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Within the pantheon of incredible animated films produced during the Disney Renaissance, only one can claim the mantle of true king. The Lion King has stood the test of time for the better part of the last three decades, but all eyes are now on Jon Favreau to take the beloved film into the digital age with his 2018 remake. Anticipation is high for the upcoming reboot, and exclusive footage screened for the audience at Disney's D23 Expo in Anaheim California promises nothing less than an incredible journey back into the world that countless 1990s kids grew up loving. Here's what we saw.
Opening to the iconic tune of "Circle of Life," we see a fiery red sun rise over the plains of the African savannah. As morning erupts over this exotic landscape, the entire animal kingdom converges on Pride Rock as Rafiki prepares a celebration. He makes his way into the lion's den, comes face to face with the newest member of the pride: Simba (who will be voiced by Donald Glover in the final film). With the entire community of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores watching in awe, the eccentric simian raises the young lion to the sky as the music swells, and the sequence smash cuts to the film's title. It doesn't get much better than that for a Disney fan.
If that sounds familiar, then that means that you have probably seen the classic incarnation of The Lion King before. Check out the original version of the scene in question to see for yourself:
Despite the familiarity of the sequence, the sheer amount of technical prowess involved in pulling off this updated Lion King actually defies all belief. It's no secret that The Jungle Book earned an Oscar for Best Visual Effects last year, and I have a sneaking suspicion that The Lion King will handily become a frontrunner to win the award again. Everything from the landscape to the water and the animals looks perfect, and I would even go so far as to call this opening sequence photo realistic. We still have a year to go until this film debuts, but the visuals already look as close to perfection as we have ever seen from a computer-generated project like this.
We should take this time to note that the scene shown by Jon Favreau at D23 was NOT a shot for shot remake of the original film's opening sequence. It's almost entirely identical in tone, style, and structure, and while it borrowed liberally from the source material, the Iron Man director also took the time to add in a few unique shots of his own. By doing this, he has shown a delightful balance of old and new, a well as a clear understanding of when to imitate and when to try something new. This film won't feel like a shot for shot recreation of the first movie (a la the often maligned Psycho remake), but it will adhere to a particular aesthetic that made the first entry in this franchise work so well.