Animated classic now in 3D

2011-08-22 00:00

THE Lion King broke box-office records to become the top-grossing traditionally animated film in Disney history. It won two Oscars: for original score and original song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight) and three Golden Globes, including best motion picture musical/comedy. It spawned a long-running musical which has played to thousands on Broadway, in London’s West End and around the world.

Now, after months of painstaking work, Simba, Mufasa, Nala, Timon and Pumbaa are back on the big screen in 3D. And for Zulu-speaking fans in South Africa, a Zulu-language edition will be screened in 2D at selected cinemas.

The Witness caught up with the film’s producer, Don Hahn, ahead of The Lion King’s nationwide release on August 26. Hahn’s credits include Beauty and the Beast, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the documentary Earth, and the Oscar-nominated animated short The Little Matchgirl.

It must be very satisfying seeing The Lion King being re-released after 17 years. What would you say is your proudest achievement?

I’m most proud of the people. If I have a skill, it’s that I know how to pick the best people, directors, artists and technicians, then I know how to back away and watch them create their magic. It’s a thrill every time and I’m lucky to work with the best.

Do you think 3D adds something to an already acclaimed and beloved movie?

Yes I really do. It’s not just about business. There is a very compelling reason to take the audience on a 3D ride to a place they may know, but have never seen in this way. It’s especially true of a hand-drawn film like The Lion King. It’s worth the effort to give the audience that chance.

Were you afraid at any point about making The Lion King into a 3D film? What was the biggest challenge for you?

Yes, terrified, really. When you are trying to do something that has never been done before, it does keep one awake at night, especially when that movie is beloved by audiences everywhere. The key was having the original film-makers in the room with some of the smartest technical people at Disney and the result was very cool.

What is your favourite moment of the movie?

The Circle of Life! Best movie opening ever!

If you could have given any character in The Lion King another story, who would it be?

I think I’d give Rafiki another day on the screen. He’s such an interesting cryptic character – part shaman, part wise man, part bag lady. What an interesting character.

What do you think is the most important thing an animated film must have?

Story, story, story. My favourite example is Ratatouille. Who would ever make a movie about rats in a kitchen? It’s the worst idea possible, with the exception of making a film about a 70-year-old guy who flies his house to South America with a boy scout on board. Another horrible idea. But both Ratatouille and UP are wonderful magical stories that used animation to its fullest.

Is a success like The Lion King still possible for Disney today?

Yes. Certainly it’s possible to make money in animation as Toy Story 3 showed us last year. But the reason it made money was that it was one of the best animated movies ever made. As long as artists push the boundaries of the craft with their stories and visuals, people will come, and if you are lucky enough to capture the audience’s imagination … anything can happen.

What are your thoughts about hand-drawn animation today at Disney and its future?

You can’t beat the directness of a pencil in a hand. We may see fewer of them, but they won’t go away.

Do you consider The Lion King your favourite son?

It’s hard to pick a favourite. Beauty and the Beast has a very special place in my heart, and The Lion King … there are some movies that come along once in a lifetime, and you feel like you won the lottery.

Now you seem more interested in making documentaries. Why?

Because of the environmental issues that they raise and the ability to deliver some amazing creatures on to the big screen with the most state-of-the-art film-makers. At the end of the day it’s all about storytelling.

But I still am working on an animated feature, this time Frankenweenie being directed by the brilliant Tim Burton. We’re in the middle of production now and we’ll be in theatres in October 2012. You will love it!

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