With hits like last year’s The Jungle Book, the Will Ferrell holiday staple Elf, and multiple Marvel blockbusters under his belt, few filmmakers have cast as wide a net on the entertainment industry as Jon Favreau. Still, the director is currently working to expand his Hollywood circle (of life) with Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of the 1994 animated classic The Lion King, production of which the 50-year-old teased during a Friday evening appearance at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Speaking to a sold-out crowd at New York City’s School of Visual Arts Theatre, Favreau joined Scarlett Johansson for the latest entry in the Tribeca Talks’ Directors Series. The actress — whom Favreau has directed in films including Chef and Iron Man 2 — probed her frequent collaborator on the planned adaptation with a question about his connection to making movies based on established source material.
“When you’re directing, you have to love [what you’re making]. You have to love it to the point of obsession,” Favreau said. “I have to live, breathe, sleep it, dream it. If I’m going to do my best work, I need to be completely immersed… you look at the material and you get inspired, and then try to update it for our time.”
“With the Disney stuff, people know even more… With Lion King, people really know [the original], and they grew up with it and it has emotional impact,” he continued. “I think about what I remember about The Lion King? I did it with Jungle Book [too]. [I asked myself], ‘What do I remember about [the 1967 version of] The Jungle Book? I remember Mowgli and the snake. I remember the snake’s eyes. I remember Baloo going down the river and Mowgli riding on him like a raft. I made a big list, and those are the images we definitely needed… and you have more latitude to shift and change those things.”
Falling in line with the mouse’s recent trend of translating time-tested favorites for contemporary audiences (Maleficent, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast have each gotten the treatment since 2014), the new iteration of The Lion King has promised “a new reimagining” of the animal-centric coming-of-age story, with Atlanta creator and star Donald Glover tackling the iconic role of Simba.
“The Jungle Book was 50 years ago, Lion King was 20, and people grew up with it in an age of video where they watched it over and over again. So, I have to really examine all of those plot points,” Favreau added. “Also, the myths are very strong in it, so you’re hitting something even deeper than the movie sometimes. What I’m trying to do is honor what was there… There are certain expectations people have.”
He further likened his dedication to the craft to the way musicians launch into live performances.
“I think about when Prince played halftime at the Super Bowl,” he mused. “There was more entertainment packed into that because he hit every song you wanted to hear and he did it the way you remember it or better… You can do that whatever your medium is… to me, it’s like you’re doing a big DJ set for the audience. It’s about the audience having the experience they’re hoping they have, and if you can surprise them along the way, they’ll enjoy it even more, but you gotta live up to what [people] want, so you get greater pressure with these beloved stories.”
And, without missing a beat, Johansson responded, likening The Lion King‘s reigning visionary to the legendary pop royal: “Oh my God, you’re the Prince of film!”