Murphy’s Law – Lessons from Mufasa

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

To say the success of Disney’s rerelease of The Lion King is unexpected would be a vast understatement.

In its first 10 days, the film earned $61.5 million, comfortably earning it first place at the box office two weekends in a row. It easily topped Moneyball, a movie starring bona fide superstar Brad Pitt as a handsome baseball general manager who uses fancy stats and his handsomeness to revolutionize the sport. The Lion King 3D earned $30.2 million on its first weekend, which makes it the fourth best September opening ever. Not bad for a movie that was originally released 17 years ago.

Even Disney execs are surprised by the film’s level of success.

“There has been very low success with rereleases historically,” said Disney executive VP of theatrical exhibition sales and distribution (which is apparently a thing) Dave Hollis. “Originally, we thought [the film] would do somewhere in the low-to-mid teens its first weekend.” Hollis then went on to laugh devilishly while stroking a cat and being fanned by a young Persian woman.

Clearly, there is a lesson to be learned here. By and large, Hollywood is a land of shameless copycats, so no doubt every executive in the business is trying to figure out why The Lion King 3D was such a hit so they can replicate its success. And while I definitely think they could learn something here, I fear that the actual lesson and what Hollywood will take away from this are two very different things.

Hollywood most likely sees this as vindication for the path they’ve been on. They’ve been pushing 3D on us ever since the success of Avatar. And repacking old movies we love so they can sell them to us again is their favorite pasttime these days. So they’ll probably simply stay the course – more 3D, more reboots and remakes, less creativity.

(Though wouldn’t it be awesome if they took away something really random and unexpected from this, like the idea that we need more movies with talking lions in them or that we need more Jonathan Taylor Thomas on our screens.)

But to me, the reason for The Lion King’s success is quite simple – people are starved for quality films. Hollywood likes to make excuses about how Internet piracy and posh home theater systems are destroying theatrical releases. This film’s success makes it pretty clear that that isn’t the case. I’m guessing most of the people who went to see The Lion King 3D already had a copy of the film at their house – whether purchased legally or downloaded illegally – and they still paid to see it again.

People like going to see movies. I am one of the most reclusive, curmudgeonly people you will ever meet in your life and even I love going to see movies in the theater. It’s just a fun experience from top to bottom – the popcorn, the previews beforehand, the giant screen and the booming speakers. Who doesn’t love the communal experience of watching a good film with a group of strangers and silently bonding over a great film? (Of course, from time to time, you still get dicks who don’t understand the “silently” part, but that’s beside the point.)

All you have to do is give people a film worth seeing and they will flock to it. The Lion King was one of the last truly great hand-drawn animated Disney films. And now, in a sea of computer generated graphics, it actually seems quite charming and retro to look at all of those hand-painted cells of animation. It makes perfect sense to me that this film would make a ton of money. People who saw it the first time around most likely went to see it again out of a sense of nostalgia. And those who never got a chance to see it in the theater undoubtedly just wanted to experience it on the big screen. To me, the 3D element is secondary. It may have helped to sell a few extra tickets, but overall I think people just wanted to reexperience a film that they love.

This will probably lead to Aladdin 3D and The Little Mermaid 3D and a slew of other Disney rereleases. And other studios will probably follow suit, which means by 2014 we’ll be getting All Dogs Go to Heaven 3D and Milo and Otis 3D. And on some level, I’m okay with that. The 3D still does nothing for me, but I’d rather see Hollywood simply rerelease the original films we enjoyed rather than remake them with douchey young actors and watered-down, overly PC and focus grouped scripts.

But at some point, someone is going to need to come along and make the next crop of films like The Lion King. Sure, Pixar is doing their part, but they can’t do it all by themselves. We need more Hollywood execs to focus on quality and originality. Give people films worth watching and they will pay to see them.

Or maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe people were just really clamoring to see a monkey swing a stick with giant balls attached to it in 3D.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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Comments (1)
  1. Rachelle September 28, 2011

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