'Lion King': Disney Unveils Jaw-Dropping First Footage at D23; Plus, 'Dumbo,' 'Nutcracker'

Disney's original 'The Lion King'
Disney’s original ‘The Lion King’

By Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter

A crowd of an estimated 7,000 went absolutely wild at D23 as Disney previewed the first clip from its live-action remake of The Lion King.

Exclusively screened for attendees and not simultaneously released online, the footage featured jaw-dropping photoreal shots of African landscapes, many types of animals (including elephants and, of course, lions), and ended with the iconic moment in which Rafiki introduces an adorable young Simba on Pride Rock, as Circle of Life played.

“We love this movie and we are working hard,” said director Jon Favreau, fresh off directing The Jungle Book. He’s making Lion King (scheduled for a July 19, 2019, release) in Los Angeles, again using virtual production techniques by re-teaming with Jungle Book’s Oscar winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato and lead VFX house MPC.

This time, however, they are incorporating virtual reality tools and techniques. “We are going to use a lot of virtual reality tools so it feels akin to what you are looking at [if you were on a real set],” explained Legato during a keynote that he gave at NAB in April. “You can walk around the set like a cameraman. [Wearing VR headsets] the actors can now walk into a scene and see the other actors and trees…and because you are in 3D, you get a realistic sense [of the environment].”

The starry voice cast of Favreau’s Lion King includes Donald Glover (Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon), and John Oliver (Zazu). Jeff Nathanson (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) wrote the script for the live-action adaptation, which is being produced by Favreau and Jeffrey Silver.

Disney also teased its live-action remake of its animated classic Dumbo, which has been given a March 29, 2019, release date. The studio rolled out a 3D model of Dumbo’s appearance — the first look at the character with his big ears, blue eyes, and a sweet, emotive expression.

Life-sized model of live-action Dumbo unveiled at D23 Expo. (Photo: Disney)

Tim Burton‘s version stars Eva Green, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, and Colin Farrell. The film is currently in production in the U.K., at Pinewood and Cardington Studios, and its “cinematic ringmaster” Burton sent a video greeting to the fans at D23, saying the 1941 animated classic is “one of my favorite of the Disney movies, and we are working to give this all the heart and emotion [of the original].”

In the clip, Burton sits on a train, a first set look (photo shown below). To make Dumbo, the director is re-teaming with many of his collaborators including Oscar-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs and four-time Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.

Tim Burton on the set of Dumbo
Tim Burton on the set of Dumbo (Photo: Disney)

During the presentation, Disney gave its holiday film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms — directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Misty Copeland — a release date: Nov. 2, 2018. It previewed clips with some visually dazzling footage that showed off the cinematography of director of photography Linus Sandgren (Oscar winner for La La Land) and production design by two-time Oscar nominated Guy Hendrix Dyas. The segment also previewed some of the dance moves, with a performance by Lil Buck.

Watch ‘Lion King’ Director Jon Favreau In a Clip From His 2014 Film, ‘Chef’:

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