barry jenkins directing lion king

How did Disney manage to land an Oscar-winning filmmaker like Barry Jenkins to direct a Lion King prequel? The idea was also a surprise to Jenkins, who admitted in a recent interview that he was skeptical of boarding a Disney “live-action” remake/prequel of an animated classic like The Lion King. But three key factors managed to make him change his mind.

During a chat with The Rider director Chloé Zhao for Variety, Jenkins revealed that Zhao herself was one of the major factors that convinced him to direct a Lion King prequel movie, which he was initially very wary of taking on.

Lion King was the Baby Shark of my time,” Jenkins said. “I’d seen it literally hundreds of times and I had this connection to it, and yet I was skeptical because, who am I to make a Lion King movie? Not a Lion King sequel! A Lion King movie.”

But it was Zhao making the move from arthouse movies to directing a Marvel movie, The Eternals, that helped convince Jenkins to take the job, in addition to Jeff Nathanson‘s script and a a conversation with his go-to cinematographer James Laxton. Jenkins elaborated:

“I read the script and about 40 pages in, I turned to Lulu [Wang] and I said, ‘Holy shit, this is good.’ And as I kept reading, I got further away from the side of my brain that said, ‘Oh, a filmmaker like you doesn’t make a film like this,’ and allowed myself to get to the place where these characters, this story, is amazing. What really pushed me across the line was James [Laxton], my DP, said, ‘You know what? There’s something really interesting in this mode of filmmaking that we haven’t done and that not many people have done.’ That was when I went back to the powers that be and said, ‘I would love to do this, but I’ve got to be able to do what I do.’ And they said yes!…And knowing that Chloe Zhao had gone from one of the most beautiful films of the century with The Rider to making a Marvel movie, I was like, ‘Oh, shit. If she can do it, I can do it.’”

Jenkins directing a Lion King movie was met with cautious optimism when it was first announced, mostly due to the conflicting emotions surrounding the oversaturated Disney live-action cash grabs remakes versus the reputation that Jenkins has built up as being one of the most exciting arthouse directors working in Hollywood right now. We’ll reserve judgment for now, but if Jenkins is truly invested in his Lion King movie over more than just a paycheck, then maybe it’ll be worth checking out.

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