We recently had the chance to speak to Don Hahn, producer of Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and a host of other great films, about his most successful movie, The Lion King, ahead of its re-release in 3D this week.
It was something of a mammoth conversation that covered a host of topics from his experience converting the film from 2D to 3D, to the way Disney has changed over the last decade and a half.
We’ve split the conversation into two articles, the first of which covers the work done to add a new dimension to The Lion King, without losing anything in the process. Check back tomorrow, when we discuss the film itself, the response of the audience to seeing it at the cinema again, and the implications a successful release might have for future Disney releases.
HeyUGuys: You were presumably involved in the post production work on The Lion King, but were you involved in the decision making process for it to be the first, theatrically released, post-converted, 3D Disney animation?
Don Hahn: Yeah, to a degree. It was debated a long time, and I think the main thing that happened is the technology caught up to us, so the technology was available to do it in the last two or three years where it hadn’t been before. Lion King made some sense because of its success, so the demand for it, we knew, was going to be strong if we did it properly. A lot of the time we spent on the movie was just debating the style of 3D, how radical it would be, and that was why our stereographer, Robert [Neuman] was a huge help, because we had to come up with the right style for the movie to fit. It’s one of the first hand drawn movies we’ve ever converted, so it had to fit the limitations of what hand drawn and 3D would be.
HUG: You mention the decision was based on the financial success of the Lion King. Were there other films in consideration to be the first film released?
DH: To be honest, we did Beauty and the Beast first. We converted Beauty and the Beast into a 3D film as a ‘trial balloon’, and it worked great, so then the thought was, let’s take Lion King, we’re fortunate enough to have a hit like that in the library, and do it next, and try to strategise a greater release plan – a Worldwide release where you can have theatrical distribution, and then buy a Blu-Ray disc and a DVD, and pretty much watch it any time you wanted to on any format you wanted to, which is where distribution is going. So I think those are some of the factors that went into it. We’re pretty fortunate that people love Lion King and are anxious to see it again. I think that was probably the main driver behind it.
HUG: I take it there’s been work on some of the others since.
DH: We haven’t. Honestly, we haven’t. We’ve talked about it, but one of the reasons that those two movies work is that the filmmakers are alive, so you can call up me and the directors. On both projects we got the directors in the room and made creative choices, and looked at dailies, and really wanted to have the original filmmakers involved. That’s why we didn’t start with Pinocchio or something, where filmmakers are harder to pull together. That was one consideration, [another is] there’s a whole generation that hasn’t seen Lion King on the big screen, and another group of people who did see Lion King on the big screen and who now have children about the right age to take when they go to see it again.
HUG: Does this mean that we’re going to see Disney go back to their pre-VHS distribution model, where they re-released a film at the cinema every few years?
DH: That’s the grand experiment of Lion King, so the answer is, yes, if Lion King works this way; we’ve never done it before, we’ve never taken a movie out for two weeks, then released it on Blu-Ray in this tight of a window, so if Lion King works creatively and financially, then yes, you might see more of those. We’ve certainly talked about it, we haven’t started on Aladdin or Mermaid, but what great titles they would be to do in 3D.
HUG: Were there any moments doing the conversion where you thought, ‘oh God, I wish I hadn’t done that, it’s just made it several times harder now’?
DH: No, but I think for us it was a lot easier than it was for Robert and the 3D group, because we can easily say, ‘let’s take this stampede and make it this much deeper, and do this, this and tihs’, and our crew was so accommodating they would say ‘OK’, and I’m sure they went behind the scenes and slit their wrists. So a lot of times we’ll make creative decisions based on what it’s going to be great for the audience, and yeah, it’s a little harder for the crew, but that’s why we all work at Disney. If we wanted easy we would go work somewhere else, especially on something like Lion King, you want to take the care, and take the trouble to make it as good as you can.