How Director Jon Favreau Balanced The Darker Tones In 'The Lion King' Remake

'90s kids may remember experiencing their first trauma while watching the beloved 1994 animated The Lion King, a film that depicted the surprisingly dark elements of death and betrayal. It's a tradition that director Jon Favreau will have to uphold in his upcoming remake of The Lion King, which will feature photorealistic CGI versions of the cute cartoon animals that nonetheless turned many a poor child into a sobbing mess.

But with that new layer realism comes a new responsibility for Favreau: how will he balance the story's dark elements in The Lion King remake story and tone? In a set visit interview with /Film, Favreau explained how he struck that balance between making a realistic tragedy and appealing to today's children.

For many millennials, the 1994 The Lion King was their first time grappling with death. The idea of death, loss, and grief was a foreign concept to kids until Mufasa fell off that cliff, and they had to process the fact that this majestic animated lion voiced by James Earl Jones would not walk another day. With Favreau's remake, he will be traumatizing a whole new generation of children with this same scene — with the added benefit of Jones returning to voice the character — but he has to make sure he walks the balance of realism and family-friendliness.

"I think that's a part of it: creating a tone that feels consisting for this medium," Favreau told /Film. "Which you get away with other goofier humor – more violent stuff, too – because a cartoon kind of sands those edges down. But it's different with photorealistic characters that look so similar to real-life lions, Favreau said, adding:

"With live action you have to be more decisive about things like humor and intensity and violence because it will get very extreme and not feel like part of the same film. So a lot of it is being a shepherd of the tone of it and the ride of it, and ultimately for you to walk out and you say, 'Yeah, that's what I remember about the old one.' And if you're thinking of introducing your kid to Lion King for the first time, that they're gonna be seeing Lion King if you bring them here. And then they'll want to go home and watch the cartoon and they'll want to go see the play or be in the play."

But Favreau doesn't plan to shy away from the tougher elements of the story. "I want to highlight really what's in there from the original," he explained. And that includes the return of Jones, who as Mufasa is the one link between the original animated film and the new remake. "It's the whole circle of life," Favreau said:

"Bad things happen, good things happen. Not every scene in the movie is fun to watch. There's tragedy in it. But ultimately what I like about it is that somehow after that whole experience, you walk away feeling inspired and hopeful. Which is how I like my stories. Everybody's different – it depends where you put the comma. If you end after Mufasa dies, different movie. (laughs) But as I go through dialogue – and especially hearing James Earl Jones say the lines, because he is the one character that is in both films, ours and the old one – it's moving. It still gets me."

The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19, 2019.