Of all the Disney remakes released or soon to be released, Jon Favreau's Lion King seems to be the most hype-worthy. Not only does the CGI-centric film boast a mind boggling cast, it also represents a 21st Century take on one of the most (if not the most) beloved movies of the Disney Renaissance period in the 1990s.
“I think this film is a culmination of all the live-action adaptations that Disney has done of their animated classics," Favreau — whose work on The Jungle Book helped pave the way for his hiring on The Lion King — told Entertainment Weekly. "The idea of taking these characters and this music, just as the stage play took it, sticking closely to the story but reinventing it for a different medium… I thought that this technology would be separate enough from the animated film that it felt fresh and new, yet completely related to the original."
When it came to The Jungle Book, there was a lot less emotional baggage for an animated movie that had debuted in 1967. For his new job, Favreau had the stress of living up to the nostalgia of Disney fans (now in their 20s and 30s) who grew up watching The Lion King in theaters or on VHS.
“It’s amazing how much you can change, but if you reference the proper memory points, it feels like you’re completely being true to what came before," the filmmaker continued. "The trick is to quantify those things. Figure out what those connection points are. There’s a checklist: ‘What do I expect to see if I go see this?’ And there were about six things on that list for Jungle Book. This one has about 60.”
With that challenge in mind, certain things were freeing, like the fact that everything in the movie was brought to life by state-of-the-art CGI and motion capture technology. With no physical characters to worry about, Favreau and his team could run wild — similar to how a herd of wildebeest run wild and trample Mufasa to death. What? Too soon?
“By removing the one physical element of Mowgli, we were no longer tethered to the fact that we had to have blue screen or an actual set or real cameras, so everything became virtual at that point,” he said. “Once that gave us the freedom to operate without actually having to move through physical photography, it allowed us to open ourselves up to a whole new approach, and that’s why it feels different than Jungle Book. We’ve basically built a multiplayer VR filmmaking game just for the purposes of making this movie.”
Donald Glover (Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Beyoncé (Nala), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Billy Eichner (Timon), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), John Kani (Rafiki), John Oliver (Zazu), Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Eric Andre (Azizi), Keegan-Michael (Kamari), and Amy Sedaris (an unnamed elephant shrew) all lend their voices to the star-studded remake.
But just because they're being turned into photorealistic animals, doesn't mean that we won't see their very human reactions shine through in the finished product.
“All those little subtle cues that actors give, animals have their version of, so what a human would do with its face, a lion might do with its whole body,” Favreau added, explaining that the animators did incorporate the actors' performances into their bestial counterparts.
The Lion King roars into theaters everywhere July 19.