The Lion King
The Lion King Image Credit: Disney

It was in 1994 when the original ‘The Lion King’ roared its way up the animation box office charts, peaking at number one to earn more than $968 million (Dh3.55 billion) at the time. It would be another nine years before a young clownfish sails its way out of the Great Barrier Reef to win fans over in ‘Finding Nemo’.

Over these past 25 years, the Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff directed ‘Lion King’ has earned its place in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for a myriad of reasons, including a mesmerising score by Elton John and stellar voice-overs by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively.

With a stellar cast roped in for ‘The Lion King’ 2.0, including Beyonce Knowles, Donald Glover and Seth Rogen, the equation adds up on paper. But reasoning doesn’t quite sit well with fans. Why attempt to recreate a classic that continues to entice generations of fans even today? One could argue that Disney is in the business of making money so is it really all that surprising that a photorealistic computer-animated remake would milk the technology for another run through the African savannah.

Gulf News tabloid! posed these questions to UAE fans, who remain as divided in their views as the critics.

“I was 15 years old when ‘The Lion King’ released across UAE cinemas. I remember crying when Mufasa died, cheered when Simba returned to reclaim his pride. The vividness of the animation, the colours, the emotions appeared almost real to a young teen who had never quite seen a film like this before,” said Rizwan Farooq, a Dubai-based operations manager.

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“I was excited when I first hear of a remake in the works, but one look at the trailer of the Jon Favreau-directed film and my heart sank. Sometimes it’s best not to revisit a masterpiece and stand the chance to ruin the experience for future generations.”

Dubai resident Rhea Mathew looks at the remake with a positive attitude, saying: “I was two-years-old when ‘The Lion King’ came out; I identified with Simba the most. As a child, seeing a lion cub want to have fun and prance around in the savannah, coupled with those adorable songs made my experience of watching the movie all throughout my childhood (and even now) worth it.

“When I heard the new movie was being made, I was super excited. Honestly, I kept saying ‘I hope they won’t ruin it’, as this is a film that has brought families and kids together for generations.”

The 26-year-old Internal Comms Lead at HP has yet to see the new film but she admits the trailer of the Favreau-directed version gave her “goosebumps”.

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THE LION KING - Featuring the voices of James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and JD McCrary as Young Simba, Disney’s “The Lion King” is directed by Jon Favreau. In theaters July 29, 2019. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“The film will be fantastic, despite these not so great reviews,” she added.

Chris Williams, a Dubai-based media strategist, recalls watching the original film with his siblings when he was 12 years old.

“I don’t remember much from the experience except for Mufasa’s death scene. I think as a kid it was probably one of the first times I was exposed to the concept of dying. I remember crying and have a long talk with my mum that night,” he recalled.

“I have a two children now and in a way, the circle of life the film talks about has come to pass with a new generation of fans reliving what we did during our time. Truth be, I don’t really ever care about film reviews; it’s what you take from a movie experience is what matters. I think we as a family will have many more memories to make with ‘The Lion King’.”

Dubai-based blogger Ali, who goes by the Twitter handle TaqatoUAE, is one of few who attended ‘The Lion King’s’ UAE premiere. When quizzed about his experience, he described it as “incredible”.

“The visuals were stunning and had incredible details. [They] mastered the CGI. My first thoughts when I heard of a remake in the works was: can they really pull this off in live animation? They certainly did,” he stated.

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Twitter user Hend Raafat who was also at the UAE premiere had positive things to write about the film in her social media post. “Had a blast tonight at the @lionking premiere in Dubai... brought back so many memories and I felt like a cub again.”

One of the biggest criticisms the new film has faced is its inability to take any creative liberties, turning ‘The Lion King’ 2.0 an almost frame by frame copy of the original.

UAE resident Dolmer Rebaya who has also seen the new version, agreed.

“Every scene in this new film is a copy of the old, from Simba’s introduction to the animals in the savannah to Mufasa’s death and so on. I can complain as well, but I also realise that perhaps I am not the target market,” said Rebaya. “I saw ‘The Lion King’ when I was five. Today, there is a whole new generation of fans waiting to experience this beloved story for the very first time. Who are we to take that experience away from them?”

Ali concurred, adding: “It definitely opens up the doors to the new generation and was probably necessary. As a first time viewer, it was quite a journey. ‘The Lion King’ is remade for the new generation with stunning graphics. Disney has perfected the art and realism.”


Out now!

‘The Lion King’ is screening in the UAE from July 18.