'The Lion King' roars into Disney realm of animals just like us

Article Image

The new "The Lion King" hews closely to the origin...

Posted: Jul 18, 2019 1:35 PM

The new "The Lion King" hews closely to the original, standing apart with its visual realism, using computer animation to approximate the look of a nature documentary. Yet amid a golden age of that genre, as the Disney blockbuster heads toward a big opening weekend, it also reminds us how talking and otherwise anthropomorphic animals tend to be more commercially popular than the real things.

As viewers of nature programming know, the actual jungle is fascinating but also tends to be ruthless, brutal and a lot less cute when it comes to battles for survival and dominance. Real lion kings hunt the youngest and weakest members of herds, occasionally kill cubs to ensure their own mating rights and aren't as monogamous as Simba appears to be.

Like its predecessor, "The Lion King" conveys a message about the natural order as King Mufasa explains the "circle of life" and the thorny matter of lions eating their neighbors -- garnishing that meal, as it were, with several spoonfuls of sugar. Director Jon Favreau has cited the documentaries of naturalist Sir David Attenborough as a source of inspiration.

Even so, the long history of what might be called Disney-fied nature programming -- even that shot using actual footage -- has regularly included ascribing human qualities to animals, built around the notion that they are a lot like us, only faster and furrier. That often involves giving names and personalities to lions, tigers and bears.

The popularity of nature programming has traditionally relied on crafting stories. As Slate noted in a 2015 article, titled "Why Wildlife Documentaries Insist on Making Animals Seem Human," "It's now almost impossible to make a wildlife documentary without a dose of anthropomorphism," conceding that producers "are probably right to assume that few people want to sit in a theater and watch animals doing animal stuff for two hours; viewers need to emotionally invest."

Walt Disney, notably, played a pivotal role in creating that format. He produced a series of movies, titled "True-Life Adventures," in the 1950s and the nature fare in Disney's weekly TV program, which sought to foster appreciation of wild animals but emphasized entertainment more than education.

More recently, Disneynature has employed a similar approach on a string of theatrical films -- "Monkey Kingdom," "Born in China," "Penguins" -- whose releases are usually timed to Earth Day. Those movies feature real animals, while wrapping an environmental message in a family-friendly package.

Of course, the past decade has seen an explosion of nature documentaries originating in the United Kingdom, where filmmakers have capitalized on technical advances and high-definition devices to deliver jaw-dropping footage.

Those programs generally yield higher ratings in the UK than they do in the US. "Planet Earth II," for example, broke records in the UK in 2016, with the premiere drawing more than 9 million viewers.

Nevertheless, the appetite for content has created an expansive market worldwide for documentaries, like "Our Planet," "Dynasties" and "Hostile Planet," and a bounty of options for fans of such shows. Once relegated to PBS, networks like BBC America, National Geographic and Discovery Channel carry such fare, as well as Netflix.

Despite the starker vision of the natural world that those programs present, they are still cleverly packaged to conform to familiar templates of dramatic storytelling.

Discovery Channel's next venture, the six-part "Serengeti," premieres in August, promising "the heartwarming stories of a cast of African wildlife including lions, zebras, baboons and cheetahs over the course of a year."

"The Lion King" represents a different, inherently more commercial way of tapping into the wild kingdom, making nature more palatable for mass consumption. If it's too bad that real animals can't quite compete, given the Darwinian challenge of standing out in the crowded media world, it is, after all, a jungle out there.

"The Lion King" opens July 19 in the US. "Serengeti" premieres August 4 on Discovery Channel.

Huntsville
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 66°
Florence
Scattered Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 66°
Fayetteville
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 64°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Scottsboro
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 66°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 16530

Reported Deaths: 591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2124112
Jefferson1712100
Montgomery154134
Tuscaloosa67813
Marshall6689
Lee53332
Franklin5147
Shelby48419
Tallapoosa41864
Butler39213
Chambers34924
Madison3184
Elmore3137
Walker2991
Baldwin2819
Etowah24411
Dallas2443
DeKalb2413
Morgan2311
Coffee2241
Lowndes22210
Sumter2136
Autauga2053
Houston1884
Bullock1833
Pike1790
Colbert1612
Russell1590
Marengo1556
Lauderdale1532
Calhoun1523
Hale1517
Choctaw1488
Wilcox1347
Barbour1321
Clarke1292
Randolph1257
Marion11911
St. Clair1161
Pickens1014
Talladega1003
Dale990
Chilton971
Cullman960
Greene924
Limestone870
Winston820
Covington771
Jackson752
Crenshaw722
Bibb711
Henry712
Macon712
Washington666
Blount581
Escambia493
Lawrence460
Geneva400
Conecuh351
Coosa351
Monroe352
Perry350
Cherokee342
Clay272
Lamar210
Fayette130
Cleburne131
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 21679

Reported Deaths: 356
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Davidson489460
Shelby4718107
Trousdale13934
Rutherford111622
Sumner85245
Hamilton71915
Bledsoe6081
Williamson53310
Putnam4615
Robertson4412
Tipton4303
Lake4130
Wilson3878
Out of TN3794
Knox3575
Bedford2744
Montgomery2613
Rhea1980
Hardeman1940
Madison1752
Loudon1370
McMinn13614
Macon1243
Cheatham1180
Cumberland1111
Dickson1100
Fayette1102
Bradley1081
Blount893
Maury810
Sevier762
Washington750
Coffee680
Unassigned670
Wayne630
Gibson611
Monroe612
Sullivan602
Hickman570
Lauderdale561
Dyer500
Franklin491
Greene482
Anderson391
Marion381
DeKalb370
Grundy321
Hawkins312
Haywood302
Smith301
Hamblen302
Henry300
Marshall301
White300
Obion281
Jefferson280
Carroll271
Meigs260
Overton260
Weakley260
Lincoln250
Lawrence240
Warren220
Cocke200
Carter191
Jackson170
Morgan170
Cannon170
Campbell171
Roane160
Crockett162
Perry160
Johnson160
Polk150
Sequatchie150
Henderson140
Humphreys131
Chester120
Fentress120
Giles120
McNairy120
Scott110
Stewart110
Hardin112
Claiborne90
Houston80
Benton71
Grainger60
Clay60
Decatur50
Van Buren40
Union40
Unicoi40
Moore30
Pickett30
Lewis30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events