The New “Lion King” is Everything That’s Wrong With America
I was compelled to write this after a matinee viewing of Disney’s new CGI-tastic Lion King with my mother-in-law, who kindly treated me to a movie and popcorn on a recent visit. We caught a 4:30pm showing of this seemingly harmless family film together and ended up sitting uncomfortably through the pointless and unnecessary remake. But this is not an article about how terrible the new Lion King was (it was indeed terrible). What occurred to me as I painfully watched a hollow reconstruction of the film that was so meaningful to me as a child was the deeper significance of our complacent acceptance of these meaninglessly rehashed garbage films.
I remember when the Lion King first came out in theaters. I was six years old, and everyone was talking about it. It was the first Disney film to utilize an original story (or as original as Disney stories get, considering it’s basically Hamlet). All my friends had seen the film and I begged my parents to take me. My mom, having read an article which explained that the plot of the movie was about a child being accused of murdering his father, refused to let me see it. Eventually, my aunt secretly took me and earned a lot of cool points. But the thing is, while the original Lion King does have a few dark and scary moments, it didn’t horrify me nearly as much as a six year old as this new version did as a thirty year old. Because there were truly beautiful moments in the original Lion King. I remember how magical it was the first time I saw the opening with the “Circle of Life.” When I went to see the broadway version years later with my family, my sister and I looked at each other during this opening sequence, tears streaming down both of our faces.
As I sat and watched the remake, I experienced a strange detachment from myself. I quickly realized that my emotional reactions were only triggered by my memories of the original film. Each scene that they recreated with CGI was just an echo of a meaningful experience I had seen before. And I sat there thinking, I am actively crawling back into Plato’s cave by watching this nonsense. I am passively accepting a substitute for reality. Because the state of the world right now is so shitty that we as a society would rather curl up in a womb and watch shadows of our former brilliance than have an authentically moving and enlightening experience. An experience that would make tears stream down from our face. As opposed to the dull momentary satisfaction of recognizing something familiar and suitable to our worldview that now defines our mainstream films and relationship to social media.
I watched these glassy-eyed overly-serious lions with celebrity voices and I wondered why humans are so obsessed with becoming robots and robots becoming like us. Are we so hardened by the bombardment of techno-social interaction that these shells of meaningless regurgitation now pass for genuinely relatable characters? As we watch an animation created not by the labor of human hands but that has been outsourced to keystrokes and programming? We have become so unaccustomed to imperfect human experiences that we would rather watch ACTUAL SCREEN ROBOTS PROGRAMMED TO RECREATE MEANINGFUL ARTWORK than take a chance on our friend’s small local comedy show that is neither pause-able nor guaranteed to be good by an algorithm designed to suit our taste. If that is the case, then the new Lion King is the movie we all deserve.
I am guilty of sitting around bingeing on nostalgic movie trash until I become so bloated my brain can no longer differentiate emotional signals. I felt myself being sucked into the careless void of Disney’s chokehold on childhood films and subsequent merchandising, both a symptom of, and a perfect metaphor for, the capitalist bullshit that oppresses us and makes our lives less colorful. I felt my soul seep out of my knees as I desperately attempted to connect to the frozen faces of nearly indistinguishable lions whose margins between them and their environments sometimes momentarily dissolved. And after all the money that was poured into this joyless imitation of life, it was actually less entertaining than watching a four-year-old put on a play with stuffed animals. If our entertainment is a mirror of our society, a gauge of what we consider important and interesting, then this garbage made me sad for the state of the world.
But I will not leave you on this relentlessly bleak and negative note. Because there is a medicine for this dizzying parade of gift-wrapped bullshit. And that is to take a chance on your friend’s comedy show that might be bad, go see a band you haven’t heard on the radio, buy tickets to an indie theater festival of new works. Could it really be a bigger waste of money than the dementor’s kiss that is Disney’s bleak hellscape of CGI?