Original ‘Lion King’ Animator Slams Disney’s 2019 Remake: ‘It Kind of Hurts’

Audiences have embraced the new "Lion King" to the tune of $1 billion worldwide, but not everyone is thrilled about what's on screen.
"The Lion King"
"The Lion King"

Disney’s “The Lion King” remake has dominated the worldwide box office with over $1 billion in less than a month, but it has rubbed some of the animators who worked on the 1994 movie the wrong way. HuffPo reached out to 13 original “Lion King” animators to get their thoughts on Jon Favreau’s photorealistic remake, many of whom declined to comment. One animator speaking on anonymity said, “I will only get myself in trouble if I comment on the ‘other’ version.” Another animator added, “There is a huge resentment against these 3D remakes from the original 2D crews. Maybe if we got any kind of royalties it would be different.”

David Stephan, an animator who worked on the original film’s hyena designs and the iconic “Circle of Life” opening sequence, went on record sharing his critical thoughts of the 2019 “Lion King.” Summarizing the thoughts of many of his colleagues, Stephan told HuffPo, “If you polled the crew of the original ‘Lion King,’ most of them would say, ‘Why? Did you really have to do that?’ It kind of hurts.”

“It’s sort of sad that the stockholder is now in the room deciding what movies get made,” Stephan continued. “Disney’s now taken the cover off, and it’s now in your face: ‘Yeah, we just want to make money.’ That’s disappointing as an artist, from a studio that was founded on originality and art.”

Stephan said that the photorealistic VFX used on the 2019 “Lion King” negated what made the animated 1994 film so special and imaginative. The animators believe the effects were so realistic that it made the film’s other prominent elements, such as singing and talking animals, feel widely out of place.

“It would jar me out of the film, literally,” Stephen said. “Especially with little Simba walking around. It was too real. And then when he would talk, it reminded me of those old nature films where they would dub the voices over and the lips would move. I thought, ‘Oh, this is really cheap.’ I think it was just too soon for this one.”

“I just came away going, ‘Wow, that was a great story that I worked on back in ’93.’ How come the apes in ‘Planet of the Apes’ look so much more alive than the animals in ‘Lion King’?” Stephan continued. “This one just said, ‘You know what, let’s cut the expressions out completely. Let’s just keep it real as possible.’ And I think it just diminished the film.”

Stephan went on to criticize the voice performances as well, calling them “so wooden.” The 2019 “Lion King” featured the voices of Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, and Alfre Woodard, among others.

“[The filmmakers] put themselves into a corner when you do that realistically,” Stephan said. “You’re really stuck to what the real physics are in real life, or people aren’t going to buy it. But there were a few scenes where there were a couple of expressions and suddenly it was a little more alive.”

“The Lion King” is now playing in theaters nationwide. Read more interviews with original “Lion King” animators over on HuffPo.

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