If I had to chose my favorite Disney movie of all times Disney’s The Lion King would top the list. So, when Disney invited us to the pre screening and press conference for the latest live action movie that hits theaters July 19 2019 we were very excited.
The Lion King Global press conference took place in Beverly Hills and was attended by director Jon Favreau , composer Hans Zimmer and producer music writer Lebo M as well as members of the cast.
Donald Glover “Simba”,
Chiwetel Ejiofor “Scar”,
Alfre Woodard “Sarabi”,
Dr. John Kani “Rafiki”,
Keegan-Michael Key “Kamari”,
Florence Kasumba “Shenzi”
Eric Andre “Azizi”
Seth Rogen “Pumbaa”
Billy Eichner “Timon.”
JD McCrary “Young Simba”
Shahadi Wright Joseph “Young Nala”
Disney press junkets are always fun since the organizers work so hard to make them unique and unexpected.And this one was no exception. The junket started off with a beautiful live rendition of ‘The Circle of Life’ song . Interpreted by Lebo M. and an onstage choir it set the perfect tone for the lively conference.
Disney waited for the right technology
When asked about timing of The Lion King live action version ,director Jon Faveau elaborated ” … I had finally learned how to use the new technology by the end of Jungle Book. These are handmade films. There is animators working on every shot, every environment that you see in the film other than actually, there’s one shot that’s a real photographic shot but everything else is built from scratch by artists.
We had a great team assembled. And then the idea of using what we learned and the new technologies that were available to make a story like Lion King with its great music, great characters, and great story, seemed like a wonderful, logical conclusion.”
Scar and Shenzi are different
As many of us still remember the original animated movie, we wondered what new perspective the new actors brought to their characters .
Chiwitel Eliofor explained how the current Scar is more sympathetic ” I felt that it was just really interesting to go back in and explore that character again from a slightly different perspective.And it’s such an incredible part to play. And having empathy, not sympathy, but empathizing with the character and trying to understand them and trying to get underneath that.Obviously in so many ways, the original is just this extraordinary event, it’s so iconic.”
For Florence Kasumba who played in the German theater production of The Lion King this Shenzi is so different.
“I remember in the musical, I was embarrassed because the hyenas are so dumb and funny. But this is so different, this experience. Because when I listen to the dialogue, when I read them, I realized that this is way more dangerous and more serious…when… I was in a black box and I was working with Andre, Eric Andre, and with JD. And we were very physical, because the guys were so strong, it was easy for me to just be big…Everybody is very confident, we could just really try out things. We could walk around each other…scare each other…scream, be loud, be big, be small. It’s like working in the theater, which I love. So having that freedom just made me, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted to.”
Timon and Puumba steal the show AGAIN!
Seth Rogen“… It was a lot of improvisation with Billy. And we were actually together every time that we recorded, which is a very rare gift. I think you can really tell that we’re playing off of each other.It’s an incredibly naturalistic feeling. And they really captured Billy.That is what is amazing. I would say, he essentially played himself on a TV show for years. And this character is more Billy than that character somehow. It’s like endlessly, it’s remarkable to me how his character specifically makes me laugh so hard.”
Billy Eichner “… I wish I was as cute in real life as I am in the movie. The Timon they designed is so adorable. And I think the juxtaposition of my personality in that little Timon body really works. And yeah. I agree with everything that Seth was saying. I can’t imagine now looking back not being in the room together.”
Hans Zimmer’s score sounds better than ever
Composer Hans Zimmer mentioned how he wanted to capture the soul of the African continent in his score back in 1994 . ” I wanted to make a Disney movie that started off with a voice from Africa in the black. And that is really my friend Lebo M here . Just come along and feel this other continent. And don’t ever forget this continent.
On why he decided to have a full orchestra play the score on the latest Lion King version. ” ..We ended up dragging an orchestra and a choir out to Coachella and doing Lion King live. And there was an energy about doing it as a performance and doing it live in that way that moved Jon, and actually to be really honest, it moved me, too.
…So I said to Jon, why Why we get all the greatest players, get my band, get the greatest players in the world, make a new orchestra here in Los Angeles, rehearse them for two days, and then really make it as if it was a concept.”
The reason the intro song wasn’t re-recorded
Lebo M recalled how the famous start to the song came to be
” (While meeting with HZ) I kept seeing this image of Mufasa coming out. And just as I was about to leave, I turned back. I said let me do one more thing. And I went Nants ingonyama. And that was it. It was a demo.We tried a couple of times to redo that. It just never wanted to be redone. What you hear is actually one take. There’s been one take 25 years later. It’s unbelievable.”
Don’t miss Puma and Timon’s ‘Easter Egg’ surprise
And it was none other than Jon Favreau himself who floated the idea.
JF ” There’s a gag that references another Disney property in there. And I drew inspiration. They do that in the stage show. They threw in the joke about Frozen in there. That must have happened after Frozen came on Broadway. And so we kind of doff the cap to another live action adaptation of a Disney animated classic in the film.”
Will Disney release a Lion King VR game ?
But probably the biggest tidbit of info that came out of the junket was what was NOT said.
Jon Faveau mentioned he had created one to help him develop the movie .”…We essentially were writing code as (if) we were going for a multiplayer VR filmmaking game. And that way I could bring in people who don’t have any background in visual effects. We would design the entire environments (since) we took all the recordings that we had from the actors …and would animate within the game engine.
It’s a very specific VR game that only works for making one movie. But with just a little bit of effort, we were able to build around the way filmmakers and film crews work. …Once we set this up, it’s fun for them to see what it’s like. But then we would actually have cameras driven in VR space by a film crew that was in a room about the size of this room with dollies and cranes and assistant directors, script supervisors, set dressers.
So we kept the same film culture and planted it using this technology into the VR realm. And so although the film was completely animated as far as performances went, it allowed a live action film crew to go in and use the tools they were used to.”
But there was no mention on whether Disney will be releasing a Lion King VR game.
The only user testimonial about it came from the enthusiastic JD MCcrary who plays young Simba.
“It was so cool. It’s like watching your favorite movie, but everything, like you’re in it. You’re in the movie. That’s exactly what it was. You did an amazing job with this. So it was me and Shahadi and Mr. Favreau. We put on the headsets, we had these little controller things in our hands, and we could fly. It was like we were Zazu. We were birds. We were whatever we wanted to be. And we saw everything. We saw the Pridelands…Pride Rock… the watering hole… the elephant graveyard. We saw it all, man. And it was so cool, dude. It was so cool.”
Needless to mention it sounded to many of us in the audience like one awesome gift to buy for the holidays!
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THE LION KING arrives in theatres everywhere on July 19th!
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Disney Studios for hosting my son and me on the press junket and pre-screening event. My opinions are my own and cannot be influenced in any way