Donald Glover, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner talk reimagining The Lion King and working with Beyoncé

Donald Glover, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner talk reimagining The Lion King and working with Beyoncé

The three big stars tell us what they brought to the remake of a classic.

Starring

Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner

Director

Jon Favreau

Release date

July 18, 2019

More movie details →

Disney’s 1994 animated feature about a lion cub named Simba who’s born into royalty but loses his kingdom is a beloved classic. It taught a generation of kids about family, the circle of life and, perhaps most memorably, death.

As lovely as the 1994 The Lion King is — rendered with classical, mostly hand-drawn animation — the very next year Toy Story hit theatres, launching Pixar and a whole new type of computer-generated animated feature. Six years after that it was Shrek’s turn to shift the genre, and now animated features had to be funny in a way that appealed equally to kids and adults.

Updating a classic

So, how do you tackle the remake of an animated Disney treasure? Bring in Jon Favreau, the pioneer of the newest form of animation, “Virtual Production,” a photoreal technique he developed for 2016’s jaw-dropping The Jungle Book. Bring in musical stars Donald Glover, a.k.a “This is America” rapper Childish Gambino, to voice the adult Simba and Beyoncé to provide the pipes for his lioness love Nala and then rework beloved songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Hakuna Matata.” Bring in comedians Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen to voice meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, respectively, and let them loose knowing their humour will appeal to the grownups.

“It’s just visually stunning,” says Glover. “It’s an incredible feat. I’m not saying that to promote the movie, I’m not saying that just to get people interested. I am truly impressed with how they did it.”

“We definitely improvised a lot,” recalls Eichner during a recent chat at a soundstage in New York’s Meatpacking District. “And at least in the rough cut that we saw, I was surprised at how much of the improv, or at least the bits that were inspired by the improv that we did, ended up in the movie.”

Eichner, Rogen and Glover have come here to put a human face on a project that often looks more like a National Geographic documentary than an animated film.

“It’s just visually stunning,” says Glover. “It’s an incredible feat. I’m not saying that to promote the movie, I’m not saying that just to get people interested. I am truly impressed with how they did it.”

Related: Billy Eichner on singing with the legendary Beyoncé 

How did they make it?

Rogen and Eichner describe how, on their first day, Favreau threw them into the “Black Box,” a cavernous room where hundreds of cameras surround the actors and record their every movement.

“Jon would attest to the fact that you no longer need to put tracking dots on people's faces or mount cameras on you,” explains Rogen. “It's more the room itself with hundreds of cameras in it, then there's a software program that when combined allows them to track your movements, and we acted out the entire movie, several times.”

“Jon set up a little stage which had cameras all over the perimeter and cameras hanging everywhere. It was like we were rehearsing a play.”

After a couple of straight read-throughs, Favreau told the actors to put down their scripts and improvise the whole movie as he called out directions.

“We were physically on our feet,” recalls Eichner. “Jon set up a little stage which had cameras all over the perimeter and cameras hanging everywhere. It was like we were rehearsing a play.”

“Yeah,” says Rogen. “It was just like, ‘Okay, you just met Simba, he’s lying on the ground. Go!’ It was so organic and it humanizes it so much.”

An original take on the classic songs

Glover’s favourite thing about the process was the ability to go back at it again and again. “It’s almost like whittling down a piece of wood, or slowly shaving something down,” he says. “The first time you’re just doing the lines, and the next time you see a little more graphics, you hear your lines, you want to change something you can do it again.”

The chance to get a re-do was particularly appreciated for the musical numbers. When Glover first recorded the songs he felt obliged to stick pretty close to the original versions, which meant no Childish Gambino seeping into “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

“I didn’t really feel like that was what I was supposed to do,” he says. “Until I heard Beyoncé’s version. And then I was like, ‘Oh!’” Glover recalls with a laugh.

“You realize that people are coming to see Beyoncé, you know? You have to give people a little bit of what they’re coming to see. I also don’t want to give people just, you know, the version from 1994, so I got a second chance at that.”

The Lion King is a visual spectacle that must be experienced on the big screen.

Watch this film in the best possible theatrical experience, like Ultra AVX or IMAX, and immerse yourself in the stunning visuals of Africa. The classic songs performed by Beyoncé and Donald Glover will have kids, teens and those old enough to remember the originals grooving in unison.

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