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Find our how your involvement can help save African lions and restore balance in the Circle of Life.

In the 25 years since the animated “Lion King” first hit theaters, the number of African lions in the wild has dropped dramatically. Today, fewer than 20,000 remain, half of what the population was in 1994. Unless something is done soon to protect these magnificent creatures, the effects will be catastrophic, wiping out not only an entire species, but forever disrupting nature’s delicate balance. That’s why, with the release of director Jon Favreau’s new photorealistic take on the animated classic, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) is teaming with Lion Recovery Fund (LRF) to raise awareness and take action through a campaign called Protect the Pride.

 

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Launched nearly two years ago by the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the LRF's goal is to double the existing lion population by 2050. 

“We’re losing our planet’s wildlife – even such iconic species as the African Lion – at a dangerously rapid pace,” said DiCaprio at the foundation’s launch. “An astonishingly small amount of philanthropic dollars go towards protecting wildlife, but together we can turn that around. The Lion Recovery Fund ensures that your generosity goes to the most effective efforts on the ground to protect African lions and restore their habitat.”

Since its start in 1995, the DCF has directed more than $75 million to conservation efforts all over the Earth, with $13 million targeted to projects across Africa and $1.5 million specifically donated to the LRF. Now, it’s up to audiences to help raise that total through special celebratory experiences and limited edition “Protect the Pride” products. Disney stores and parks will be carrying 40,000 special Simba and Nala plushes, representative of the ideal lion population the LRF hopes to have in place over the next three decades.  For every plush sold, Disney will donate $5 to the WCN. 

Parkgoers can show their support by heading to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando during the new film’s opening week (July 19 to 25) and riding the Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition. For every person who visits the attraction, Disney will donate another $2 to the WCN. That’s in additional $25,000 donation from Disney Publishing Worldwide and another $10,000 from Disney Cruise Line.

Threats to lions in the wild come in many forms, from hunting and poaching to broader climate change issues that are altering the animals’ natural habitat. As Simba’s storyreminds us, the Circle of Life represents a delicate ecosystem that affects not only African wildlife, but all living things. It is our duty as citizens of Earth to step up and protect our planet to ensure that stories like “The Lion King” continue to be about the incredible beauty of our planet and not a tragic reminder of what we’ve lost.

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25 years after the animated original captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world, a new version of “The Lion King” roars to life.

From the outer space adventure “Zathura” in 2005 to the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with “Iron Man”, director Jon Favreau has proven himself adept at telling stories that blend special and visual effect heavy worlds with unforgettable characters. It was with “The Jungle Book” in 2016, however, that led the filmmaker directly to his biggest challenge to date: a photo real adaptation of Disney’s “The Lion King,” reimagining the 1994 animated classic on its silver anniversary.

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"[Along with] ‘Jungle Book’, I had been working on both of these movies back to back for about six years,” says Favreau. “All the new technology that was available, I had finally learned how to use by the end of ‘Jungle Book’.,. [A] lot of attention is paid to the technology, but really, these are handmade films.”

You wouldn’t be wrong to call the new “Lion King” an animated film. Although Favreau teases that the final cut does contain a single live action shot, he’s not telling which one it is. That’s a testament to the project’s incredible marriage of artistry and technology that makes reality indistinguishable from digital magic.

"In 'Jungle Book', we were essentially using the same motion capture technology for performers and cameras as had been developed ten years prior for 'Avatar'," Favreau continues. "But, towards the end of that, there was a whole slew of consumer facing VR products that were hitting the scene. We started experimenting with it at the end of 'Jungle Book' and realized that we could build this really cool system of filmmaking using game engine technology and this new VR technology."

It’s that cutting edge tech that enabled Favreau and his crew to build the African savanna in downtown Los Angeles. VR headsets allowed the film’s ensemble cast to actually step inside the world of the film in a way that has never before been possible.

"It was so cool," says JD McCrary, who voices the younger Simba. "It’s like watching your favorite movie, but you’re in it. You’re in the movie. That’s exactly what it was... We put on the headsets and we had these little controller things in our hands. We could fly. It was like we were Zazu. We were birds. We were whatever we wanted to be. We saw everything. We saw the Pride Lands. We saw Pride Rock. We saw the watering hole. We saw the elephant graveyard. We saw it all, man.”

Technically impressive in its own right, VR technology also helped to provide an incredible stage for dramatic experimentation, allowing the actors to improvise with a full understanding of exactly where any given scene is taking place.

“The fact that it has like a looseness applied to probably the most technologically incredible movie ever made is an amazing contrast,” says Seth Rogen, the new film’s Pumbaa. “It feels like people in a room just talking. And then it’s refined to a degree that is like inconceivable in a lot of ways. That mixture is what I think is so incredible and that’s what Jon really captured in an amazing way.”

Although voice acting is usually recorded with a single actor at a time, Rogen and Billy Eichner (who plays Timon) were often in the studio together so that they might play off one another with their natural banter. Recording for the film’s villainous hyenas (played by Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba and Keegan-Michael Key) went through a similar process.

"I was lucky that my first day that I was in a black box and I was working with Eric Andre, and with JD," says Kasumba. "We were very physical, because the guys were so strong, it was easy for me to just be big. Because everybody is very confident, we could just really try out things. We could walk around each other. We could scare each other. We could scream, be loud, be big or be small. It’s like working in the theater, which I love. So having that freedom just made me, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted to."

“I think Jon is a great student who has an encyclopedic knowledge of all different types of comedy,” adds Michael-Key. “And one of those pieces of knowledge is about comedic duos and the dynamic that exists between them. And I know that when we had a very similar experience to Billy and Seth where we were allowed to walk around the room. It was as if we were being directed in a scene in the play.”

Although he is (for now) stepping away from the jungle after “The Lion King,” Favreau isn’t leaving the Magic Kingdom far behind. He’s still working with Disney on the hugely anticipated “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian,” set to debut alongside the launch of Disney+ this November. However, whether it’s the top of Pride Rock or a planet in galaxy far, far away, it’s a sure bet that Favreau will be pushing boundaries both technical and dramatic, doing whatever it takes to tell the kind of stories that speak to the eager, wide eyed child that lives within us all.

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