I walked quickly into the theater, eager to get into an air-conditioned building on a day that almost broke heat records here in Colorado. Cautiously excited about this new “live-action” version of Disney’s “The Lion King,” I got my popcorn, found my seat, and waited in anticipation as the lights dimmed and the previews played.
At the first notes of “Nants’ Ingonyama,” I broke out in goosebumps. The opening sequence is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film, beginning with the orange sun breaking over the horizon and lighting up the dark.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little teary-eyed as the photorealistic animals gathered at Pride Rock to welcome the birth of the new king with the strains of “Circle of Life” soaring in the background. It was such a regal, powerful scene, and it was absolutely beautiful to see this callback to my childhood brought into such vivid, realistic detail.
“The Lion King” holds a special place in my heart. Although I was too young to remember it, my parents brought me to see original animated version when it was released in theaters in 1994. It was the first movie I vividly remember watching on VHS and, according to my mom, was very good at quoting at inappropriate times.
When it was rereleased in 3D in 2011, I was there in theaters to watch the magic of my childhood be brought to life again with new technology. I watched all the subsequent sequels and television shows, and I had a stuffed Nala toy that was one of my favorite fuzzy companions until the seams finally ripped beyond repair. So when I heard that Disney was going to be doing a live-action remake (CGI, but whatever), I was positively thrilled. My childhood was coming back to life again and it was pulling on my nostalgic heartstrings in all the right ways.
The other day in the theater as the end credits began to roll, it suddenly hit me: For all the young viewers in the audience, this would be the “The Lion King” they remember — and at first I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
At first I was upset that today’s children will never experience as a “first” the beauty and raw emotion of the 1994 film, a film that is in my opinion still superior to this one (I still tear up when Mufasa dies and, if the adults sitting next to me in the theater were any indication, I’m not the only one).
My second thought was: Oh no, I sound like my parents.
I really don’t want to sound like that person — the one who is stuck in the past because it was a comfortable, easy time for them (or at least that’s how they remember it). I don’t want to be the person who clings so tightly to memories that I’m not open to wonderful and exciting new things. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” said it like this: “Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is ‘golden-age thinking’ — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living.”
Let’s be honest: Adulthood probably isn’t quite as fun as we thought it would be when we were young. Sometimes it definitely feels like “the painful present” and as far away from a fairytale as one can get. As a kid, I didn’t see all the long hours at work, the up-and-down drama, the expensive bills and other not-so-fun things my parents endured and that I’m now experiencing as an adult. It’s hard not to envy today’s kids and their blissful naiveté about the reality of adulthood and want to be back in that place of carefree innocence myself.
All these Disney film remakes got me thinking of everything I experienced as a child watching the originals. I remember the thrill of seeing a flying carpet. I remember the silliness of twirling around like I was at Cinderella’s ball. I remember going to the beach and imagining mermaids swimming in the ocean with me. Some days I really want to go back — back to a time where life was simpler and imagination was everything.
The good news is, imagination lives on. Kids today will still see a Cinderella who is unfailingly kind and gentle. They will see a brave lion embracing his destiny and fighting to undo injustice. They will see a princess who will not be silenced or dismissed just because of her gender and her culture. In the upcoming “Mulan,” kids will see a young woman courageously fighting for her family and her country.
These are important lessons — not just for kids, but for adults, too. We shouldn’t forget these lessons or the joy and wonder we felt as kids learning them. Better yet, we can share that joy and wonder with the children we know. After all, live-action magic is still magic — and I guess I can learn to be OK with that.
Copyright 2019 Jessika Schmit. All rights reserved.