Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

From 'Avengers: Endgame' to 'The Lion King': Why this is the summer of Jon Favreau

The writer, actor, director and producer has arguably set Marvel and Disney on the path to dominance, and he’s long overdue the recognition he deserves

Jon Favreau arrives on the red carpet prior to the world premiere of 'The Lion King' at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California. EPA
Jon Favreau arrives on the red carpet prior to the world premiere of 'The Lion King' at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California. EPA

You’ve probably already noticed, but it has been a very good year for ­Disney. Just one look at the highest-grossing films of 2019 in the United States shows how much the studio is destroying its rivals at the domestic box office, as the top four slots are taken by Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Aladdin and Toy Story 4, each of which Disney released.

The Lion King will almost ­certainly take its place in this list, too, after it is released next week, as Disney’s latest reimagining of one of its animated classics is expected to dwarf Aladdin’s haul. But when (not if) The Lion King starts to thrive at the box office, it won’t just be confirmation of Disney’s prominence – it’ll also once again highlight that its director, Jon Favreau, is one of the most powerful filmmakers in Hollywood today.

Before 'The Lion King', Favreau had three other smash-hits this summer

Favreau has been having a rather impressive summer. The Lion King will mark the fourth project to be released in two-and-a-half months that he has been heavily involved in. Not only was he an executive producer on Avengers: ­Endgame, but his Marvel character, Happy Hogan, had a prominent role in Spider-Man: Far From Home. He also created, directs, produces and presents The Chef Show series – a spin-off of his 2014 comedy film Chef – which debuted on Netflix at the start of June.

Yet it still doesn’t quite feel right that Favreau has blossomed into such an integral cinematic figure. That’s not to denigrate his talent, as the fact he wrote and starred in Swingers and has directed the likes of Elf, Iron Man, The Jungle Book, Chef and The Lion King, as well as having a key creative role in the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, proves he has the foresight, vision, discipline and dexterity to oversee films and franchises for a huge mainstream audience.

Bob Iger, left, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, poses with Beyonce and 'The Lion King' director Jon Favreau at the premiere of the film at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. AP
Bob Iger, left, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, poses with Beyonce and 'The Lion King' director Jon Favreau at the premiere of the film at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. AP

He didn't get the credit for 'Elf' and 'Iron Man' he rightly deserved

But when it comes to his films being praised, Favreau’s input and work is often overlooked. Elf is primarily remembered as the first comedy to show Will Ferrell could be a leading man, while more than a decade after its release in 2008, Iron Man is noted for the perfect casting of ­Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, and for how Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige laid the foundations from which the MCU has grown.

This is particularly harsh on Favreau, as his use of humour was so important in establishing the tone of the MCU that it secured his executive producing credits on all four Avengers films and Iron Man 3.

(l to r) Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in Columbia Pictures' SPIDER-MAN™: HOMECOMING. (Chuck Zlotnick / CTMG)
From left: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr and Tom Holland in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'. Chuck Zlotnick / CTMG

It is no coincidence, though, that Favreau lobbied hard and made sure he was the director to oversee both Elf and Iron Man. He was ahead of the curve in recognising the everyman appeal of Ferrell and that the superhero genre could tell the long-form story arcs from comic books over several films and years.

Favreau also saw that Tim Burton’s 2010 reimagining of Alice In Wonderland flourished because it appealed to nostalgic adults as well as children, and that Disney could replicate this success by rebooting its other animated classics. That’s why he signed up to direct The Jungle Book in November 2013, seven and 18 months before Maleficent and Cinderella, respectively, confirmed the studio had struck gold again.

His brilliant casting choices

Yet again, though, The Jungle Book and The Lion King, which Favreau presumably directed because it was just a home-run waiting to be hit, have been celebrated for their astounding visual effects and acting ensembles rather than any creative flourishes Favreau has showcased.

Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Courtesy Marvel
Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Courtesy Marvel

In an era where the producer reigns supreme, as they are the supervisors of several films in various stages of production that all ultimately have to look and feel the same when they come together to form a cinematic universe, Favreau has prospered because he is the anti-auteur. Rather than looking to stamp down his distinctive vision and style, he has surrounded himself with either the most talented or appropriate cast and crew and then given them the platform to show off their skills and talent.

Ferrell in Elf, Downey Jr in Iron Man, Bill Murray as Baloo in The Jungle Book and basically everyone in The Lion King shows that Favreau has perfected finding the right actor with a dash of stunt casting. With his two Disney remakes, he was a safe pair of hands who was able to rehash and then slightly add to the original stories and their famed soundtracks, and in the case of The Lion King, incorporate the groundbreaking technology that has turned the beloved animated characters into uncannily real versions of the animals.

Samuel L Jackson and Jon Favreau in a scene from 'Spider-Man: Far From Home.' AP.
Samuel L Jackson and Jon Favreau in a scene from 'Spider-Man: Far From Home.' AP.

And he does all of this while never forgetting the huge audience he is looking to attract and entertain. ­Favreau’s biggest missteps have actually occurred when he has directed movies that were too obvious. His directorial debut, Made, which re-teamed him with Vince Vaughn, was dismissed as a rehash of Swingers. Meanwhile Zathura: A Space Adventure was too blatant with its attempts to blend Amblin-era Steven Spielberg with Jumanji, Iron Man 2 was too similar to its predecessor, and the high concept idea for Cowboys & Aliens just wasn’t substantial enough for its gargantuan budget.

And need we forget 'The Chef Show'?

Those looking for evidence of the skills Favreau has utilised to become a Hollywood stalwart need look no further than his efforts in front of the camera on The Chef Show. In every episode Favreau is always listening, learning and then quickly adapting, while he is well aware of his role, taking a step back to allow culinary geniuses such as Roy Choi, Aaron Franklin and David Chang to provide their expertise, before returning to make sure it is digestible for the viewer.

Behind the camera, Favreau’s future has never been more secure, as he has well and truly settled down at Disney. Not only has he created, written, produced and directed Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian for the coming streaming service Disney+ , but there are also rumours he’ll return for The Jungle Book 2.

But by continuing to work on franchises that are so humungous, Favreau is once again unlikely to receive the recognition or acclaim he has quietly deserved for a long time now.

Updated: July 15, 2019 03:25 PM

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