Director and stars of ‘The Lion King’ reveal all about the Disney hit

Twenty-five years later, director Jon Favreau has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2019

Director and stars of ‘The Lion King’ reveal all about the Disney hit

  • Jon Favreau, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner discuss Disney’s latest blockbuster remake.
  • ‘We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being,’ says Favreau.

DUBAI: There are few movies as resonant as Disney’s 1994 classic “The Lion King.” From its beautiful animation and memorable songs by Hans Zimmer and Elton John to its devastating emotional punch, the film has become a touchstone for an entire generation, one of the few films that unite nearly every person who has seen it across the world.

Now, 25 years later, director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “The Jungle Book”) has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. Sitting in London, the first thing Favreau asks Arab News is whether we were part of the “Lion King” generation, and we were, mentioning to Favreau just how expansive the film still feels to us.




 Chiwetel Ejiofor, Director and Producer Jon Favreau and Donald Glover attend the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood. (AFP)

“That’s part of the challenge here! We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being. We would watch it next to one another and there’s certain sequences that hold up incredibly well that we tried to follow shot-for-shot like (the opening sequence) ‘Circle of Life,’ but there’s other areas where we had the opportunity to update it and make it feel a bit more grounded in reality,” Favreau tells Arab News.

Remaking it for a new generation seems obvious, but — to borrow from another Disney classic — it was a Herculean task for Favreau and the huge animation team that supported him. This version remains fully animated, but uses cutting-edge technology to make the entire film photo-realistic. The characters, story, and songs remain, but the film looks more like a David Attenborough nature documentary than an animated movie.

It wasn’t just the technology that proved challenging, either. Making sure that audiences still connect with these beloved characters without the expressiveness of classic Disney animation was something that gave Favreau pause.




(Supplied)

“I worked on ‘Jungle Book,’ so I had some experience in this area,” he says. “Pretty early on, we got to try some different things and when you go to human, you think it would make you feel more but it really feels kind of bizarre, at least to me. I was limited if we were to go photo-real. If you go stylized like Pixar it’s great, you can do whatever you want. If we go ‘Madagascar’ you can make them stick their tongues out. The minute you start hitting photorealism, you hit the uncanny valley when you push the performances beyond what the real animal could do. Part of what makes it look so real is we limited what we allowed the animators to do.”

To be sure that audiences would connect with the characters, Favreau relied a lot on the voices that supported them, bringing in an all-star cast including Beyoncé as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.

“If you look at a character like Pumbaa, to me he’s the most fun example, because when people saw pictures of Pumbaa they were like, ‘Oh my god! That’s horrifying! That thing looks like a monster!’ But when you watch the movie and you hear Seth Rogen’s voice coming out of it and the way the animators animated his body and what the character represents and feels, you have a tremendous connection to it. It’s a testament to the power of using techniques that we borrowed from documentaries or other films, where we limit ourselves to not anthropomorphize the characters,” says Favreau.




(Supplied) 

Eichner and Rogen both tried to remain true to the characters, but also stay true to themselves. “My idea from the beginning was that Jon cast us for a reason,” says Eichner. “He could have cast pretty much any actors. Anyone would have killed to do these roles and be in this movie. It wasn’t the right time to try a new persona. It would have been very strange had I all of a sudden had a deep resonant baritone. I figured he wants Seth to sound like Seth and me to sound like me — or at least what our public comic personas sound-like — and hopefully they’ll complement each other, which they did. Our goal was not to try a new character but to be as funny as possible together.”

As funny as Rogen and Eichner are in the film, it is still aimed firmly at kids — something Rogen hadn’t really considered prior.




Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen at the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood . (AFP)

“It wasn’t something that even occurred to me until we were making the movie and I was performing the bully scene,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is for kids!’ I have never done anything that was ever trying to instill any wisdom into kids in any way shape or form.”

The film’s wisdom, like the original, is far-reaching, exploring truths not only of family and loss, but of the corrupting nature of ambition and power, which Ejiofor explored in his role as Scar.

“Often, when people are obsessed with power and status, they aren’t really worried about what they do with it, they’re just concerned about getting it. It’s not something that’s connected to any kind of nurturing aspect for a community or anybody else. It becomes about the nature of obsession — obsession with power and status, and maybe status more than power, even though they are related,” says Ejiofor. “That’s one of the things that’s engaging and fun about the film and its themes.”


Taylor Swift dazzles in Lebanese jewels before Glastonbury reveal

Taylor Swift accepted Billboard's Woman of the Decade award while wearing jewels from a Lebanese designer. AFP
Updated 57 min 43 sec ago

Taylor Swift dazzles in Lebanese jewels before Glastonbury reveal

  • On Thursday, Taylor Swift was presented with Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award
  • She took to the stage to give an empowering speech while wearing jewelry from a Lebanese designer

DUBAI: There’s one sparkling detail you may have missed from Taylor Swift’s empowering Woman of the Decade speech late last week — she was wearing stunning Arab jewelry.

On Thursday, Swift was presented with Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award, making her its first-ever recipient.

The “You Belong With Me” songstress, who was named Billboard’s Woman of the Year in 2011 and 2014, was on hand to collect the prize from British actress Jameela Jamil at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium.

While accepting the accolade, Swift took to the stage to give an empowering speech while wearing a black Oscar de la Renta jumpsuit with chain detailing, Sergio Rossi heels and the “Diamond Christy” and “Lily” earrings from Lebanese-Brazilian jewelry designer Ana Khouri, who is based in New York.

Swift took to the stage wearing a black Oscar de la Renta jumpsuit, Sergio Rossi heels earrings from Lebanese-Brazilian jewelry designer Ana Khouri. AFP

“So, what does it mean to be the woman of this decade? Well, it means I've seen a lot,” the hitmaker began her lengthy speech that addressed everything from institutionalized sexism and double standards in the industry to her ongoing rift with Scooter Braun over the rights to her music.

“When this decade began, I was 20 years old and I had put out my self-titled debut album when I was 16, and then the album that would become my breakthrough album, which was called ‘Fearless’.”

After “Fearless” won the album of the year Grammy, she said the “Swift backlash” exploded.

“In the last 10 years I have watched as women in this industry are criticized and measured up to each other and picked at for their bodies, their romantic lives, their fashion,” the artist, who just celebrated her 30th birthday, stated.

She went on to urge everyone to keep advocating for female representation in recording studios, A&R departments and more.

It’s been quite a month for Swift, who was just unveiled as the headline act for Britain’s famous Glastonbury Festival.

The “You Need to Calm Down” singer will perform on the storied Pyramid Stage on Sunday June 28, the final day of the music bash, the festival said on its website.

“I’m ecstatic to tell you that I’ll be headlining Glastonbury on its 50th anniversary — See you there!” the Grammy Award-winner tweeted Sunday.

Former Beatles frontman Paul McCartney has already been announced as the top-billing for Saturday night, having previously headlined in 2004, while Motown star Diana Ross will play the Sunday afternoon legend slot.