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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Editing and Reboots

This last week, Adam and I went to see the new remake of The Lion King.  This post will have some general, vague spoilers, but quite frankly, it's a remake.  And if you don't know the story by now, you're either a child or an idiot.  Point is, there will be spoilers.

Anyway, seeing the new remake got me thinking about editing and how stories change.  So this post will be about editing and refining, as well as some periods of ranting about the new Lion King.

That said, the first thing I have to get off my chest is that they absolutely ruined several key points in the movie.  Not in the sense of plot, just in execution.  For example, in the gorge scene, the original animated version far exceeds the remake in that the emotion is so raw.  I burst into tears when Scar says, very slowly, "Long live the king," throws Mufasa off the ledge, and Simba screams, "No!"  I get chills just thinking about it.  The new remake misses it so bad, it's like the time you go to kick a soccer ball and wind up on your butt.  The emotion in the new remake is so underwhelming it just murders the story.

AHEM.  So, anywho, it will now be noted that not every complaint I have about The Lion King can be directly applied to a written work.  While it can be difficult to convey the exact intonation you want your reader to hear when reading certain lines from certain characters, varying your word choice can aid in this.  Even simple changes can have an effect on the scene.  Compare:

"I'm not going," he said.
"I'm not going," he stated.
"I'm not going," he commented.
"I'm not going," he insisted.

Even without the use of adverbs, changing the word can subtly change the overall meaning or intention of the phrase.  Going back to The Lion King:

"Long live the king," he said.
"Long live the king," he growled.
"Long live the king," he hissed.

I'm sorry, that just really bothered me.  I almost cried because it was so bad.

Moving on to something that can be considered for both visual and written stories.  Plot.

One thing that the remake Lion King has over the original animated one is Scar's relationship to the hyenas.  In the original, it's just kind of assumed that he's their pal and sort of a pseudo-leader and that's why they follow him.  No explanation is given as to how they became friends (and anyone who cites the books or comics or anything like that is going to be mauled because we're talking straight apples-to-apples comparison) or why they haven't attempted anything like this before.  In the remake, Scar is not automatically their leader.  Instead, Shenzi is the leader and Scar goes to her with a proposal, one leader speaking to another.  This closes up a lot of holes in my opinion, and I found this thread to be far more believable and well-developed than simply a given or assumed plot point.

I'm not trying to say that everything needs a long, drawn-out backstory.  And, really, Scar and the hyenas don't have one in the remake.  It simply gets restructured.

Another point that got reworked is the lead-in to the gorge scene.  In the original, Scar just tells Simba that his father has a surprise for him and to sit on a rock.  Oh, and to practice his little roar.  While Simba does practice his roar, etc. etc., there was never a guarantee that he would.  In the remake, Scar tells Simba that he can make up to his father by roaring so loud that it goes beyond the rim of the gorge.  Then his father will forgive him for the graveyard incident.  It doesn't add anything, but it makes it more believable. (But this does not forgive the treachery of a failed gorge scene.)

I think the best part, strictly speaking action, was the final duel between Scar and Simba.  It was little overdone with unnecessary dialogue, but the fight itself was stunning.  It was an actual fight, not just a little catfight (see what I did there?) relying on slow motion.  Translating this to books, sometimes you have to skip the dialogue and go to the action.  Make sure you have good spatial description to ensure action that can be followed, but don't have your foes constantly hurling insults at each other.  Your scene might be a little shorter, but better to have a scene that's short and good than so long your reader starts skipping over parts just to get to the end and find out what happens.

When editing your story, going back over the first draft and wondering how the hell you thought it was anything even resembling a masterpiece, you don't always have to add more and more and more and try to explain and explain your explanations and build this whole monster.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do is make a few tweaks here and there.  Ask yourself what would happen if you kept things the same, and what would happen if you changed things.  Maybe something needs to change, maybe it would be better staying the same.

Let's look at something else that is universal across visual and written media: characters.

Oh boy, where do I begin?  A lot of my complaints stem from lack of emotion in the remake.  Scar was a dastardly character, but his vocal emotion in the remake was lacking.  This goes back to the point about word choice.  See above.

The other offender in this category is Rafiki.  His transformation in the remake was a huge love-hate for me.  On the one hand, he was given a much more believable medicine man role, and I absolutely loved the incorporation of the Zulu language into his character.  On the other hand, I feel like they made him too serious.  In the original, he laughed and jumped around and you couldn't help but get excited when he realizes Simba is alive.  And you can't help but laugh at his object lesson, whacking Simba on the head with his staff.  His conversation with Simba at the pool is so much more mature and developed in the remake, but I feel like the bridge between the conversation, the appearance of Mufasa (a CGI fail if there ever was one), and Simba's decision to go back, well, it kind of got burned.

My point with Rafiki, as far as character development, is that you don't have to choose between authenticity and personality.  Maybe the humor is a little different, maybe his actions are a little quirky, but a character that is too serious is no fun, no matter how unequivocal their wisdom may be.

Now then, for a point that is part plot and part character.  Pumbaa.  Love him, he's great, and pretty true to character across the remake.  The one thing about his appearance that made me want to grab a producer and punch him in the face was Pumbaa's unwanted PSA about being called fat.  In the original, there's this little bit about him being called a pig.  He is a pig, and he owns up to it, but you must call him "Mr. Pig."  In the remake, he goes off on some unwanted political body-positive PSA about being called plump or chunky or something of the sort.  Good God, if you want to pull a reader out of the story, put in a PSA.  I understand that characters have opinions and biases and leanings, and these may seriously drive their thoughts and actions.  But if you want just the PSA, your better bet is to sell a little ad space in your book so readers can rip it out later and get it over with.

Next up is an address to filler characters.  The remake introduced a whole community into Timon and Pumbaa's neighborhood.  This was a good move, in my opinion, because it helps to fill out the scene.  Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba are not the only ones living in their beautiful forest, and I can imagine that other animals might be a little leery of having a lion around, even if he is friendly.  And I will say that while their rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" may have carried on a little long, I thought it was funny as hell when it suddenly got cut off as Nala attacked.  Unfortunately, I think the filler characters ended up being overused by their appearance at the end.  Timon and Pumbaa came because they're Simba's friends, but there was no indication that any of the other animals were okay with Simba being around, as evidenced by the butterfly incident.  So what made them come all the way to the Pride Lands where the lions rule?  It doesn't make any sense.  Sometimes, you have to leave your characters where they lie.

I do have other complaints, but they generally fall solely within the context of the movie itself.  I am a little disappointed that they took out Timon's luau scene (and the best they could do was "Be Our Guest"?  Really?) but at the same time, I'm not sure how they could have put it in.  The same with the changes to "I Just Can't Wait To Be King."  Once the change in style is made, some things need to be cut.  And that happens.  You can't always keep everything.  If you do your story right, it should be a loose domino effect.  Change one thing and more things should change because of it.  Maybe not drastically, but they should.  Otherwise you're left with a series of disconnected events, like an anthology.

There is probably more to it than this, but I also intentionally waited a few days to write this so as to keep the ranting to a minimum.  The idea was to make this educational and a learning experience for those who have finished their first draft and are wondering how to make good changes in their second draft.  I fear I have failed.  It does read more like a rant.  I don't know.  Maybe you took something from it.

At any rate, it is worthwhile to compare remakes.  Disney is making it even easier with all the remakes they've been doing.  Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King.  I fully intend to do another one on the Mulan remake for the sheer fact that the remake is going to be more historically accurate and will not follow the original animated movie.  That alone is worth a look when you consider plot and characters.

If nothing else, you got my thoughts on The Lion King remake, so if you've been on the fence about it, maybe this will sway you one way or the other.

-Brooke Shaffer

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