Donald Glover as the voice of Simba
Photos courtesy of Disney
Innovation & tradition rule in The Lion King
Raymond Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Audiences all over the world are feeling the love this week with the return of one of Disney animation’s most beloved characters Simba in Jon Favreau’s “live-action” recreation of the 1994 box-office champion and Oscar-winning film The Lion King.

Notice the “live-action” in close quotes? That’s not a mistake. This visually stunning film is not a literal live-action adaptation similar to Aladdin but an impressive showcase of advanced filmmaking technology originally developed by Jon and his team for Disney’s Jungle Book about three years ago.

“In Jungle Book, we were essentially using the same motion capture technology for performers and cameras as had been developed 10 years prior for Avatar,” the director stated during the press conference for the movie in Beverly Hills this week. “But towards the end of that, there was a whole slew of VR, consumer facing VR products that were hitting the scene. And we started experimenting with it at the end of Jungle Book and realized that we could build this really cool system of filmmaking using game engine technology and this new VR technology.”

Simply put, Jon and his team were writing codes as if they were creating a multiplayer VR filmmaking game. They would design the entire environments, take all the recordings they had from the actors and they would animate them within the game engine.

“I can’t really take credit for all these innovations. It was a whole team of people!”

Director Jon Favreau at the presscon for the live-action film

Jon explained that they kept the same film culture and planted it using the 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. Part of what’s so beautiful about the lighting, the immersive camera work, the haunting score and the shots in the film were the works of experienced and celebrated industry professionals including award-winning cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, whose work here is a lock for an Oscar nomination and master composer Hans Zimmer.

“I think that it’s nice to look at technology as an invitation for things to progress and not always something that’s going to change the way everything that came before it. I think there’s a balance between innovation and tradition,” Jon added.

True. Once you have seen the movie, you will not only marvel at the dazzling visuals, you will also feel transported to the pride lands where the timeless story of Simba and his journey into becoming a worthy king to his loyal subjects come to life with the familiar tunes from the original and a returning cast of beloved characters including Nala, Mufasa, Sarabi and the duo of Timon and Pumbaa, who are all joining Simba in this masterful retelling of the modern classic.

Jon, who previously helmed Iron Man, the very first Marvel movie, assembled top caliber artists to help him bring to life his modern-day adaptation of the movie.

Beyoncé as the voice of Nala

Leading the new cast is Grammy and Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover who lends his distinctive voice to Simba. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the nefarious Scar and the great Alfre Woodard, the brave and fearless Sarabi.

Comedians Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are scene-stealers as the bumbling duo and Hakuna Matata purveyors Pumbaa and Timon. Dr. John Kani plays the venerable Rafiki.

Talented youngsters JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph play the young Simba and Nala, respectively. While Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba and Eric Andre provide their scary voices to the villainous pack of Hyenas Kamari, Shenzi and Azizi.

The incomparable and irreplaceable James Earl Jones is the only original voice cast to return as the voice of Mufasa.

Beyoncé, a relative unknown, wink, wink, is also in the cast as Nala and she gets to sing an original new song in the movie on top of the classic tune Can You Feel the Love Tonight? penned by Sir Elton John.

At the junket, Donald shared an anecdote about his son and how he discovered that dad was in The Lion King only at the premiere of the movie!

“I didn’t tell him anything. I really didn’t,” the handsome actor said. “It’s his favorite movie. I was, like, oh, I’ll just wait until he gets there. But somehow he found out about it but still didn’t know I was in it. He was just, like, ‘Oh, the one with Beyoncé?’ And then during the movie, he’s, like, ‘Oh, dad’s in it, too! This is great!’ Bonus, you know.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor as the voice of Scar

For Chiwetel, whose impressive filmography encompasses some of the most diverse characters ever played by any of today’s actors, found playing the main villain in the movie a wonderful experience and gave a nod to the great Jeremy Irons who memorably voiced Scar in the original.

“I felt that it was just really interesting to go into that psychology, to really sort of try and uncover that and to look at it,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of what was done before obviously like everybody else and just sort of really going back in and exploring that character again from a slightly different perspective and seeing what was there. And it’s such an incredible part to play and so complex and all of that — such a rich, villainous character to play.”

Alfre had a different experience altogether working on the film. “It is called The Lion King but everyone knows that the lionesses are actually the rulers, the protectors, the nurturers, the hunters of the pride,” she proudly declared celebrating her character, Sarabi, the courageous and brave wife of the king.

During the junket, the beautiful actress commended Jon and praised him and his team for the groundbreaking and photo-realistic VR animation achieved in this film. She recalled her real-life experience getting close to lions years ago and told us how she used it in bringing her character to life with the help of Jon.

“One of the first encounters I had with wild life was maybe almost 40 years ago in a conserve. And it was happening up on the lionesses. And you could hear the king in the distance. He was coming. But they were sitting and we were a little close to them. And I’ve never felt more afraid and more attracted at the same time that I realize, I think, that is the mother thing in most women — and in some men — is that, at the same time you suckle, but you, also, you will eliminate anything that comes close to endangering those cubs. So, I just sat in that and I did whatever Jon told me to do.”

The Lion King is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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