Book Review: “The Art and Making of The Lion King” (2019 Version)

Hi everyone!

We received The Art and Making of The Lion King by Michael Goldman to review. The book is about the new (2019) version, not the classic animated one (though there are references and stories regarding that one as well). I enjoyed the new movie and this 220 page book can stand on its own as a terrific volume on filmmaking – I read it before watching the film, not knowing if I would like it or not. There is a lot of concept art but also a deep dive into how the current version of The Lion King came about.

The foreword is from Thomas Schumacher, who talks about how The Lion King has been part of his life in some way every day for almost 30 years – from the original, which few animators really wanted to work on, to the stage show and then the new film.

Chapter One mentions how Walt Disney talked about moving forward, “We’re always exploring and experimenting”. Then it goes into Jon Favreau, who had a hit with The Jungle Book in 2016. As he watched films like Cinderella and Maleficent being made and enjoyed by audiences, he said it gave him confidence that there was an “underlying curiousity” to retell the stories in a new way and to use tools that were not available years ago and make the films photo-real.

After the success of The Jungle Book, Disney circled back to Jon Favreau again to see what other story he might be able to tell. And the film he felt he most identified with was The Lion King.

The book talks about a 2017 research trip to Kenya that filmmakers went on, which helped make the film feel like it was a real place. Then it heads into the music of the original, with Elton John and Tim Rice discussing their collaboration. Tim Rice suggested to Disney that they hire Elton John for The Lion King, a job he took immediately though he said he did laugh about writing about warthogs. Then the filmmakers also brought in Hans Zimmer to score it, and Lebo M, who figured even more into the Broadway show (that gets a couple of pages in the music section).

Major characters receive pages on their design and often with some actor insight as well. For example, Timon, played by Billy Eichner has become a fan favorite. Eichner talks about the character a bit, and had been asked if he was intimidated performing “Hakuna Matata”. Eichner has a musical theater background, which he says most people don’t know about – so while the word “no” isn’t said, it is implied. As far as the character itself, Timon was a bit more difficult because filmmakers wanted him to look real but to have the quirky personality traits he is known for.

There is a ton of concept art and photo realistic images, along with photos from research trips. Not only are characters studied but scenes from the film including the migration of the wildebeest. The Art and Making of The Lion King is an easy book to read, well organized and there is a lot of information. For the price point, it delivers.

At the end, the book shares a bit about Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World and how the filmmakers studied lions there even before the Kenya trip. The chapter talks about Disney and nature filmmaking. But the most important thing to note is that half of the world’s lion population has disappeared since the original film was created. Disney and the filmmakers of The Lion King want to inspire audiences to help double the population of lions by 2050. Disney Publishing Worldwide and the Disney Conservation Fund will be donating $25,000 to help “Protect the Pride”.

Jon Favreau also offers a brief afterword that talks about how he came to make the new film.

This review includes affiliate links.