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The Lion King, Recycling, and Remembering

If there's one big difference between famous books and famous movies, it's that no famous book will ever be subject to a 3D re-release. (At least not until we come up with the technology!)

Over the weekend, believe it or not, the 3D re-release of The Lion King continued to come in #1 at the box office as it reached $61.7 million in total profit. This has led the big guys at Disney to announce they'll be keeping the movie in theaters beyond the originally planned two weeks. As Ed, the craziest hyena villain, might say... [insert maniacal celebratory hyena laugh]!

It's pretty clear that the main motivator behind this 3D re-release was to make money, and it's hard to blame the big guys at Disney for that. Still, the event - and the now practically inevitable coming wave of 3D re-releases - raises some questions about the recycling of classic media. Most importantly, when is it okay?

"Remember who you are, Simba." "Hamlet?"
It's true that classic stories create a kind of bonding experience for humanity. This bond can transcend time, place, race, age, social status, and much more. Even The Lion King is based off Hamlet, which is based off the legend of Amleth, which is so ancient no one's sure exactly where it came from. YA fiction is full of stories that have been told before, just in a slightly different/older way (see: Romeo and Juliet). And there's nothing wrong with that - right?

The Lion King is evidently a story/movie/experience that parents want to share with their children, grandparents want to share with their grandchildren, nostalgic teens like me want to share with their friends, etc. And who's to say that re-releasing a movie isn't the same as re-grunting a story about the caveman campfire? (In this case, the campfire is a massive glowing screen.)

On the other hand, you could argue that re-releasing a movie that's already had its ride around the block is even more extreme - and worrying - than other forms of story recycling. What happened to creativity, man? Heck, you could argue that story recycling in any form is a bad thing. The human experience is such a huge and varied thing, there must still be room for some level of originality.

What are your thoughts on story recycling, The Lion King 3D, and originality in fiction? Sound off in the comments! And while you're at it, enjoy this awesomely hilarious Modern Family clip.

Emilia Plater

Emilia is a YA author who avoids studying, food that isn't covered in cheese, and waking up before 10:30AM whenever possible. A bundle of confusions.

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  1. When my daughter was small, she was terrified by the Lion King and we had to stop watching.

    As for recycling, I don't mind when a plot or story is done again, but I love it when there's a new spin or twist on it.

  2. The Indo-Europeans, those people who spoke the language that became French and English and Armenian and Hindi and Russian and Norwegian and Persian and way too many other languages, were pretty good at telling stories. They told stories about slaying dragons, about twins, about stealing fire from the gods.

    But every time a story is re-told it changes. It means something new, because it is in a new context. How many stories about dragons are there? How many of the dragons are actually the same? Can you really say that Smaug and Kazul and Temeraire mean the same thing?

    At the heart of it, a re-told story is a form of intertextuality, a way of adding all the depth of all the hundreds of other stories to yours. But if you're not saying anything new or interesting, it will fall flat and be crushed under the weight of its precursors.

  3. Assuming we're not talking plagiarism or copyright violation (and even with the latter I have mixed feelings about its creative limitations), I don't think retelling a story is ever a question of being "okay" or "wrong." As Andrea said, I like the work to be somehow reinvented -- for example, I think cover songs that mimic the original recordings' vocals and instrumentation are a total yawn -- but that's a matter of preference rather than ethics. To me, the question is whether a retelling is interesting or meaningful, not right or wrong.

    As for the re-release of Lion King, I'll be showing my age here (Generation X represent!), but back in olden times, before VCRs, DVD players, and blessed Netflix, Disney's practice of re-releasing movies in the theater was pretty common. I remember seeing Fantasia, Snow White, The Rescuers, and Charlotte's Web in the theater, and none of those was an original release. Even now that home entertainment centers are the norm, there's something to be said for the big-screen experience. So again, I don't see anything "wrong" with Disney re-releasing Lion King, although I personally feel that putting it in 3-D is a superficial and rather silly change. But that's my preference. Obviously many people feel differently, and Disney has recognized that!

  4. I was very excited to see the Lion King re-released in theaters because as my possible favorite Disney movie, I wanted to see it on the big screen. However, I DID NOT see it in 3D. I hate 3D movies and you're right, this was a total ploy for studios to make more money.
    Anyway, now that I think about it, I adore The Lion King even more know that I know it's an adaptation of Hamlet. Great post!

  5. I'm not a 3D fan, but I love Lion King, so I'm torn. As far as recycling goes I have issues with it. *cough* Footloose *cough* If you're going to redo the premise, that's fine, but why take something that was already done and do it again with no actual changes?

  6. I am all doe Disney rereleases. Their computer animated stuff has been good lately, but nothing traditional. If putting this back in the wild (ha. ha.) allows them to somehow refresh that, far be it from me to judge.

    Also, my generation (the ones who were five when it came tut originally) is nostalgic to a fault. It's only natural for Disney to bank on that, and I wish other companies would too.

  7. I love seeing fairy tale re-telling's--Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors for that. It's interesting to see different interpretations of the same story. As for The Lion King in 3D, I told my husband, "You know they're going to make a killing on this. It probably cost very little to convert it to 3D, and tons of people are going to see it." B

  8. We took our kids to the Lion King in 3D, because it was the first movie mom and I saw together, so it's sort of special. We'd all seen it a hundred times, but seeing it in the theater is special.

    I've got no problem with stories being recycled, as long as they're good stories. There are certain tales that speak to universal truths of human existence, and should be told in many different ways.

  9. I'm actually a big fan of a good re-telling. I think recycled stories, when done well, can make you think about the message of the original in a whole new way.


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Item Reviewed: The Lion King, Recycling, and Remembering Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Emilia Plater