Disney’s recent remakes haven’t been without criticism. With “Toy Story 4” in theaters now and “The Lion King” to be released soon, Disney seems to be using a high profile cast to cover up flaws in their current filmography.
As for “Toy Story 4” specifically, the two major storylines were enjoyable; although, they plodded at times. The main cast excelled in the roles they’ve been doing for years, and the new characters mixed comic relief with narrative importance fairly well, especially Tony Hale’s Forky. Keanu Reeves and the stellar comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele played primarily comedic roles and provided plenty of laughter.
But nonetheless, I walked out of the theater with a slightly sour taste in my mouth. After some thought, I pinpointed my gripe with the movie to the aforementioned comedic characters: Jordan Peele’s Bunny, Keegan-Michael Key’s Ducky and Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom.
They played their roles well, but they felt a bit unnecessary, almost filler-like. They were the third helping of food in a movie when two helpings were plenty.
They were funny, but after looking back on the movie, that’s all there was to them. Despite their humor being their only memorable contribution to the film, they all had their own minor arcs throughout the film. The arcs they had were simplistic and baseline but served the purpose of keeping those characters on the sidelines of the main story. Compared to the more engaging and rewarding storylines of Woody, Buzz and other characters, Bunny, Ducky and Duke Caboom stuck out like sore thumbs.
This begs the question: Why include them?
This franchise has proven in the past that its core characters, and maybe one or two additional, were sufficient for audiences and critics alike, as both gave generally favorable reviews. I believe their inclusion on the fourth installment was to stave off franchise fatigue.
By bringing in some relevant and popular actors into side roles, audiences might forget the anthropomorphic toys are on their fourth big-screen adventure. Essentially, Pixar attempted to cover the franchise’s slight downgrade in narrative quality with high profile names.
As far as I’m concerned, they succeeded with this film. But, the trailer for “The Lion King” remake I saw during the previews helped me draw some comparisons between the two films and has caused me to believe Disney’s diversionary tactic on “Toy Story 4” cannot be imitated forever.
Disney has been remaking their classic animated films with more realistic animation styles recently, with “The Jungle Book” and “Dumbo” already released. “The Lion King” is their next project, scheduled for release on July 18. Some of the star cast members are Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner.
The Lion King,” as with the other remakes Disney has done, needs something to set it apart from its original, besides the new animation style. Disney opted for a cast more recognizable for the current generation of moviegoers. Although James Earl Jones is returning as Mufasa, the rest of the cast are more attractive to people who have grown watching these stars.
Like “Toy Story 4,” this movie is sure to be a hit with fans and critics alike, yet also like “Toy Story 4,” I fear this cast’s high profile might be another attempt to draw focus away from something else, namely the fact that this movie seems to be a mostly beat-for-beat retelling of the original “Lion King.”
If it’s the same story, just with a shiny new coat, Disney understandably fears audiences might not find it as appealing the second time around. So, they’ve brought in comedians like Seth Rogen for comedic roles, an elegant and respected artist like Beyoncé for a motherly role and so on and so forth.
“The Lion King” will almost definitely strike gold twice. But, if this is the tactic Disney is going with for its sequels and reboots in the future, audiences will start to catch on and grow wise to its trick.
On a less pessimistic note, if Disney can continue to string together successes with these remakes of its classics, maybe we’ll see the live-action remake of “The Emperor’s New Groove” we’ve all been waiting for.