There are no flesh-and-blood actors onscreen for the duration of Jon Favreau’s remake of the Disney cartoon classic The Lion King. But that doesn’t mean the summer blockbuster completely lacked a human element. Behind the scenes, Favreau created a place where the star-studded vocal cast could deliver a command performance in person. “He called it the ‘black-box theater,’” The Lion King producer Karen Gilchrist remarks in an exclusive clip from a making-of featurette that’s included on the movie’s upcoming Blu-ray release. In that space, the director would guide multiple cast members through their different scenes, much like he would if they were actually on set in the African savannah. “I was trying to pursue an approach that made this film feel like less of an animated movie and more like a live action movie,” the director explains. (Watch the clip above.)
Not for nothing, but Favreau was also following in the footsteps of Walt Disney himself, who famously performed all of the roles in his namesake studio’s first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, to provide guidance to his animation team. It was just one of the ways that the Iron Man director channeled the animation legend during production on The Lion King. "The more I learn about Walt Disney the man, the more I realize that he was very ahead of his time," Favreau told Yahoo Entertainment earlier this year. "And it's good to think about how he would handle a story or situation. Because he was often embracing new technology and old stories. Really plumbing the depths of old myths, but never being afraid to tell those stories in a new way."
According to Gilchrist, Favreau’s decision to construct his own version of a traditional black-box theater emerged out of the experience of directing his previous Disney adaptation, 2016’s The Jungle Book. On that film, the vocal cast recorded all of their lines in a recording booth as they would in a traditional animated movie. “We had people in their traditional ADR recording sessions,” she says. “But what you find is that ... they tend to look down at their script and look back up at the monitor. It’s much easier when you have people to bounce off of.” In other words, put cast members like Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key in a room together and sparks are sure to fly. “I like when there’s a naturalism and a discovery,” Favreau confirms. “I think that spark helps make it feel real.”
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