How Is Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Remake Different From the Original Animated Classic?

Disney’s latest “live-action” reboot of an animated classic is The Lion King. Almost exactly 25 years after the original landed in theaters, director Jon Favreau brought to life the Shakespeare-inspired tale of an African animal kingdom ruled by lions, thrown into disarray by a jealous relative. So how does this new take differ from the original? Let’s take a look.

The voice actors

Due to the amount of time that’s passed, it wouldn’t make sense for the same actors to voice all of the characters. Jonathan Taylor Thomas is all grown up (and effectively out of the biz), and most of the others from the original are in different places in their careers. Though there were a handful of big names in there (Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson, and Whoopi Goldberg among them), it’s nothing compared to the voice cast this time around.

Disney shelled out a lot of money to bring in this kind of talent. As you can see above, there’s Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and plenty of other household names in the mix. And of course, let’s not forget the queen, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Only James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the original, returned for the remake.

The film’s runtime 

Signage is seen during the World Premiere of Disney's THE LION KING at the Dolby Theatre on July 09, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
Signage is seen during the World Premiere of Disney’s THE LION KING at the Dolby Theatre on July 09, 2019 in Hollywood, California. | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

The animated class runs 88 minutes long, putting it at just under an hour and a half long. This was pretty standard for the time — after all, films meant for young children have always run a bit shorter than those intended for older audiences and their attention spans.

However, the new film is quite a bit longer, coming in at 118 minutes long (so just under two hours). According to Favreau, “there are a lot of scenes that aren’t in the original.” Whether or not it’s a good thing that it’s not a shot-by-shot remake is entirely up to the individual, but generally speaking, it’s probably going to make the viewing experience a bit more exciting.

There’s more improvisation

In the past, Disney hasn’t exactly been the champion of loose scripts. When your company is considered a well-oiled machine, this is par for the course. But over the years, and with the addition of various brands under the Disney umbrella, each with its own unique tone and audience, this has become less of a frowned-upon idea.

Given Favreau’s background, Disney likely knew it was going to be getting a bit of improv here and there. Especially as far as its more comedic actors, like Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen (Timon and Pumbaa, respectively) are concerned. Favreau told Jimmy Kimmel, “Both of them are so funny. We recorded them together. We actually acted it out in a rehearsal theater space and recorded their voices, so what you’re seeing is a more natural improvisation.” 

A more realistic look 

The idea of a live-action remake doesn’t exactly work for The Lion King the way it does for, say Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast. There are CGI characters in the latter two, but there are also real people. With this remake, every character was a CGI animal, though meant to look like a very realistic rendering of each species.

However, there is one shot that isn’t CGI. Favreau told Kimmel, “Every environment you see was completely generated by computers. Every performance was key-frame animated.”

He went on to describe the process by which they took photos in Africa and recreated this in a VR environment. He wasn’t able to confirm which shot it was, but that’s part of the allure of seeing a movie like The Lion King that appears to be live-action and determining what really is.

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