Sunday 25 August 2019

Queen Bey takes on Disney's The Lion King but what else is new in the live action remake?


The lion queen: Beyonce will star in and create the music for The Lion King remake
The lion queen: Beyonce will star in and create the music for The Lion King remake
The Lion King
A roaring success: The Lion King Broadway show

Tanya Sweeney

Beyonce is the undisputed queen of the online 'stealth' announcement. In July, she posted a picture of herself on Instagram with her newborn twins Rumi and Sir, breaking the internet to boot (she was trending worldwide in eight different ways). And yesterday, after a relatively quiet few months, Beyonce dropped another bombshell: that she is to voice Nala in the live action remake of Disney's 1994 cartoon classic The Lion King.

Though undoubtedly the biggest star on the bill, Beyonce finds herself in rather eminent company for The Lion King remake.

Donald Glover will play Simba, the young lion learning to be king, James Earl Jones will reprise his role of Simba's father Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor will star as villainous Scar, while John Oliver, Seth Rogan and Alfre Woodard appear in supporting roles.

Naturally, the internet promptly chimed in with their reaction to the news. There was the 'don't mess with a stone-cold classic' in one camp. In the other, the remake (live-action simply refers to ordinary cinematography as opposed to animation) due for release in summer 2019, is already being hailed as one of the decade's most important movies for young kids of colour. Much of this, naturally, has to do with the involvement of Queen Bey. Her Facebook post this week confirms rumours that have been swirling since March that director Jon Favreau offered her the role.

The studio's emphasis on live-action adaptations follows the successes of Alice In Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), and, most recently, Beauty And The Beast (2016).

The Lion King marks Beyonce's first film role since lending her voice to the Fox animated film Epic in 2013.

The Lion King
The Lion King

It's easy to see why she was both Favreau's and Disney's top choice to voice Nala. Beyonce's as close as any modern artist to royalty - who else could feasibly play the queen of the pride of the African savanna?

According to reports, the star was pregnant with Rumi and Sir when the studio made their initial approach over seven months ago, and Disney and the director were more than happy to do whatever it took to accommodate her schedule. Eventually, a deal was hammered out and the singer will voice the character and manage the movie's soundtrack for $25m.

Released in 1994, The Lion King is one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time with a lifetime global box office of $968.8m. To call it a box office smash is understating the case somewhat: The Lion King finished its theatrical run as the highest-grossing release of 1994 and the second highest grossing film of all time. It also spawned the smash musical, which won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and, in October, will mark 20 consecutive years playing on Broadway. Seen by an estimated 75 million people in 22 productions around the world, the theatrical version of The Lion King has been dubbed "the most lucrative entertainment event in history", overtaking Phantom Of The Opera as Broadway's biggest draw in 2014.

It's likely that the remake will doff a cap to the stage show more than the original animation. In its 20-year history, the Broadway musical has been hailed as a riot of colour and magic. Time Magazine called it a "gorgeous, gasp-inducing spectacle" while Variety gushed thus: "Julie Taymor's staging of Disney's The Lion King is a marvel, a theatrical achievement unrivalled in its beauty, brains and ingenuity. Leaping far beyond its celluloid inspiration, the stage version improves upon nearly every aspect of the hit 1994 animated film, from visual artistry and storytelling to Lebo M's score and the newly African-ised pop songs of Elton John and Tim Rice."

Disney know the power of a star-studded cast, but they also know that to cement cult status, they need the tunes. Back in the 90s, The Lion King nestled its way into the affections of today's millennials with a classic soundtrack. Songs from the film - among them the earworms 'Circle Of Life' and 'Hakuna Matata' - were written by Elton John and Rice, while Hans Zimmer penned the movie's score. With over 18 million copies sold to date, it was very much the Frozen of its time.

Already, there is much fevered speculation as to how Beyonce's golden touch will shake things up on the soundtrack front. Expect plenty of African influence - perhaps an ultra-modern pop/hip-hop bent. Either way, as ever with Camp Beyonce, there's not likely to be a dull moment.

A roaring success: The Lion King Broadway show
A roaring success: The Lion King Broadway show

Disney’s classics revisited  adaptations

Alice In Wonderland (2010)


Tim Burton assembled a dream team to bring the Lewis Carroll tale to the big screen — Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter. Despite criticism of the over-reliance on computer-generated imagery, the movie won Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design at the Oscars, and generated over $1b in box office receipts.

Cinderella (2015)

Leaving aside the criticism about Lily James’ unfeasibly tiny waist, this romantic fantasy film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was praised for staying largely faithful to the original Cinderella animation (1950). Rotten Tomatoes gave it a thumbs-up, noting: “Refreshingly traditional in a revisionist era, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella proves Disney hasn’t lost any of its old-fashioned magic.”

Beauty And The Beast (2016)

Starring Emma Watson as a feisty incarnation of Belle, the live-action reboot was broodingly romantic, yet had more bite than its 90s predecessor. “In the 1991 film, Belle was a real breakthrough among Disney heroines,” director Bill Condon told People Magazine. “But obviously a lot has happened in 25 years. We wanted to make sure that she remained a feminist figure and someone who looks to the future.”

The Jungle Book (2016)

Anyone worried about Favreau signing on to do The Lion King will doubtless have their fears allayed by The Jungle Book. A critical and commercial success, it scooped the Best Visual Effects Oscar last year. A star cast including Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson and Lupita Nyong’o helped to make it the 35th highest grossing film of all time.

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