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Why people are calling the new Disney Lion King remake “live action”

The new Lion King trailer reignites the debate. Here’s why the live-action label makes sense.

Hands holding up a lion cub in a scene from “The Lion King.”
The joy of the new Lion King film lies mainly in getting reacquainted with our favorite characters.
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

With the glorious arrival of last fall’s teaser trailer, Disney’s upcoming remake of The Lion King announced itself as, uh, a pretty straightforward copy of the 1994 animated original. Now, the film’s first full trailer is finally here, and it, too, appears to hew pretty close to the 1994 Lion King — except that it’s newer and, er, less animated-looking.

Directed by Jon Favreau (who previously helmed the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book), the new film seems poised to offer few surprises. With the trailer scenes being near replicas of scenes from the original, the joy of the new film so far lies mainly in getting reacquainted with our cuddly faves from the Animal Kingdom as voiced by the likes of Donald Glover (Simba) and Beyoncé (Nala).

But there’s also some joy to be found — to many people on the internet, at least — in bickering endlessly about whether the remake qualifies as a live-action film. Debate over this question has raged since the first teaser dropped on Thanksgiving; though the remake had been billed as live action, the teaser offered a preview that looked a lot like the animated original, spurring lots of confusion and contention — as well as rebuttals for any media outlet calling it a live-action film.

Allow us to weigh in. You can argue all you want that the new Lion King is — *checks notes* — a photorealistic CGI-animated work. But the facts are as follows:

  • The film is being produced not by Walt Disney Animation Studios, but by Walt Disney Pictures, which is the branch of Disney film studios that produces live-action Disney films.
  • The film is very obviously being promoted as part of Disney’s ongoing series of live-action remakes.
  • Disney CEO Bob Iger himself referred to it in a 2018 shareholders meeting as “our upcoming live-action Lion King.

So regarding its not-so-live look, maybe pipe down on the condescension there, eh, pal? We’ll grant that, technically, the film seems to be more CGI than live action — but there are valid reasons it’s been difficult for people to shake the live-action association.

As a compromise, perhaps we could all follow the lead of Walt Disney Motion Pictures President Sean Bailey, who recently clarified in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that the film is a hybrid — specifically, “a new form of filmmaking” that utilizes both live-action elements and animated elements. See? The peace, the peace is wonderful.

The Lion King hits theaters in the US on July 19, 2019.