The Lion King leans hard into the shot-for-shot remake aspect of what the film is accomplishing.
Need proof? Check out this side-by-side of the first trailer for the 1994 release and the new one.
Also, the only voiceover heard in the new trailer is the only casting carryover from the original, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and the soundtrack is the famous opening cry from "Circle of Life," which is one of the most arresting openings in the entire Disney musical canon. It drives home the "the 1994 cartoon you loved, just with real animals."
But this is also where the whole idea of calling these remakes "live-action" gets a little wonky. It's easy to pass off the CGI in Cinderella when the cast is all played by humans. Beauty and The Beast had Dan Stevens doing motion capture to film his role as the Beast. But The Lion King isn't going to have Beyonce acting out the role of Nala in a green suit. Instead, she and the rest of her fellow castmates do their voice-over parts like any cartoon, in a studio.
These animals aren't real. Someone did not go and tame a lion cub to play Simba. The zebras and giraffes bowing down to their new king were not tricked into accidentally creating a cartoon shot-for-shot by animal trainers. The movie is instead created via a technology which came into its own this decade, photorealistic computer-generated animation.
This is not to say this movie isn't going to blow the audience's socks off. In fact, as one of the first topline photorealistic CGI releases since its invention, this film will showcase the leaps and bounds of what CGI can do heading into the next decade. If that's not enough to give anyone chills, I don't know what is.
The Lion King arrives in theaters July 19, 2019.