Is the ‘Lion King’ Remake Really Live Action? Here’s How Disney Will (Almost) Get Away With It

In the coming years, we’re going to be hearing about — and many of us stampeding to the theater to see — more and more live action Disney remakes. But there’s a lot of confusion surrounding why The Lion King in particular is still being called live action. No real lions were recruited in the making of this film. So what is it, really?

Through recent films, Disney has slowly been improving its animation techniques, and is now entering into a blend of animation and live-action filmmaking we’re all still getting used to. Here’s what makes this so confusing, and how it actually works.

How The Jungle Book made The Lion King possible

In a way, Disney used this live action film to “test” their ability to create animated characters that looked as realistic as possible.

A live action film is one that features real actors, real sets, and real props. It can contain CGI-animated characters and other elements, but the definition of live action is that it features “live” actors.

Truthfully, The Jungle Book wouldn’t have been considered live-action in technical terms if it weren’t for Neel Sethi. The young actor played Mowgli, the only human featured in the film — and the only actor to appear onscreen.

Despite the fact that every character he appears alongside in the film is computer-animated, the fact that he’s there acting “live” makes the film live-action.

However, this won’t be the case with The Lion King. There are no humans in the Pride Lands. Real-world actors will (obviously) lend their voices to the animated characters, but no “live” acting will take place onscreen. Which has raised a very important question about this movie:

If it’s not technically live action, why does everyone — even Disney — keep calling it that?

Why is Disney calling The Lion King live action?

Disney’s upcoming wave of classic movie remakes is only getting stronger. In 2019 alone, they’re releasing two additional films before The Lion KingDumbo (March 2019) and Aladdin (May 2019).

However, both of these remakes are, categorically, live-action films. Each features CGI-animated characters — Dumbo the elephant, for example, won’t be a real live elephant. But both will also feature human actors, just as The Jungle Book did.

Disney has almost made its own movement out of releasing live action remakes of classic animated films. It began with Cinderella in 2015 and continued with the highly successful Beauty and the Beast.

It’s possible Disney wants to lump The Lion King into this movement. It’s a good way to set up for future “collections” (similar to Disney Renaissance animated films). Or it could just be that they want to set themselves apart somehow, creating an illusion of something more than a 3D or CGI-animated film such as Frozen.

Even if you’ve seen The Jungle Book, you might not have taken the time to consider how realistic the animals look compared to the animation style of Pixar movies or Tangled, for example.

Disney is trying to create a movie that looks as live action and “photorealistic” as possible while still using technology to generate all of it. The Lion King will be an animated movie. But it will look as close to the real thing as perhaps a movie like this ever has before. Here’s how.

What is live action animation?

The Lion King 2019
The Lion King 2019 | Disney

The term “live action animation” is a real filmmaking practice, but it adds more confusion to the growing list of possible words used to describe how movies are being made. It’s probably a better way to describe The Lion King, though, since they’re using a very specific technique to capture the realism they’re after.

Live action animation usually describes filming real actors reciting their lines and “acting out” scenes using something called motion capture. Motion capture records an actor’s facial and other body movements that animators then use to create more realistic depictions of characters in films.

It’s often used in video games to make characters’ facial expressions and movements more believable. But is used in the context of films as well. This, along with other technologies, is how Disney animators will truly bring Simba, Nala, and the rest of characters old and new to life.

For now, though, it might be less confusing to just call it a Lion King remake. Does it matter what it’s technically called as long as it lives up to its hype?