The last few years have marked a high-speed turnover for Disney, as the megacorp has put a forceful push behind translating its animated classics into live-action remakes. Since putting Tim Burton’s signature gothic twist on Alice In Wonderland back in 2010, adaptations for both Sleeping Beauty (2014’s Maleficent) and Cinderella (2015) have sprouted up on screen, and plans for Beauty And the Beast, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid are well underway.
Perhaps its greatest feat thus far was this year’s Jungle Book, a stunning CGI endeavor helmed by Iron Man veteran Jon Favreau. The film earned nearly one billion worldwide against a $175 million budget, unexpectedly demolishing box office expectations. Favreau is set to direct its forthcoming sequel, as well as a big-buzz project he announced in late September: a live-action adaption of The Lion King.
In a new interview with Collider, Favreau opened up about how he’s balancing the two upcoming projects. Despite the potential overlap, he’s standing firm on directing both films back-to-back, though he acknowledges it may not end up being as clean as jumping from one to the next. Here’s what he told Collider:
“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.”
He also revealed production will be slow-going for both, as the storytelling must be pitch-perfect by the time it enters the elaborate, long-haul tech phase. For Jungle Book 2, he said the challenge is in making sure there’s a strong connectivity between the two movies. Here’s what he had to say regarding his approach:
"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 film because you’re doing another chapter, you want it to feel connected to the original."
Favreau also faces some tough material with Lion King. It’s perhaps one of Disney’s most beloved movies—even across several generations—and the story has been successfully translated for a number of different formats since its 1994 debut. The onstage musical is one of Broadway’s longest running shows to date, and its highest grossing production in history. Favreau said his experience on Jungle Book has helped to teach him how to work with cherished material, but knows tackling such a treasured enterprise won’t be easy. Here’s what he had to say about Lion King:
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.
Piecing together the two projects will undoubtedly be tricky, but Favreau certainly has an advantage with his experience on Jungle Book. He’s already proven his prowess for making animal-based casts photo-realistic and engaging. The biggest hurdle will be adjusting The Lion King for the modern era without cutting its original magnetism, and capturing its emotional pull will be key. It may be several years before we get a glimpse at the final products, but having the right director at the helm will only make them worth it in the long run.
We'll let you know when The Lion King and The Jungle Book 2 get official release dates.