Despite the billions of dollars of ticket sales, Disney has withstood plenty of blowback for its recent spate of live-action (and CGI) remakes, from 2015's Cinderella to 2017's Beauty and the Beast to a the 2019 trifecta of Dumbo, Aladdin, and this weekend's The Lion King.
But as Lion King director Jon Favreau points out, Disney has been toiling in adaptation since its inception. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the studio’s very first full-length theatrical release, was based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Pinocchio (1940) came from an Italian children's book. Bambi (1942) was derived from an Austrian novel.
With that in mind, Favreau, a proclaimed aficionado of the Mouse House who previously helmed the critically lauded 2016 remake The Jungle Book, adopted something of a WWWDD (What Would Walt Disney Do?) mantra in taking on the CGI-retooling of the 1994 animated classic set on the African savannah.
"The more I learn about Walt Disney the man, the more I realize that he was very ahead of his time," Favreau said. "And it's good to think about how he would handle a story or situation. Because he was often embracing new technology and old stories. Really plumbing the depths of old myths, but never being afraid to tell those stories in a new way."
Even the 1994 Lion King was a retelling — a remix of Shakespeare's Hamlet with elements from the blblical stories of Moses and Joseph as well as plot points borrowed from both Bambi and the original 1967 Jungle Book.
For his new spin on Simba and friends, Favreau and his visual-effects team evolved the technology they utilized on The Jungle Book, combining CGI, motion capture and virtual reality tech and working with animators to create stunningly photorealistic animals.
"It preexisted the original film in some ways as far as the mythology," Favreau said. "Though a story [was] never told with these particular characters, it does feel very timeless. And now pairing it up with something that nobody's seen feels like a really magical combination."
The Lion King opens Friday. Watch the trailer:
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