As is tradition, Disney broke out the big guns for their live-action panel today at D23. In addition to debuting the Wrinkle in Time trailer, showing off some behind-the-scenes footage from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, earning a madhouse round of applause for the first Avengers: Infinity War footage, the studio showed off the first footage from their live-action adaptation of The Lion King a full two years before it’s scheduled to hit theaters, and if you liked The Jungle Book, this movie is going to bring you joy.
For a generation of moviegoers, The Lion King is one of those Golden Age animated films from our childhood that takes a precious place in our hearts. Fortunately, director Jon Favreau is taking the responsibility seriously, and if the debut footage is any indication, he’s doing something pretty special.
The footage begins. The sun rises over the African Savannah. There are animals everywhere and it’s a shot that looks like it could have been lifted straight from The Jungle Book. Favreau reaped phenomenal results with the groundbreaking CG on his first live-action Disney adaptation and he’s furthering that technology here, reteaming with Jungle Book’s Oscar winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato and VFX house MPC for a film completely absent of human characters. Exotic animals walk through the desert landscape, journeying somewhere together. Elephants carry birds on their backs and on their tusks. We follow them, and then we see it. The iconic rock formation, Pride Rock. The antelopes, zebras, elephants, and rhinos (among others) are answering the royal call to see the young Simba announced.
The footage will look stunningly familiar to any fan of the 1994, a mirrored recreation of the beloved film, reimagined in photoreal CG. The wide shot zooms out even wider, showing off the vast, majestic terrain of Mufasa’s Kingdom. Elton John‘s Circle of Life begins to play, the familiar chanting rising in the background. Enter Rafiki, who looks stunning, to the point that it’s almost impossible to believe he’s not a real baboon. Then, the gold. Baby Simba rests in his mother’s arms and he’s so cute you could DIE. I mean real cute. Like, reaaaaal cute. Picture the little wolves in The Jungle Book and then amplify that cute by 100. I’m moving on, I promise, but jeez louise, he’s so cute.
Lil’ baby Simba yawns and stretches when Rafiki anoints him with the red oil smudge, and the cub sneezes (Yep, it’s cute.) The baboon picks up the future king, holding him up high, presenting him to his kingdom in a recreation of the iconic cover shot from the original film. The crowd goes wild, the animals bow and roar. Circle of Life booms. In Anaheim, California, the crowd is also going wild, and a thunderous applause breaks out across the auditorium as the title card closes out the footage.
What can I say? It looks real good, y’all. Disney knows (especially after the blockbuster box office success of Beauty and the Beast) that their 90s golden age is a revered sweet spot for a generation of fans and so you know they want to get it right. Granted, this scene didn’t have any dialogue, but it’s an iconic moment and it plays like gangbusters. It’s a triumphant return to the D23 stage for Favreau, who earned early buzz two years ago when he debuted footage from The Jungle Book. “We know how important this is,” He told the audience. “People want to understand what our approach is, what we’re doing, and as soon as I found out we were going to be doing this film, my first question was, when’s D23?” Once again, Favreau has delivered the goods, leaving a packed auditorium of diehard fans eager to see more.
The Lion King roars into theaters July 19, 2019.