Lion King: Directed by Jon Favreau

Disney’s The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau, is set in the African savanna where a future king is born.
Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival.
Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The batt le for Pride Rock is fraught with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
“It’s such a beloved property,” says Favreau. “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. I 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.”
An animated masterpiece, beloved by fans worldwide, Disney’s 1994 classic “The Lion King” won Oscar Awards for the original song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (Elton John, Tim Rice) and original score (Hans Zimmer).
In 1997, the stage production inspired by the film made its Broadway debut, winning six Tony Awards. Twenty-two years later, it remains one of Broadway’s biggest hits, recently marking its 9,000th show.
“In my opinion, the original film is the greatest animated film ever made,” says screenwriter Jeff Nathanson. “From day one, Jon and I discussed our love for the original, and how important it was to maintain the spirit of the animated version.”
Adds Favreau, “We are dealing with very engaged audiences that have grown up with these properties. And they have an emotional connection to them—in certain cases spanning generations within their family. So, you’re not just remembering ‘The Lion King,’ you’re remembering ‘The Lion King’ when you were 7, or when you brought your kid to it, or when you saw it then later introduced it to your kid. People have a whole basket of memories and emotions that are related to this movie, and there’s a certain protectiveness that people feel because those memories belong to them.”
Favreau helmed 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” using new technology to tell the story in a contemporary and immersive way. The film won an Oscar for best visual effects (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon), and the experience was eye-opening for the director, revealing a new world of possibility.
Trip to Africa
A trip to Africa was crucial: “I went on safari to Africa six months prior to first talking to Disney about doing this film. I remember when a warthog ran by
our safari vehicle, one of the people in our group started singing ‘Hakuna Matata.’ And then when we saw lions up on a rock, they all said, ‘Oh, look, it looks like “The Lion King.”’
This story has become a frame of reference that everybody now knows and accepts. It pops up in music, on TV shows, in comedy routines, as part of sketches. It’s continually referenced. It’s such a deep part of our culture that it felt like there was a tremendous opportunity to build on that and to retell the story in a different medium.”
Favreau, who has long admired Walt Disney’s pioneering spirit, pushed the boundaries to take “The Lion King” to the big screen in a whole new way—employing an evolution of storytelling technology that blends live-action
filmmaking techniques with photoreal computer-generated imagery. Environments were designed within a game engine; state-of-the-art virtual-reality tools allowed Favreau to walk around in the virtual set, scouting and
seƫting up shots as if he were standing in Africa alongside Simba.
Producer Karen Gilchrist says the director sought to root the fi lm in reality—and did so in unexpected ways. “He wanted to capture those things you can’t quite explain,” she says. “Having director of photography Caleb Deschanel actually working the wheels or having a dolly grip, you get those magical things that happen with the human touch. Not always having the perfect shot, the perfect sunrise, the perfect sky—that was really important to Jon.”
Once the film was created within VR, Favreau directed the team from MPC Film during the animation on process. Ultimately, the artists, technicians, live-action professionals and cuƫting-edge animators created what is essentially a new way to make a movie.
Live Action or Animation?
Is it live action or animation? “It’s hard to explain,” says Favreau. “It’s like magic. We’re reinventing the medium. But we’re not reinventing the story.”
For Favreau—much like Walt Disney before him—story comes first. He set out to preserve the soul of the original film, while allowing the performances, artistry, music and humor to unfold organically.  “I understood going into this how important that powerful inherited relationship was with the original film,” he says. “There is such a rich tradition surrounding this material. We are dealing with archetypes and struggles going back to Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and earlier.
Betrayal, coming-of-age, death and rebirth—the cycles of life—are the foundation on of all myths. Then bring in such strong emotional cues like the music from Africa and the songs that Elton John and Hans Zimmer collaborated on.”
Much like the Broadway show presented the classic story in a different medium, Favreau’s contemporary approach added dimension, emotion and realism to the film. “We definitely are not shy about going back to the old material, but it is amazing how much you can change and update invisibly. And that’s the trick—you don’t want it to feel like you’ve imposed yourself upon the film. We don’t want to cross the line of making something feel too intense, or lose the thread of what we remember about the old film. Comedy works differently. Music works differently. The animals’ natural combat works differently. It’s a family film, an adventure film. But there are areas, even in the original film and in the stage play, which are very intense and emotional. It’s a balancing act, because we want to hit those same feelings and the same story points, but we don’t want to overwhelm the audience in a way that the earlier production on had not.”
“The casting allows for interpretation on while maintaining the spirit and personality of the classic characters,” he says. The all-star lineup includes stars from film, TV, theater and music, bringing back to the big screen iconic characters that audiences have long treasured—but in a whole new way.
“The Lion King” stars Donald Glover (“Atlanta,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) as future king Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (“Dreamgirls”) as Simba’s friend-turned-love-interest Nala, and James Earl Jones (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Field of Dreams”) as Simba’s wise and loving father, Mufasa, reprising his iconic performance in Disney’s 1994 animated classic.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave,” Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange”) portrays Simba’s villainous uncle Scar, and Alfre Woodard (“Juanita”) plays Simba’s no-nonsense mother, Sarabi. JD McCrary (OWN’s “Tyler Perry’s The Paynes,” Apple’s “Vital Signs”) voices Young Simba, a confi dent cub who can’t wait to be king, and Shahadi Wright Joseph (NBC’s “Hairspray Live!,” Broadway’s “The Lion King”) brings tough cub Young Nala to life.
John Kani (“Black Panther,” “Coriolanus,” Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War”) was cast as the wise baboon Rafiki, and John Oliver (HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”) was tapped as hornbill Zazu, Mufasa’s loyal confidant. When Simba goes into exile, he relies on two newfound friends—Seth Rogen (“Sausage Party,” “Neighbors”) lends his comedic chops to naive warthog Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner (“Billy on the Street,” FX’s “American Horror Story”) joins the cast as know-it-all meerkat Timon.
While most of the animals in the kingdom respect the king, the hyenas have other plans. Florence Kasumba (“Black Panther”) portrays Shenzi, Eric André (Adult Swim’s “The Eric André Show”) is Azizi, and Keegan-Michael Key (“Predator”) plays Kamari.
“The Lion King” is directed by Favreau (“The Jungle Book,” “Iron Man”) and produced by Favreau, Jeffrey Silver (“Beauty and the Beast” and Gilchrist (“The Jungle Book”).
Nathanson (“Catch Me If You Can”) penned the screenplay based on the 1994 screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. Tom Peitzman (co-producer “Kong: Skull Island,” “Alice in Wonderland”), Julie Taymor (director “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Broadway’s “The Lion King”) and Thomas Schumacher (“The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast”) are executive producers, and John Bartnicki (“The Jungle Book”) is co-producer.
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