Jon Favreau, the director of the upcoming remake of the classic Disney film, “The Lion King,” is probably the first to tell you that his new version of the animated film is not “live-action.” In fact, as revealed in a new “set visit” from EW, there’s no real live action at all in the film. 100% of “The Lion King” is done through technology that meant that real animals, real sets, and real humans weren’t required to “film” the movie.
“It feels like we’re restoring a classic historic architectural landmark — how do you update it without changing the personality of it? How do you take advantage of all the new technological breakthroughs but still maintain the soul and the spirit of the original ‘Lion King?’” Favreau said. “I think this film is a culmination of all the live-action adaptations that Disney has done of their animated classics.”
He added, “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. And by the time ‘Jungle Book’ was done, we had a lot of facility with this technology, so you’re hitting that part of your stride where you’re saying, ‘Now, what can I really do with this?’”
And judging by the first couple of trailers and bits of footage seen from Favreau’s ‘Lion King,’ it appears that the director has found a way to reinvent the film that is often regarded as the gold standard for Disney. Many critics have seen footage from the new remake and have said that it’s just the director utilizing the same technology he used to bring “The Jungle Book” to life a couple of years ago, earning almost $1 billion in the process. However, as Favreau explained, the technology he used for “The Lion King” far outweighs the tech used in his previous film.
“By removing the one physical element of Mowgli [the human boy from ‘Jungle Book’], 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,” the director 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.”
As the report details, he’s not exaggerating. The “on set” aspect of the film occurs when you strap on a VR headset and look around. Suddenly, you’re transported to the film’s location. And from there, you can see the world from any angle. So, while Favreau and the rest of the crew don’t have any physical “sets,” they can move the camera around the virtual set to pick the right angles and whatnot for the film. It sounds absolutely bananas.
Favreau continued, “The whole reason for all of this is to make an animated film feel live-action — to have a real crew come in, interface with an animated film, and make all the camera decisions that you would on set, instead of somebody sitting at a keyboard programming in the camera moves. If you look at the way we’re covering and cutting [the animated performances], all of that is related to traditional cinema.”
And while you may be reading all this and thinking, what the hell is he talking about? That’s fine. According to the director, he would rather audiences just enjoy the film and not be bogged down in the creative details.
“The hope is that none of this will matter when people actually see it,” he said. “We hope it will feel like something different and something that’s as emotionally engaging as a film with real animals using real cameras. And as we introduce the material to people, they’ll begin to understand — or at least be confused in a way that’s creatively compelling.”
But for as different and new this version of “The Lion King” actually is, there’s still going to be those iconic moments that made the 1994 classic such a revered film. This is most obvious in the character of Mufasa, the king of the region and the father to the film’s hero Simba. For the new film, Favreau brought back the original voice actor James Earl Jones to voice the character, the only actor from the original to return. Not only that, Mufasa’s lines are almost verbatim for what the original film included, which will probably please the Disney purists that feel Jones’ performance in the first film is pitch perfect.
As for the changes made to the rest of the film, fans will have to wait until July 19 to find out.
Here are some new pictures from the film, courtesy of EW: