Discovery’s “Serengeti” vs Disney’s “Lion King,” real vs CGI surreal

 Discovery’s epic nature film Serengeti shows many of the real life characters seen in Disney’s The Lion King. The difference between them are: the stars of Serengeti are fabulous and interesting REAL animals, and Lion King‘s Disney characters are computer-generated.

 On the heels of the release of Disney’s box-office blockbuster The Lion KingSerengeti stood out among the many great shows that paraded pass the congregation of TV writers at the Television Critics Association Summer 2019 press tour. Serengeti is a visually stunning and emotionally packed six-part series premiering August 4 on the Discovery Channel. It is such a special project, the first episode will air commercial free.

 It is narrated by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, who gives the story an intimate and tender feel with her graceful voice talking about the lions, elephants, baboons, hyenas, zebras, and other wildlife as if they are her personal family members. At a VIP screening, it was awesome to see the first episode on the big screen with a live orchestra accompaniment and performances by Lola Lennox and Joshua Ledet. The special event and Serengeti-themed reception on July 17 was at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills which has the best acoustics of any theater in town.

 Each episode of Serengeti immerses audiences in the lives of the animals who inhabit one of the most pristine and unspoiled parts of Africa, the plains of Tanzania. The series interweaves the stories of different animals like Kali the lioness, Zalika the Hyena, or Nala, an elephant, and her baby Tembo, as they live, love and experience loss throughout the year living in the Serengeti.

 Emmy winners Simon Fuller, producer-creator, and John Downer, producer-director, have created a work of art framed by natural history filmmaking. Their great wildlife storytelling has captured the highs and lows of the Serengeti with such intimacy, everyone is sure to fall in love with these animals as much as the characters in the Disney movie The Lion King.

 In fact, Serengeti features adorable, funny, and savage animals, just like The Lion King. Loaded with personality, there are lion cubs fighting for survival and their right to be part of the pride. There are nasty hyenas wreaking havoc with all the other animals. Elephants enjoy family bonds. And wildebeests, baboons, zebras, and cheetahs face danger every day. It’s all captured with breathtaking visuals, some of which are very reminiscent of scenes from the special effects blockbuster Lion King, that created its animal kingdom with computer-generated imagery.

 So this reporter had to ask if the premiere of Serengeti was timed to ride on the heels of The Lion King’s release, and if scenes were created to match ones in that film?

 Director-producer Downer reported that it was a remarkable coincidence. “We certainly weren’t planning on being (out) at the same time. It was such an ambitious project, and it took almost a year longer to complete than we originally planned. I haven’t seen The Lion King, because I’ve been a little busy. I did see the trailer, and I thought, ‘Wow, that looks like our shots,’” Downer revealed.

 “I think what’s very interesting is that The Lion King is going for photo-realism, and we’re going for realism. So there is a convergence there. But there is a big difference. Of course, The Lion King is just such a great film. I know I’m going to enjoy watching it, but we’re trying to do something different which is to actually say, ‘Look at these animals you think you know, and see what their stories really are.’ Everything we filmed is based on the real lives of these animals and their real behavior.”

 Downer emphasized, Serengeti is real, showing majestic animals and their day-to-day lives living together. “We like to think the animals were telling their stories. We didn’t force it. We took the narrative from them.” And it offers everything The Lion King has with its made-up story, with the exception of having a baboon holding up a lion club. Downer smiled, “Maybe season two we’ll get that shot.”

 Discovery’s David Zaslav, President and CEO, and Nancy Daniels, Chief Brand Officer, are very proud of the epic documentary series created by Simon Fuller (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance) and directed by wildlife filmmaker John Downer (Penguin: Spy in The Huddle).

(Photo credit: © Courtesy of Discovery Serengeti)

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.