Directed by Jon Favreau and written by Jeff Nathanson, this new telling of the 1994 Disney classic The Lion King uses new techniques and technologies to bring the story to life in a whole new way. As a young lion cub, Simba (voiced by Donald Glover) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (voiced by the great James Earl Jones), while Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother and former heir to the throne, looks to seize the crown that he feels he’s owed. And after family tragedy strikes, resulting in Simba’s exile, the young lion must take a new path to his royal destiny, with help from newfound friends Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner), as well as pride mate Nala (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter).
During a conference at the film’s Los Angeles press day, co-stars Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, along with filmmaker Jon Favreau, talked about how the technology evolved to the point that it made this film possible, the collaborative environment that they all worked in together, making the characters their own, improvisation, how that Beauty and the Beast moment came about, using a VR system to place everyone directly into the environment they were creating, and how they translated the actors’ performances to their characters.
Question: Jon, you’ve said previously that you wanted to do The Lion King because you felt that you had cracked the code in The Jungle Book. So, what was it that you felt you’d figured out, that enabled you to do this film?
JON FAVREAU: I’ve been working on these movies (The Jungle Book and The Lion King), back to back, for about six years, and all of the new technology that was available, I had finally learned how to use it, by the end of The Jungle Book. A lot of attention is paid to the technology, but these are handmade films. There are animators working on every shot and every environment that you see in the film. There’s one shot that’s a real photographic shot, but everything else is built from scratch by artists, and we had a great team assembled. So, the idea of using what we learned on [The Jungle Book], and the new technologies that were available to make a story like The Lion King, with its great music, great characters and great story, seemed like a wonderful, logical conclusion, so that’s what we set out to do.
FAVREAU: I’ve been working about three years on it, and a lot of [the cast has] been working for the same amount of time. They first came in, back when it was in pencils, so it was a huge leap of faith for this fantastic cast that we have. In many cases, they kept coming back and recording again and trying new things, especially with the comedy bits. So, this isn’t one of those things where I’ve been toiling away alone. It’s been a huge raft of artists and people who were involved with developing the musical landscape of it, doing early recordings, and coming in and contributing through improvisation, and re-doing and re-writing scenes. This team isn’t just a bunch of people that recorded one time. They’re all people who were collaborators and filmmakers, along with me.
Donald, what did you want to bring to this version of Simba?
DONALD GLOVER: 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, and making sure that we talk about how connected we are right now because it’s the first time that we’ve really been able to talk to everybody, at the same time. It’s a necessary thing, and I felt like he was really good about talking about that, from the beginning. He did that on The Jungle Book, too.