When my nieces and nephews were small, they played "The Lion King" on an endless loop. They sang "Hakuna Matata" incessantly. I was familiar with the broad themes of the movie, but I never saw it at the movie theater. Instead, I heard it from another room when I was babysitting.
I knew they would be corralled and entertained for at least the next hour and a half. They were happy. I was happy. I told myself I would watch it all the way through some time, but I am not sure I ever did.
The remake of this children's classic is out and my pal, Janice, got up a group for an afternoon matinee, insisting we should see it THAT VERY WEEK so we would be certain to have seats in the big theater with all those speakers, the ones that engulf you with sound and vibration, around, over and underneath you. It was thrilling and a bit unsettling until we got used to it.
We had the theater almost to ourselves, and we settled back with popcorn and, for me, no expectations. It started right on time on a screen almost too big to see everything at once. We quickly adjusted, and let me just say ... I don't know how they made that movie but I was enthralled, enchanted, from the very first scenes overlooking the Serengeti.
The first three minutes were spectacular and moving and goose-pimply, and I sat in the dark with a big grin on my face, suspending disbelief for all I was worth. I can't say if the movie follows exactly the first one, or even the stage play. And, in fact, the intent of this version was to be neither. This remake was to add to the Lion King canon, to be a familiar but separate thing.
According to TechCrunch, every scene with the exception of the opening one was created on a computer. The studio was nothing more than a black box, with black padded walls, black headsets, and black tracks for the dollys. There was the obligatory trip to the Serengeti to take tons of reference shots of animals, flora and fauna, sunsets and sunrises. Then they returned and recreated every image on the computer. It is here that all the tech stuff leaves me. I recognize phrases like "virtual reality" and "artificial intelligence," but how they actually made this movie, I haven't the slightest clue.
I loved every minute of it, although some critics say that, while it is technically brilliant,
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it has lost a bit of the soul of the original. That the more realistic the animals look, the less we fall in love with them, the less imagination it takes to imbue the story and the characters with a bit of our own souls.
I'm not sure, although I understand the point they try to make. It's like the dreadful remake of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." One reviewer said it would have been greatly helped by 1. -- being animated, 2. -- having a memorable song, and 3. -- being much, much shorter. Oh, wait. That perfectly describes the original.
But I found this movie engaging from beginning to end. There was a little drag somewhere around the halfway mark, but it redeemed itself nicely with a lovely piece of music that had elements of an Anglican hymn, and this small interlude set up the action scenes to come.
I will need to watch the original for comparison but there were aspects of this movie that were truly scary. The hyenas were just awful and the stuff of nightmares. I can imagine very young children might find parts of the movie disturbing.
When the warthog, Pumbaa, and the meerkat, Timon, show it, it's funny and charming and you need to listen to their banter closely to get all the belly laughs due you.
It was an expensive film to make, and if you can't quite fathom its budget, stick around for all the credits. You can't believe the number of artists, sound and computer technicians who worked on it. It was an idea that has paid off. Released less than a month ago, it has already grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide.
You may be a "Lion King" purist and have no interest in the remake, but if you want to test-drive the new movie theatre and you want to be well-entertained for a happy two hours, I can recommend it.
Greta McDonough is professor of human services at Owensboro Community & Technical College and author of the book, "Her Troublesome Boys: The Lucy Furman Story." Her column runs each Wednesday in Community. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.