Jon Favreau on the Pressures of Bringing ‘The Lion King’ to Live-Action Life

The original <em>Lion King</em>. (Photo: Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)
The original Lion King. (Photo: Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

Jon Favreau proved that he knew exactly how to bring an animated classic to full-bodied life with last year’s CGI/live-action mashup of The Jungle Book, a critical and commercial smash. He’ll attempt to duplicate that feat with The Lion King, a reimagining of the beloved 1994 animated hit — and on Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, he discussed the pressures of adapting such a cherished work.

In an interview conducted by his frequent collaborator Scarlett Johansson (via The Hollywood Reporter), Favreau made it clear that, while The Jungle Book was a daunting endeavor, The Lion King may be an even tougher project to tackle.

The Jungle Book was 50 years ago, Lion King was 20, and people grew up with it in an age of video where they’re watching it over and over again. So, I have to really examine all of those plot points. Also, the myths are very strong in that, so you’re hitting something even deeper than the movie sometimes. What I’m trying to do is honor what was there. … There are certain expectations people have.”

carlett Johansson and Jon Favreau speaks onstage at Tribeca Talks
Scarlett Johansson and Jon Favreau on April 21 in New York. (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

He also discussed how, rather than starting by trying to replicate every detail of his source material, he begins work on such projects by thinking about the specific moments that he best remembers about them. For instance, with The Jungle Book, he vividly recalled images like Mowgli and the snake and Baloo drifting down the river with Mowgli atop him. “I made a big list, and I said those are the images we definitely need. And I remembered the songs. … And then you go back and look at it and realize there’s all these things that you don’t remember, and you have more latitude to shift and change those things. Some things you look back at, and they’re very flawed, but they’re forgiven in your memory.”

Ultimately, Favreau says, his goal is to make sure that audiences get what they expect, along with a few surprises thrown in. “It’s about the audience having the experience they’re hoping they have, and if you can surprise them along the way, they’ll enjoy it even more, but you gotta live up to what they want, so you get greater pressure with these beloved stories.”

No timetable has been announced yet regarding The Lion King’s production, but we do know it will feature the voices of Donald Glover as Simba and James Earl Jones as Mufasa — a part that he also voiced in the original. If The Jungle Book is any indication, it’s bound to be one of Disney’s biggest upcoming releases.

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