From The Set: Jon Favreau On the Challenges and Changes in The Lion King
The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19 but way back in December of 2017 we were lucky enough to visit the virtual set of the upcoming film and speak to director Jon Favreau, who opened about working digitally, the feel of the film, how close it will be to the original, and what the new cast brings to the movie!
“I find that the flexibility of digital production has done is given the opportunity for people to postpone being decisive,” Favreau says about filming on digital stages. “It used to be if you built a big animatronic dinosaur you had to make sure you got that shot right and framed right and it worked and you could fix some things in the editing room like Jaws, you know, you could — if you’re genius you could work around things like Spielberg did…then something started to happen where digital effects became more and more convincing and there were more people doing them and the price came down.”
Speaking about how the new movie will play to fans of the original film, which is everyone, Favreau said: “Hopefully if you are a fan of the original you’ll look at this and say ‘Oh I feel like I saw Lion King.”
That said, there are some differences.
“Just like when you see the stage play, you still feel a connection to the animated film but if you really look closely you’ll realize we’re actually taking a lot of liberties with it and we’re even changing things slightly with scenes and structure and the humor and then the music is being used — although we’re staying true to the original soundtrack, working with Han Zimmer, who would like another crack at some stuff too.”
To compare it to the original we got to see some tests of Rafiki, and while we can’t really tell you what we saw, the recently released trailer should speak for itself. Favreau spoke about using the technology. “I’m a little spoiled from the Marvel stuff too where people all really care and are anticipating what you do, that’s fun ’cause you feel like you’re Gandalf showing up with the fireworks. It’s a big treat.”
However, he told us that this was a very different application of the technology.”…to be able to use these tools and technologies that aren’t really being used to pick these kind of images, it’s mostly being used for the stuff that it takes a lot of people to do…that makes it expensive and so the types of movies that use this stuff or technology are generally use a lot of action, explosions, spaceships, hard surfaces, superheroes and I think that’s great ’cause it helps push it. I’m a fan of those movies too, but it is nice to be able to be in this part of the garden where we can say, ‘Hey let’s really look at what a leaf looks like or the way water moves or the way wind blows grass, and create, just really beautiful arresting images.’ And what amazes me is that there’s not a lot going on with those tests of Rafiki there, but I just am riveting, there’s something inherently interesting and captivating about seeing that level of simulation”.
We asked Favreau about the distinction between live action and animated films, and where The Lion King falls. He told us, “Well, it’s difficult because it’s neither really, I mean it depends what standard you’re using. Because there’s no real animals and there’s no real cameras and there’s no, there’s not even any performance that’s being captured. That’s data, underlying data that’s real, everything is coming through the hands of artists. But to say it’s animated, I think is misleading as far as what the expectations might be. And it also changes the way you sit and watch it. Because hopefully you could just watch it without it being introduced. If we put up that Rafiki footage and then say what it was, some people might know, some people might not know how it was done, but…it causes you to be present and mindful and pay attention because you’re trying to figure out what you’re looking at. And that’s a great, that’s a great disposition to be in as an audience member. I remember when I saw Gravity, I didn’t know what I was gonna expect, I just heard it was cool, I didn’t know how they did half the tricks. And I was completely drawn in by it and it was that, it was the experience I remember going to the movies before when I was little. Like, you just, it just washes over you. I think calling it live action is also not, not appropriate either because it’s, it sounds like we’re trying to present something that, that isn’t accurate. And I don’t know what we’re gonna call it.”
Favreau also spoke about the importance of the hopefulness of the story, and how great it was not to have to defend the darker parts, as they’ve already been established. There were still some challenges, however.
“Of course we’re gonna have to refine them, because as things become more and more photo real, you might find the shot that was fine in pencil…it’s gonna take you out of it in rendered photo real. But, we’re learning that and I’ve, you know, the experience I’ve had up to this point is that it helps me you know, have some confidence [while you] navigate…After Mufasa dies, spoiler. Spoiler alert. You’re gonna have the little cub and the parent laying there, how do you show that image without it feeling…because even if you just showed it like you would in a documentary.”
He also spoke to us about casting, and what the new performers bring. He said, “One of the things I think I’ve been very lucky with and have done well, is casting, throughout my career. And so in this case, I feel that I’m equally grateful on this one, let’s put it that way. They are just wonderful and to find people who can sing and perform and can remind you of an echo of the performances that you remember. But also bringing something new and fresh and feeling like it’s from two thousand whatever nineteen when it’s coming out, like it feels very current. But, it also feels connected and having James Earl Jones I think really helped with that connection but we have wonderful cast that you know, and I’m down there with my nails waiting till we laid it all out.”
Fans want to know how close this is to the original. Favreau told us, “It depends how well you know it. How much did we change in “Circle of Life?” You know, some of you might say, ‘oh that’s shot for shot,’ but if we really look, it’s not. But, what you remember is gonna be in the movie. Let’s put it that way. And then there’s stuff, and that’s something I learned on Jungle Book too, and even to some extent on Iron Man, which is like, before we study the movie, the old movie, let’s write down everything we know and everything we remember. And, what are the things that we have to do and it’s a much longer list on Lion King ’cause everybody watched it in their mini van, in the back of their mini vans on DVD over and over again. Right? The millennials grew up with it, and I’ve seen it lots and I was an adult when it came out… I think part of it’s just understanding the way memory works, and then what expectations are and then being able to do things like, I think we can plus the humor here, I don’t think this joke holds up as well, I think we could change the characterization of this character to feel more consistent with the rest of the film, or more current and doesn’t feel like it’s something from a different era.”
Disney’s The Lion King opens in theaters July 19.
We’ll have more info for you in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!