Sarabi, voiced by Alfre Woodard, in a scene from "The Lion King." AP
Disney's blockbuster 3D remakes of animated classics have rampaged through box offices in recent years, but the studio is banking on its latest— "The lion King" — to climb right to the top of the food chain.
With a star-studded voice cast including Beyonce and estimated $250 million budget, Hollywood's reigning hitmaker has spared no expense bringing arguably its most beloved source material roaring to photo-realistic life.
Expectations are sky-high for the film about young lion cub Simba avenging his father's death to emulate the commercial success of "The Jungle Book" (2016), "Beauty and the Beast" (2017) and "Aladdin" (2019).
A trailer for the new "lion King" was watched by 225 million people in its first 24 hours in November, shattering Disney's record.
With no human characters in sight, almost every shot — from the pixel-perfect hairs of Mufasa's glistening mane to the eerily realistic hyena eyes piercing through the Elephant Graveyard gloom — was conjured from scratch using computer-generated imagery.
This image released by Disney shows a scene from "The Lion King." AP
And yet "The lion King" is not strictly a 3D animation either, in any conventional sense.
It is instead something totally new, says director Jon Favreau — a film shot by a traditional camera crew, but entirely inside a virtual reality 3D world.
Filmmakers and actors at the studio were able to don digital headsets and "step into" a video game-style African savannah to film — or simply watch — rough computer-generated versions of Simba and his pals cavorting through the Pride Lands.
Circle of Life
The 1994 "lion King" is seen as the peak of Disney's 1990s "renaissance," spawning a smash-hit Broadway musical version.
The remake copies the first film's storyline to a beat, even bringing back James Earl Jones as the voice of Simba's father Mufasa.
Seth Rogen arrives for the world premiere of Disney's "The Lion King" at the Dolby theatre. AFP
Iconic songs including "Circle of Life" and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" from the original's Oscar- and Grammy-winning soundtrack return intact, as well as many of the musicians behind them.
Composers Hans Zimmer and Lebo Morake combined once again for the soundtrack, with Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice providing a new credits song.
But the film diverges in other ways.
The cast are called upon to sing their own songs — from actor-musicians Beyonce and Donald Glover (Simba) to the comically offbeat Rogen.
While the original was criticized for its mainly white cast, the creators of the remake wanted to enhance its African flavor.
Uganda-born Florence Kasumba portrays sinister hyena leader Shenzi, while South Africa's John Kani lends his voice to the wise Rafiki.
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