Disney Dominates the Box Office with 'The Lion King'
July 22, 2019
To the surprise of precisely no one, Disney dominated the box office again over the weekend with its "live-action" remake of The Lion King, which took in a gargantuan $192 million. It's a new July record by a country mile, and represents the best-ever opening gross for director Jon Favreau, who is no stranger to big opening weekends.
But while such results may be good for business overall, there's a question surrounding whether or not the success of this new Lion King is good for storytelling.
Thanks to its relatively recent release date (1994), coupled with the ongoing success of its Broadway adaptation, The Lion King has very much maintained a significant presence in current culture. Thus, it follows that audiences (many members of which grew up on the original animated version of the film) would show up in droves for the digitally-rendered film featuring vocal performances by Donald Glover, Beyoncé and Seth Rogen, amongst others.
But the new Lion King is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the original animated classic—it hewes much closer to its animated source material than all of the other Disney live action remakes, two of which were released this year alone already: Dumbo and Aladdin.
So as much as the film represents a stunning leap forward in creating photo-realistic animals on screen, there's an argument to be made that it represents very little storytelling ambition. Yes, the lions look amazing, but any storytelling power and emotion elicited tends to come from memories of the original.
With Disney increasingly looking to its own IP for big screen properties, one can't help but worry for the future of original stories. It’s hard to shake the notion that Disney is consuming its own tail a bit here—something we’ve discussed more than once in this space in recent months.
Plus, and perhaps more concerning, is Disney's increased domination of the entertainment space, which doesn't bode well for diversity in the genre of narratives being released. Yes, the company is committed to expanding its representation numbers, but with an ever-increasing percentage of the market coming under one corporate umbrella, it doesn't leave a lot of room for altnernative voices in the mainstream.
Disney's imposing ownership of modern entertainment was further strengthened by two other events over the weekend: Firstly, Avengers: Endgame (released by the Disney-owned Marvel Studios) overtook Avatar (released by the now Disney-owned Fox) to become the highest grossing film of all time.
And secondly, Marvel Studios announced their next few years of projects to the screaming delight of apparently the entire world.
I'm not immune to such enthusiasm—I couldn't be more excited to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness—but it remains worrying just how much of modern popular culture Disney owns and produces. You'd stop short of calling it a narrative monopoly, but it isn't far off.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com