Disney has putt all their chips on the artistic talents of Jon Favreau and, thus far, it's paid off in spades.
Between being credited as director and executive producer of numerous Marvel movies and helming Disney's live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, which earned a staggering $965 million in the box office, Favreau and Disney have seemingly struck a creative partnership. The fruits of their labor are sweet and plentiful. Apparently, they're only just getting started.
A mere five months after it was announced Favreau would return to direct The Jungle Book 2, Disney confirmed he also be taking on a photorealistic reimagining of another animated Disney classic: The Lion King.
According to the official press release:
"We can officially confirm that The Walt Disney Studios and director Jon Favreau are putting a new reimagining of The Lion King on the fast track to production."
Favreau also took a moment to post an image to Instagram sharing the news and expressing his excitement for what's to come.
Seeing as how this union has one of my all-time favorite directors brining one of my favorite childhood movies back into theaters, I reacted a little bit like this.
But considering Favreau will be walking on what is considered seriously sacred territory by Disney fans, not everyone shared in my unbridled joy. In light of the news, reactions on Twitter ranged everywhere from delight, to trepidation, to premature loathing.
When it comes to revisiting beloved characters like Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa and Mufasa, it might feel like an integral part of your childhood is in jeopardy. I get it. But if there's anyone whose hands we should be able to trust with this precious cargo, it's Jon Favreau.
Below are six reasons why Jon Favreau is the perfect director to take on the modern reimagining of The Lion King.
1. He's The Master Of Casting
Remember, Favreau is one of the people responsible with Robert Downey Jr. into his rightful place as Iron Man in 2008. At the time, most directors viewed him unfavorably because of his past. What others saw as a hinderance, he saw as an asset. In an interview with USA Today, Favreau commented:
"The best and worst moments of Robert's life have been in the public eye. He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That's Tony Stark. Robert brings a depth that goes beyond a comic book character who is having trouble in high school, or can't get the girl."
In his roles as director and executive producer, Favreau also helped hand-pick actors for fan-favorite characters including Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf in Elf, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff and Don Cheadle as War Machine in Iron Man 2 and the Avengers movies that followed, and most recently Bill Murray as Baloo in The Jungle Book. There's no question the man has superb taste.
2. He Can Direct Multiple Genres
From the laugh riot that is Elf, to the action-packed sequences of Iron Man, and the heartfelt character development seen in Chef, Favreau has shown a consistent aptitude for filmmaking across multiple genres.
During a set visit Movie Pilot attended for The Jungle Book in 2014, Favreau explained he purposefully doesn't conform to the roadmap of a single genre, but his movies are distinct in that they all share one element.
"[Y]ou know, I tend to like movies that make me feel something. I love the very pure myths, and there always seems to be a certain type of emotion."
In the two decades since Disney released The Lion King, the film earned its status of great, mythic proportion akin to a fairytale, and not just because it's basically Hamlet with animated lions. The Lion King is one of those movies that elicits so many emotions, it will take someone with as diverse a filmography as Favreau's to tell the story properly.
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3. He Connects With Characters Who Have Experienced Loss
In the same set visit, Favreau discussed that in some way or another, most of his films also touch on the subject of loss. After hearing that he signed on to direct The Lion King, the first thing that came to mind is that he shares a strong bond with Simba.
At the age of 12, Favreau lost his mother, Madeline to leukemia. He cited this as part of what draws him to exploring the theme of loss in childhood.
"I think a lot of it is I lost my mom, you know. I think a lot of the movies are around that age and a lot of the movies I work on are about loss. It’s not that I pick the movies for that reason. But I just notice that whether it’s Elf or even Iron Man, there’s a lot of that childhood is scary to everybody, but when you go through some of heavy stuff it tends to be a little bit…it stays with you longer. And I think people that make movies or tell stories, you tend to go over the same subject matter in different forms."
Think of the parallels between Favreau's loss and the one experienced by Simba after Mufasa dies. That scene was especially gut-wrenching, but I believe given his personal experiences, it's one that Favreau will be able to tell with a level of authenticity that should resonate with audiences.
4. He Works Well With Kids
Not only is Favreau a father of three young kids, in Chef and particularly The Jungle Book he worked very closely with child actors Emjay Anthony (Percy) and Neel Sethi (Mowgli). He went on to explain how he goes about finding and working well with young actors:
"[T]he top thing I look from an actor, it’s smarts. Are they gonna make smart choices? They have to figure out what the character would really do in this strange situation."[Neel Sethi] was extremely watchable and charming when I saw his tape ... And so I could watch him talk and move and just his physicality is to me, I don’t get tired of it. And when you’re watching one kid for a whole movie you don’t want that kid to be grading or you don’t want his charm to wear thin."
This leads me to believe he is well-equipped to cast a young Simba and Nala, but that he'll also be able to make the reimagining appeal to children of all ages as well as their parents who were fans of the original Lion King.
5. He Understands The Technology
Even if the live-action version of The Jungle Book wasn't up to snuff for some particularly tough critics, there is no denying that it was visually stunning. That's largely in part because Favreau was using a state of the art SimulCam technology to create the photorealistic CGI.
And with the technology, Favreau knows that the success of his animation comes to down the talents of his real-life animators as much as the computers and programs they're working on.
"[I]t's not computers doing it, it's people. This is all really good animators who are studying movement and the technology's just the tool."Whatever technology has to offer you have access to and how could you best tell a story with those tools."
Favreau is one of a very small handful of directors using technology at this level, and clearly Disney wants to tap into his expertise again to create the vast African landscape and the animal kingdom that inhabits it.
6. He's Done It Before
While Faveau isn't a technically perfect director, there's something about his filmmaking style that often results in magic. Granted, given it's much earlier release, the animated version of The Jungle Book was never Disney's most precious title. However, if The Jungle Book was a test — which, at this point, I assume it was — Favreau passed with flying colors.
The mass critical and commercial success it received was the proof enough for the studio to hand the Lion King keys over to Favreau. If The Lion King was ever meant to be remade, now is the time to do it and Jon Favreau is undoubtedly the man to direct it. Let's see if he can harness the same kind of magic for a second time.
Given the years it will take for Disney to actually release The Lion King, I think we should all just live by one simple motto: Hakuna Matata!
No release dates have been announced for either The Jungle Book 2 or The Lion King.
Who do you want to see voice Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa and Mufasa in The Lion King? Let us know in the comments section.