A remake of Disney’s 1994 animated classic The Lion King comes to the big screen this week. This time it’s with state-of-the-art technology that will take your breath away.
The Lion King director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) has his version begin the same way as the original, with the birth of a new lion cub named Simba. His proud father, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams), knows his son will be king one day. But Mufasa’s brother, Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Doctor Strange) – a former heir to the throne – has other plans. A fight at Pride Rock, throws Simba into exile, where he meets a curious pair of new friends, Pumbaa the warthog (voiced by Seth Rogan, Neighbors) and a meerkat named Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner, American Horror Story).
When Simba is grown (voiced by Donald Glover, Solo: A Star Wars Story), his childhood friend Nala (voiced by Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Dreamgirls) sets out to find him and bring him back to defeat Scar and take his rightful place as King.
Jon Favreau, Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor were part of a press conference held at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, to talk about the movie, which opens on July 19th, 2019.
I know you wanted to do The Lion King because you cracked the code in The Jungle Book – what did you crack?
Jon Favreau: I’ve been working on both these movies back-to-back for about six years and all the new technology that was available. I had finally learned how to use it by the end of The Jungle Book.
Really these are handmade films, there are animators working on every shot. There’s one shot that’s a real photographic shot, but every other environment you see in the film is built from scratch by artists.
We had a great team assembled, and the idea of using what we learned on (The Jungle Book) with the new technologies that were available to make a story like Lion King with its great vision, great characters, great story, seemed like a really wonderful, logical conclusion. So that was something we set out to do.
How did you feel about redoing a movie that was so loved by audiences?
Jon: It’s such a beloved property. Disney has had tremendous success with the original animated version and then the Broadway musical. I knew that I had to be very careful with it [and] felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up! I wanted to demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it to life using mind-blowing techniques and technologies.
Donald, I heard you said that this Simba is different and he gave you something that you didn’t experience before that you wanted to bring to this version.
Donald Glover: I guess Jon was really good about the circle of life having a major hand in it. I really feel that it’s good to make movies that are global and metropolitan in the sense of the citizens of the world. Like making sure that we talk about how connected we are right now.
I feel very connected to Simba’s journey. The Lion King is a very human and honest story of what all of us go through. I think that the story is such a beautiful way of showing how permanence is not the point. The point is to be here and to be responsible for each other and love each other. Traumatic things will happen – the point is not to allow that to consume your entire life. You can grow and learn from that experience.
My son saw it last night and was freaking out. (Jon) did an amazing job.
What did you tell your son going into it? Were you like, just so you know, daddy is Simba?
Donald: I didn’t tell him anything. I really didn’t. It’s his favorite movie. I was like, I’ll just wait until he gets there. But somehow he found out about it, but still didn’t know I was in it. He was like, the one with Beyonce? And then during the movie, he (said), dad’s in it, too. This is great.
Chiwetel, with this Scar we get to see more of why Scar is Scar. Was that what drove you to him? The fact that you get to show, he’s not just a villain?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: I felt that it was really interesting to go into that psychology, to really try and uncover that and to look at it. I’m a huge fan of what was done before. (But I wanted to go) back in and (explore) that character again from a slightly different perspective, seeing what was there. It’s such an incredible part to play, so complex. And having empathy, not sympathy, but empathizing with the character and trying to understand (him). (He’s) such a rich, villainous character to play. (Such a) wonderful experience for me.
It seemed like you had some really heavy lifting to do since Jeremy Irons was so memorable in the role. Can you talk about making Scar your own?
Chiwetel: The original is just this extraordinary event, it’s so iconic. And so it’s exciting to even get the opportunity to begin a journey like this and to go into any of these characters, and the part of Scar is obviously an extraordinary part to play.
You approach it the same way you approach any other part. You identify with the character, you look at the psychology of the character, you place yourself into those circumstances, and that creates its own individual slant. And so in a way as much as I loved the original, you kind of make it your own and you create the individuality to it in that way.
Jon, I’m curious how you blended the actor’s reference videos with the more animal-like qualities of this virtual reality computer animation.
Jon: We would shoot video on long lenses just to reference what (the actors) were doing with their faces. And we would give that to the animators.
The animators would take the choices that they made and interpolate it into what a lion would do or a hyena would do.
If we just motion captured their face and put a human expression on the animal’s face, I was concerned that that would blow the illusion of it being a naturalistic documentary.
I don’t want to spoil it, but can you talk a little about the Disney Easter egg in the film?
Jon: There’s a gag that references another Disney property. And I drew inspiration. They do that in the stage show. They threw in the joke about Frozen in there. That must have happened after Frozen came on Broadway.
And so we kind of doff the cap to another live action adaptation of a Disney animated classic in the film.