The Lion King, Detective Pikachu, and the art of nostalgia

New footage from Disney's remake of The Lion King and Pokemon reboot Detective Pikachu offer two different angles on cinematic nostalgia

Feature by Peter Simpson | 12 Apr 2019
  • Detective Pikachu

Typical. You wait years for a combination CGI-live action remake of a beloved 1990s hit, but this time with realistic fur textures, and then bam! Two come along at once. 

The Lion King is among the greatest films from Disney's 90s purple period, and the Pokemon TV series will be immediately and viscerally familiar to anyone who spent any weekend time in front of a telly at the turn of the century (gotta, gotta, gotta catch 'em all, gotta catch 'em all, Pokemon! etc etc). In their original form, they're both filled with energy and colour. There's a joyful, spritely motion to their characters, and an embrace of animation's power to create the seemingly impossible.

Just take a look at the trailer for Disney's 1994 Lion KingIt's wildly choreographed, it's over-dramatic, and it's more than a little bit extra. Now compare it to the dour, over-serious offering from the House of Mouse to introduce the 2019 reboot. 

The fur is impressive, the animal movement looks quite convincing, but fun? Intrigue? Enjoyment? Sorry sir, we just don't seem to have any of that in stock. A trailer is supposed to be a bombastic run-through of some of a film's best bits, and if that's the case here then we're in for two hours of What If Attenborough, but A Bit Emo? 

The problem is encapsulated by the iconic shot of Simba, Timon and Pumba walking in lockstep. In the old or 'good' version, there's a joyful swing to their movements, a sense of exuberance, a feeling that what we're seeing is an improvement on real life. Those animals shouldn't get along, but look how jolly they are! In the new version, we've got three animals having a realistic-looking walk through some trees, cutting about like a lost trio of students trying to find their way back to the hostel 'cause they need some shut-eye before the train to Budapest. 

Fitting with Disney's apparent plan to remake every classic they have on the books but with none of the stuff people actually enjoyed, this looks like a muddy, needlessly realistic slog. Oh, I Just Can't Wait... and so on.

But if it's fun you're after, the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu trailer has it in spades. It's extremely childish, in exactly the way you'd expect from a film with the synopsis "Ryan Reynolds is the voice of Pikachu – also he's Sherlock Holmes", but we were all children once.

We were children when we saw this thing the first time round. We liked its ludicrous elements; its unrealistic character design (look upon the face of Psyduck and despair, ye mortals), its bright colours and excessive soundtrack. Viewer, it appears that when it comes to those elements, we've caught them all.

The modern world is a bit rubbish at times, and that's why these nostalgic reimaginings appeal to us – but that appeal isn't unconditional. Detective Pikachu and The Lion King are proof that, when it comes to invoking our millenial nostalgia, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Or duck.

The Lion King is released 19 Jul by Disney; Detective Pikachu is released 10 May by Warner Bros.