Many have criticisms of The Lion King (2019) so I’m rather reluctant to talk about it, but the movie has so many lessons for people who are interested in storytelling that I can’t ignore it. It also combines well with the blogs I’ve written about unrealism, by demonstrating that making things realistic does not always produce the best results.
I should mention the things that are unrealistic about this movie. There is the rather strange belief in Hollywood that casting a black actor is equivalent to casting an African actor, as though a black man born in America has the same accent as a man born in Uganda. Equally, there was the strange decision not to give these characters uniform accents. I should also mention that African is not an accent, that Africa is a diverse place and saying an African accent is wrong. If we wanted realism, we should’ve had accents that are local to the setting of the movie, given that I think we can safely assume that the lions are not well-travelled.
Or the makers could’ve recalled that this is a movie about talking lions and as such isn’t suited to hyper-realism, that making the lions look realistic is a story decision, attempting to make the narrative more believable to the viewer and therefore make it more emotive, not a technological showcase. Here, the realism hinders the narrative rather than enhancing it, due to the mistaken belief that realistic lions means that nothing fantastical can happen to them. Why? We have plenty of movies where actual humans have magical things happening, so why can’t Scar sing his big number in an exciting environment? Because the filmmakers chose realism over making an interesting and exciting scene. That is my biggest problem with this movie.
I want to see the imagination of CGI artists on screen. I want to see what they can do, the things they can convince me are real. A great monster which makes me scared, a small species which doesn’t exist but I can believe, a swirling visual environment which excites me in ways no film has. We’re not in the environment where CGI artists are allowed that freedom and one day I hope we are. They seem to be restricted to realistically depicting that which the director requires. Fortunately, other artists are not in the same position, possibly because they are not as useful to standard filmmakers.
My favourite thing about this movie is that it demonstrates that cartoons are their own art form, that cartoonists are able to do things that other artists are unable to do, and that a cartoon is not something a moviemaker does because they can’t make a ‘real’ movie. Much like the film Isle of Dogs, which showcased how beautiful stop animation could be once freed from being a special effects vehicle, cartoonists are free enough to make the real Lion King. CGI artists are not.