‘The Lion King’ Remake and the Intricacies of Modern-Era Film Classification

By now, you’ve likely heard that Disney is re-adapting three of their classic films next year, including Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These remakes follow Disney’s recent trend of creating live-action versions of their classic animated films, which blend live action elements and actors with computer-generated animation, often to stunning results. Of course, this means Disney is in the business of making ‘live action’ remakes of their films, except there’s one exception to this line-up of live action remakes, considering there’s not a single live-action element to it: Disney’s The Lion King remake due this summer. So why is The Lion King consistently being referred to as a ‘live action re-adaptation’ by fans, journalists, and even Disney?

The visuals behind Disney’s modern take on The Lion King is absolutely stunning, bringing the animated film to life far beyond expectation, creating a mesmerizing photo-realistic environment inhabited by the Lion King cast of characters. While it may look photorealistic, the entirety of The Lion King (at least what has been released thus far in stills, trailer, and information of the film process) is created entirely within the world of a computer. That being said, The Lion King is as equally animated as its predecessor was, all solely created within the artistry and abilities that animation has to offer. To repeat: The Lion King is completely computer-animated, and is therefore not a ‘live-action’ film in any way, despite its gorgeous realistic visuals.

Surely, fans would expect film experts to understand this, but the complications following Disney’s recent live-action films leave many to assume that just as the previous films have blended live action elements with animation, surely this film must have done so to some degree. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for one to assume that perhaps the backgrounds of the films are real, similar to what Pixar accomplished with the photorealistic backdrops in The Good Dinosaur. Or perhaps there was some sort of blending of a live-action elements like The Jungle Book, which blended the human child actor of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) with the computer-generated characters around him. The Lion King is best compared to The Jungle Book, directed once again by Jon Favreau, yet with the exception of the live element–the human kid. The Jungle Book is considered live-action because it actually does have a live-action element, even if that live-action element wasn’t actually filmed against anything that wasn’t a blue-screen or a stand-in puppet. The Lion King doesn’t have that live-action element, which is why the debate rages on on its classification.

As we enter an entirely new era of filmmaking, studios like Disney have begun to showcase what they can accomplish with some incredible new technologies, and innovation to push storytelling forward in ways previously unimaginable. But these changes create a confusing implication for how we approach their classifications, one certain to be up for much discussion once the award season following The Lion King is underway. It’s important that the techniques used to make these films aren’t forgotten in any way, not only that credit can be given where due, but that we continue to learn from the evolution and artistry of cinema properly. Animation allows for incredible visuals and unlimited possibilities, as evident in the brief trailer for The Lion King (it’s impossible to imagine just how beautiful an entire film like this might look like). While many of these films have provided the opportunity to showcase how live-action can sometimes elevate a new perspective on storytelling, let’s not forget the kind of new experiences that animation can bring, the very same way it did for The Lion King in 1994.