One of the most controversial (and ongoing) news stories this year – at least on this website – was Disney’s continued push to churn out live-action retellings of some of its most iconic animated movies. Despite the roaring success that came in the form of The Jungle Book and a critical darling in the form of Pete’s Dragon, the reactions to article after article of a new live-action remake announcement are still that of swift derision and unceasing bemoaning over yet another one of these movies being made (and, subsequently, the fact that nearly half of Disney’s live-action, non-Marvel slate is nothing but these movies).
But Jon Favreau doesn’t see it that way. Fresh off directing The Jungle Book, he is now diving head-first into a live-action adaptation of The Lion King. If there is one director in Hollywood who can do for these films what he did with superhero movies (Iron Man), it’s him.
Earlier this month, Collider conducted an interview with Favreau, focused solely on his Disney ‘live-action remake’ projects: The Lion King and The Jungle Book 2.
When asked about the process of making these types of films, Favreau described it in a way that sounds similar to feature animation. These films – taking into account the large amount of photo-realistic CGI and how long it takes to get a story locked down – take a lot of time to come together:
“I think nothing’s quick. This is a slow process and rushing it is not a good idea because a lot of when people react to visual effects they don’t like, often times it’s because it’s rushed and because it’s not well thought through ahead of time. Having gone up to Pixar and working with them on this and other projects — and they’re about as technical as you get — they always say the same thing — it’s all about story. Make sure the story is perfect before you launch forward into the next phase. The technical phase doesn’t come until the human storytelling phase is done.”
The Next Chapter
Favreau also went on to describe the unique set of challenges he faces with each movie. With The Jungle Book 2, it’s all about making a sequel that genuinely feels like the next chapter in an overall story – thematically, tonally, and visually:
“For ‘Jungle Book 2,’ it’s all about the story, all about the script, all about the characters and we’re working on that, and making a lot of progress and have some stuff that feels connected. Because you want it to feel like the first film. You want it to feel not like you’re doing a different genre a film because you’re doing another chapter, you want it to feel connected to the original.”
Honoring the Original
As for The Lion King, Favreau is well aware of the original film’s iconic status among generations of moviegoers and animation fans, as his main goal is to honor the animated film while using modern-day storytelling techniques to bring his own stamp on the property:
“With ‘Lion King,’ there you have such a strong original film, and then there was a theater production of it as well in a different medium that was very well received and successful and still continues to play. And you have a lot of people with very deep memories and connections to those properties so you want to make sure that, even though the story is very strong, you want to make sure it translates well to yet another medium and doesn’t feel like it’s duplicating or trying to outdo what was done in another medium.
From Hand-Drawn to CG
As he mentions in that quote, his experience directing The Jungle Book is helping him inform his take on the classic film, and that experience goes beyond just the story:
“The thing is that the animated version of ‘The Lion King’ is — I don’t know how you outdo that. It works tremendously well. I think it was sort of the end of the era before the 3D animation started coming in, and I don’t think anybody wants to see an animated version because if you want to see an animated version, look at the original. It holds up, it’s still wonderful to watch. So the trick is can you make it look like you actually found real animals in a real environment? And how do you translate the story through that? And in that sense, what we learned on ‘Jungle Book’ as we got into the photorealism of the environments and the characters, the behavior of the animals, how do you use the lessons you learned there, but adjust it to the tone of what ‘Lion King’ is?
Because I think that when you hear the opening song, when you see those images, the photography of it, even in 2D it is arresting, and I try to imagine what it could be like using the tools that we have today and could we make audiences feel the same way and retell the same myth using these new tools? So the challenge becomes how do you have it look photoreal? And what has to be adjusted so that it doesn’t feel inconsistent? In ‘Jungle Book,’ if we just took everything that was in the ’67 film, that humor would have been too broad for a live-action, and also you have to take into account that these look like real animals, so the intensity of it gets really notched up. So understanding the lessons that we learned from ‘Jungle Book’ is really helpful as we develop this, but it’s all a discovery process. And fortunately, working with a lot of the same people and it feels like a continuation of that journey.”
As if Favreau’s ideas couldn’t get anymore ambitious, his current plan is to film The Lion King and The Jungle Book 2 back-to-back. He remains committed to this plan as director of both movies, even as he admits that burnout could be a possibility:
“I think we’re kind of learning a lot about how this all works right now I’m kind of full bore into developing the tools to tell the story for ‘Lion King,’ because you’re sort of developing whole new sets of tools for each production. And right now in the story phase, getting the story right for ‘Jungle Book 2.’ I don’t know. Right now the plan is that we go right from one into the other, but I know from having worked on two superhero movies back to back, these take many many many years. I was working on Marvel movies for like four years back-to-back. It’s a big chunk of your life and you have to make sure that you’re excited and can bring all of your attention and concentration to bear on this, because they are really big puzzles. Every film is a puzzle you have to solve — these highly technical ones are like 3D chess. There’s like a whole other level to it that has to be understood and learned.”
The Jungle Book 2 doesn’t have a solid launch date, but Disney is reportedly aiming at a 2019 release window for the film. The Lion King is currently in development, so it has yet to snatch a release date as well.
What do you think? Are you excited for either film?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes