This past weekend, The Lion King’s box office total went up to $1.3 billion worldwide, surpassing Frozen as the highest-grossing animated film of all time. But as Vanity Fair notes, this “live-action remake”—which is not really live-action (because it’s not real lions, which would have been cooler but difficult to manage), but is a remake and renders talking lions with emotionless facial expressions—Disney’s latest box-office record is valid “insofar as one considers [The Lion King] to be an ‘animated’ movie.”
Help. What is animation? Vanity Fair:
The Lion King has defied easy genre categorization. It’s not live-action, nor is it strictly considered animation, per director Jon Favreau: “It’s neither, really,” he told SlashFilm in May. “It depends what standard you’re using. Because there’s no real animals and there’s no real cameras and there’s not even any performance that’s being captured that’s underlying data that’s real. Everything is coming through the hands of artists.”
That sounds like animation. But can The Lion King be the highest-grossing animated film of all time if the director doesn’t consider it animated? I’m not here to answer that question. Whatever it is, the success is a continuation of what our sister site i09 describes as “Disney all the way down, controlling box office profits with an endless deluge of massive films that other studios just don’t have the resources or cultural cache to match,”—in other words, Disney is swimming in money bags again without telling a new story. The Lion King is the same boy-becomes-king tale, visually refurbished, still great, sad, and dark.
If you have followed this blog site, then you know what 4DX is: a four-dimensional theater experience that introduces varying levels of thrill, fear, and anxiety to movie-goers, using elements like wind (puffs of air), water (a sprinkler system), and seat-shaking during fight scenes. It’s a stupid luxury and therefore an ideal way to see a movie I’d already seen as a child, given that I didn’t have to focus much on the storyline. Prior to The Lion King, I willingly watched three films in 4DX: Geostorm, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, and Avengers: Endgame. All of them moved me to tears in different ways. On August 1, as part of the Culture Writing summer course I’ve been teaching at NYU, I pushed my 4DX agenda further by taking the class to see The Lion King in 4DX, something none of them had previously experienced. While this was a peak-4DX viewing experience for me (it had everything), the students’ reactions after the movie ranged from: “4DX is distracting” to “4DX is cool, but I don’t need to do it again.” This is the correct and fair assessment. But I’ll stick to my agenda. Do you need to see it in 4DX? No. Am I a small child in an adult body who gets excited about simple effects like lightning (the lights flash)? Yes.