Have you heard about the Lion King remake they’re doing? Donald Glover is in it! So is James Earl Jones, back playing Mufasa. It’s going to be directed by Jon Favreau (the actor/director, not the speechwriter/podcaster), coming off the success of his live-action Jungle Book film.
It’s probably going to be heartwarming and nostalgic. What it won’t be is “live-action.”
I get the temptation to quickly distinguish this new wave of Disney films from their two-dimensional animated originals—Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and The Jungle Book can all be called live-action because even as they featured magical pumpkins and talking candlesticks and uncanny-valley bears, they also featured humans. There were real human actors, on sets, saying lines that were being recorded while their faces were also being recorded, to be made visible on a screen.
The Lion King has no people in it.
Let’s define some terms, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. According to Merriam-Webster, “live-action” refers to “cinematography that is not produced by animation.”
Wikipedia begins its entry on “Computer animation” with this sentence: “Computer animation is the process used for generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to the moving images.” CGI is, by definition, animation.
I would argue that a film qualifies as “live-action” if it features cinematography not produced by animation (computer or otherwise) in any appreciable amount. Regardless of how much green screen scenery is being used, or whether the lead actor is doing all of his lines opposite a ping-pong ball on a stick, if there’s an actor, it almost certainly counts as live action.
I have no idea whether Jon Favreau is flying to the savannah and filming with trained lions that are going to perform opposite other lions with peanut butter in their mouth to make it look like they’re talking. Maybe he is. But if The Jungle Book was was any indication, he’ll be doing The Lion King via green screen…this time with no humans characters. It’ll be a computer animated lion voiced by Childish Gambino, no different from a computer animated toy cowboy (or mustachioed nightmare) voiced by Tom Hanks. Just because our animation has gotten better doesn’t mean it’s not animation.
We can call this one “the CGI Lion King,” or even “The Lion King remake.” But until I see a leaked set picture of some trained hyenas, I refuse to call this movie live-action.