By Max Godnick
After one of the coldest summers at the box office in years, Hollywood just can't wait to see 'King.'
Disney's photorealistic recreation of the most successful G-rated movie in history stampedes into theaters Friday - and by year's end, the remake will probably be the biggest PG title ever, too.
"The Lion King" (2019) — as it seems destined to be parenthetically (and awkwardly) — referred is projected to make upwards of $170 million in North America alone during its opening weekend. It's made $55 million and counting in China already, and the 90-second teaser has over 65 million views on YouTube since dropping seven months ago.
If it's not the highest-grossing movie of 2019, "The Lion King" (2019) will only fall short of the likely highest-grossing movie of all time in "Avengers Endgame", and the final chapter of the pound-for-pound highest-grossing franchise of all time in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."
Disney, Disney, and Disney again.
The studio has flexed its magic every way it knows how, all year long. Marvel and Lucasfilm are making the House of Mouse's multibillion dollar acquisitions seem like bigger steals with every new sequel and theme park. Disney's in-house intellectual property ("Toy Story," "Frozen") are proving their cultural staying power with sequels both in the books and still to come this year. And the entertainment giant's latest box-office invention might be its most brilliant and cynical yet: the "live-action" remake.
Bob Iger and Co. started deploying the tactic nearly a decade ago with "Alice in Wonderland (2010) and with spiffed up versions of "Cinderella" (2015), "The Jungle Book" (2016), and "Beauty and the Beast" (2017) adding to an already impressive bottom line soon after.
But 2019 seems to be the year Disney set its sights more squarely than ever on its own tail.
It started in the spring, when "Dumbo" (2019) opened 71 years after its source material first hit theaters — just about a year before Joe Biden was born. By Memorial Day, "Aladdin" (2019)'s magic carpet ride to the billion-dollar club, was already well underway. In July, the trailer for "Mulan" (2020) notched 23 million YouTube views in just a few days. That same week, a color-blind casting update about the role of Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" (Probably 2021) proved controversial enough to keep Twitter occupied for the better part of a news cycle.
Now, it's Simba and Nala's turn to keep the nostalgia parade going. The freshly-dropped soundtrack is already climbing the streaming charts to mixed, but not surprising, reviews - Beyonce, good singer, Seth Rogen, less so. Criticism of the film itself is equally imbalanced — with near universal praise for its technical achievement and eerie unease for its emphasis on photoreality over cartoonish fun.
But it's A-plus-list cast, ubiquitous title, and cross-generational appeal will be more than enough to hoist the movie into the box-office stratosphere quicker than Rafiki can lift a baby lion.
In a year that's already seen the studio become savior of the universe, granter of wishes, and acquirer of Foxes — now Disney is ready to add another title to its already unprecedented 2019 mantle: King of the Jungle.