25 years after the now iconic animated feature, “The Lion King” returns to theaters this summer with a splashy cast, some new and some familiar. Members of the cast as well as composers and creators sat down in Beverly Hills to discuss the music and history of the film, and the technological advances that made it possible.
On the panel were director Jon Favreau, composers Lebo M and Hans Zimmer, Eric Andre (Azizi), Billy Eichner (Timon), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Donald Glover (Simba), Shahadi Wright Joseph (young Nala), John Kani (Rafiki), Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), JD McCrary (young Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and Alfre Woodward (Sarabi).
Jon Favreau started the discussion by detailing how the advanced technology used in his 2016 film “The Jungle Book” allowed for the hyper-realistic feel of “The Lion King.”
Favreau: I’ve been working on both of these movies back to back for the last six years and [with] all the new technology that was available, I had finally learned how to use it by the end of “The Jungle Book.” At that point, with the team we had assembled for it … the idea of using what we learned on the new technologies that were available to make a story like “The Lion King” — great music, great characters, great story — seemed like a wonderful, logical conclusion
Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor spoke on how their characters differ from those seen on screen and stage before this rendition.
Glover: Jon was really good about “The Circle of Life” having a major hand in it, I really feel that it’s good to make movies that are global and metropolitan in the sense that the citizens of the world talk about how connected we are because it’s the first time we’ve ever really been able to talk to everybody at the same time.
Ejiofor: I felt it was interesting to go into that psychology, to really try to uncover that and to look at it. I’m a huge fan of what was done before by Jeremy Irons and just really going back in and exploring that character again from a slightly different perspective and seeing what was there. It’s such an incredible part to play, and so complex, and having empathy, not sympathy, but empathizing with the character and trying to understand them and get underneath that in such a rich, villainous character to play.
Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and Keegan-Michael Key weighed in on reinvigorating and reintroducing comedic duos in the film.
Rogen: It was a lot of improvisation. And we were actually together every time that we recorded, which is a very rare gift to have as someone who’s trying to be funny in an animated film, which I’ve done a lot and you’re often just alone in there. And I think you can really tell that we’re playing off of each other, it’s incredibly naturalistic feeling. And they really captured Billy … it’s remarkable to me.
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…. I can’t imagine now looking back, not being in the room together. Being able to riff off of each other, and really discover our chemistry together in the same moment. You can feel it in the movie…. I was shocked by how much of the riffing actually ended up in the movie. I think it works and I think it feels really unique to other movies in the genre, which can often feel a bit canned.
Rogen: The fact that it has a looseness applied to probably the most technologically incredible movie ever made is an amazing contrast that it feel like people in a room just talking and then it is defined to a degree that is inconceivable in a lot of ways.
Key: [Favreau] is incredibly talented and really, really easy to work off of , and he is a selfless, altruistic talent, which is rare…. I know that we had a very similar experience to Billy and Seth when we were allowed to walk around the room and it was as if we were being directed in a scene in a play.
Finally, Lebo M detailed how the iconic opening of “The Circle of Life” came to be.
Lebo M: It is very hard for me to say I came back [to “The Lion King”]. I never left. The greatest gift is to be able to reenter a journey that has veen in your life for 25 years and be able to be part of something that I initially thought was a setup that Hans [created]… [After recording] I prepared to leave, and then I go back because something is missing … I keep seeing this image of Mufasa coming out and just I was about to leave, I turned back and said “Let me do one more thing.” … We tried a couple of times to redo that and it just never wanted to be done. What you hear is actually one take.
“The Lion King” comes to theaters Friday, July 19.