It seems there’s no stopping the inexorable march of “new” Disney movies that are just old ones with better graphics.
While it’s inevitably going to be lumped in with the live action reimaginings such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, the upcoming Jon Favreau-directed remake of The Lion King is, let’s be honest, another cartoon – albeit one with a far more advanced technology. The difference between Zootopia and this film is, essentially, art style (and the fact that Mufasa doesn’t wear pants).
If you’ve not entirely been bitten by the Disney remake bug, you might have misgivings about this new version of The Lion King. How could a new movie hope to live up to the greatness of the original cartoon? Why would anyone, for example, even want to try recasting Jeremy Irons, the most evil-sounding man on planet Earth?
Thankfully, Disney has an answer to this challenge. If you can’t, for whatever reason, convince Irons to reprise his role as a monkey’s uncle (his words, not ours), then get another actor who is, in his own way, equally impressive – Chiwetel Ejiofer.
Different people will know Ejiofer from different movies. If you’re a Love, Actually fan, he’s the husband of Kiera Knightley – the guy who is completely oblivious that his best friend, Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead, is in love with his wife.
Marvel fans will know Chiwetel as Baron Mordo, the Loki of Doctor Strange (in that he’s a British guy who’s kind of a sidekick but ultimately a villain when all is said and done). Joss Whedon fans recognize him as The Operative in Serenity, while Roland Emerick fans (if they still exist) best know him as the only guy who makes any sense when the world blows up in 2012.
This guy could very well be Scar, if current talks work out well. He’s an interesting choice to say the least, and his planned involvement suggests that Disney might be going a very different direction with the villain of The Lion King this time around.
In the original Lion King, as we’ve established, Scar is very obviously the villain because, long before we see him staging Nazi rallies or doing the “long live the king” thing, he sounds creepy as all get out. Jeremy Irons breathes malice into Scar’s every line of dialogue, to the point that it’s very, very clear to everyone (except Jonathan Taylor Thomas) that this guy is trouble.
Chiwetel has a lot of experience playing villains, but he never plays them as cackling, evil monsters who chew scenery and spit venom. His style is far more subdued and quiet – he is, perhaps, a more traditional British villain, in that he maintains his stiff upper lip even as he’s burning cities to the ground or murdering children.
In Serenity, The Operative speaks with a calm, quiet voice, soothing his murder victims even as he jabs a sword into their stomach. In Doctor Strange, he’s a more sympathetic character – a guy who’s just trying to do the right thing, but who reacts negatively when his entire world view is flipped on its head.
Chiwetel Ejiofer is not a standard Disney VillainTM. He brings nuance and complexity to his roles, as well as a soft-spoken vulnerability that doesn’t play nice with the kind of unambiguous evil that plays center stage in most movies in order to make it easier to root for the heroes.
So if Jon Favreau isn’t after a sneering, cackling Jeremy Irons type for Scar, perhaps his remake of The Lion King is going to go beyond simply retelling the original story, as we see in many of the live action remakes (we’re looking at you, Beauty and the Beast!).
Maybe, instead of being pure evil, Scar will be sympathetic – the bones of this premise are in the original movie, after all. Scar laments the arbitrary Circle of Life that puts the biggest, strongest lion in charge of the Pride Lands, and unlike Simba, who merrily munches on zebra without giving a second thought to what he’s doing, Scar seems almost apologetic when it comes to eating even a tiny mouse (despite his obvious glee at doing so – this is a Disney VillainTM after all).
He’s less apologetic when it comes to eating Zazu, but hey, you try listening to Mr Bean sing It’s a Small World every day for years of your life.
It remains to be seen whether Chiwetel Ejiofer will actually get cast in this movie. Jon Favreau might go in a different direction (Josh Gad seems to be showing up in a lot of Disney movies these days…).
But the fact that Disney is even considering Ejiofer suggests that The Lion King (2019) might be a little more nuanced and morally complicated than the one-note Divine Right story of The Lion King (1994).