Jon Favreau is a director that’s used to pressure.
He can be credited with kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man in 2008 and last year took on one of Disney’s most beloved films, The Jungle Book. Despite being praised for both, Favreau isn’t immune to failure. Films like Zathura and Cowboys & Aliens were panned by critics and didn’t resonate with fans the way Favreau had hoped.
Now, the director is about to take on one of the most ambitious movies of his career: a live-action adaptation of Disney’s award-winning 1994 film, The Lion King. Favreau sat down to talk about his career and the upcoming movie with actress Scarlett Johansson during the Tribeca Film Festival. Favreau said while he felt the pressure of not messing up with The Jungle Book, The Lion King was a whole different ball game for one very simple reason.
“The Jungle Book was 50 years ago, but The Lion King was only 20. It came out in the age of video where people were watching it over and over again,” Favreau said. “So I have to prioritize that when I’m directing. I have to try and honor what was there. In some ways it's like bringing a Broadway play back because there are certain expectations.”
Favreau spoke at length about how the age of video has impacted the film industry — beyond audiences being able to rewind their favorite movie and memorize different quotes or scenes. When the director was first coming up in the industry, there was an audience willing to pay money to see indie movies. Exceptional films like Pulp Fiction or Swingers managed to make tens of millions on comparatively small budgets.
But as more people turned to home video and eventually streaming as a way to watch movies, the industry changed. People renting VHS tapes and DVDs were choosing to watch the same movie seven days a week. Those movies, especially for children growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, became ingrained in people’s memories and that’s what Favreau is most worried about when it comes to The Lion King: ruining the memory of someone’s favorite movie.
“I tried to keep it on the edge of being real,” Favreau said. “The Lion King, people really know it and they grew up with it. They have an emotional impact. I think memory is like a compression software; you can't remember everything so you prioritize what's important.
“I think, ‘What do I remember about The Lion King? What do I remember about The Jungle Book? I remember Mowgli and the snake; the snake's eyes; Baloo and the river. Those are the images we definitely need in there [the new live-action movie]. Then you look back at it and you realize here's things you don't remember, which you can explore a little more.”
Going into it a little more, Favreau said the biggest difference between failing on a project like Zathura and failing at an adaptation of Iron Man, The Jungle Book or The Lion King is the audience that’s going to be impacted. The aforementioned titles are beloved properties. They already have fans and Favreau said that by taking on those projects, he’s asking to be a part of that fandom. The pressure, he added, from taking on the emotional connection this audience already has to the characters isn’t comparable to his other projects.
“But you gotta live up to what they want,” he said. “There's an added pressure to these beloved stories, especially these deep-seated ones, because there's an emotional connection.”
The Lion King marks the fifth live-action adaptation Disney has ordered. The first was Alice in Wonderland back in 2010, followed by The Jungle Book last year. Beauty and the Beast was released this year, with Mulan slated to be released on Nov. 2, 2018.
The Lion King does not have a release date at this time.