African safari inspires Lion King director Favreau
For most of us, it is just a daydream to quit our job, pull up stakes and travel around the world.
However, for Jon Favreau, doing just that may just have landed him the biggest project in his filmmaking career, after a six-month sabbatical to Africa earned him the director's chair on Disney's $250 million live-action remake of its 1994 animation, The Lion King.
As one of the most anticipated blockbusters this summer, the new Lion King film will open across the Chinese mainland on Friday, a week earlier than North America.
According to the producers, Favreau went on a safari to Africa six months before even entering into talks with the Hollywood giant about taking the helm of the remake.
During his trip, the original film was used as frame of reference several times-first, when Favreau and other travelers saw a warthog run past the safari vehicle and a member of the tour party started singing Hakuna Matata, a song from the movie. The film was mentioned again later, when they saw several lions standing majestically on a rock.
In an introductory news release from Disney, Favreau says the Lion King story "pops up in music, on TV shows, in comedy routines, as part of sketches … It's such a deep part of our culture that it felt like there was a tremendous opportunity to build on that and to retell the story in a different medium."
Widely regarded as a classic, the 1994 animated film won two Academy Awards-Best Original Song for Can You Feel the Love Tonight, composed by Elton John and Tim Rice, and Best Score, thanks to composer Hans Zimmer.
In 1997, a stage production inspired by the film debuted on Broadway, subsequently winning six Tony Awards. Now, more than 20 years later, the musical has remained as one of Broadway's biggest hits, recently staging its 9,000th show.
However, bringing an animated classic to full-bodied life is still a challenging job.
With experience accumulated from the 2016 hit, The Jungle Book, which seamlessly combines live-action performance with photorealistic CGI animals and landscapes, Favreau seems competent enough for the job, exemplified by the vivid presentation of Simba and other animal characters in film's trailers.
Preparations for the film started two years ago. A team of 13 people was dispatched to Kenya for two weeks to seek inspiration and think about how to bring the iconic sets and characters to life. Three helicopters and six SUVs were used to transport nearly a ton of filming equipment used to capture more than 12.3 trillion terabytes of images.
To be as realistic as photographs, however, is not the ambitious crew's final goal. According to Disney, they also used something called the "black-box" theater technique to make sure that the voice-over actors could perform naturally and record their facial emotions as part of the animation procedure.
Ma Boyong, a best-selling novelist, says he has watched the 1994 Lion King film multiple times over the past 20 years. He believes the most charming part of it is the message conveyed by The Circle of Life, arguably the most famous song in the animated film.
"It makes the film about more than just the conflict between a group of animals, or a royal conspiracy… It discusses the classical questions about the meaning of life, answers to which have been sought by humankind since ancient times," he says.