24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Lion King

With 'Lion King' No. 1, where is Jonathan Taylor Thomas?

September 27, 2011 |  4:42 pm

Jonathan Taylor Thomas' whereabouts are a mystery

A 3-D version of “The Lion King” -- the animated movie first released 17 years ago -- has now taken the top spot at the box office two weekends in a row. That unlikely feat has prompted many questions in Hollywood circles: How has the 1994 film had such enduring cultural appeal? Will studios now begin re-releasing a glut of older titles in 3-D? And -- obviously most important -- what in the name of Tool Time happened to Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the one-time teen pinup who gave mellifluous voice to young Simba in the film?

As a former teenybopper who, admittedly, plastered JTT’s visage all over my bedroom walls, that last question had been haunting me for some time. Ever since he left his role on the popular sitcom “Home Improvement” to pursue higher education in 1998, JTT hadn't been seen much in public. I remember my middle-school friends and I feeling bereft when he decided to put acting on hold to attend college. For years, we had persuaded our parents to purchase issues of BOP magazine for us at Walgreens so we could tear out the JTT posters inside.

We had dreamed about what it would be like to one day grow up and marry him, collecting treasures together along the beach (just like he did with Farrah Fawcett in "Man of the House," of course).

But while a few years out of the spotlight would have been tolerable, 13 JTT-less years had become, frankly, too much to bear. Where had this modern-day J.D. Salinger disappeared to?

So I was quite pleased when, earlier this month, a new photo of JTT surfaced. Entertainment Weekly had somehow managed to lure the 30-year-old out of his cave for a “Home Improvement” reunion photo shoot. They'd even conducted a brief Q&A with him!

Alas, the interview offered little insight into the actor's current life. He said he’s been “going to school, and traveling quite a bit, getting to read a lot of books.” Really? Even if he was boning up on the collected works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, it shouldn't take that long, not for someone like JTT.

Desperate for information, I reached out to "Lion King" studio Disney. Might JTT want to do an interview to help promote the re-release, I inquired? Sadly, I was rebuffed. JTT, I was told, was not doing any press for the animated classic.

Broken but unbowed, I decided to email JTT’s agent. (Yes, he still has one, and she actually  represents a handful of popular Young Hollywood stars.) Would her client be willing to do a quick interview with me? “Unfortunately, he is not interested in participating,” was the dispiriting response I soon received.

I called her up in the hope of getting more information. “He was in school at Harvard and Columbia and he took some time off,” she replied. “He’s getting back to work. I have no comment on what he’s doing now.”

Her response confused me. Sure, JTT hasn’t starred in a film that had been released theatrically since 1998’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” -– an underrated gem, by the way, in which a thwarted Christmas trip results in a journey of searing self-discovery. Could he be embarrassed that he hasn’t had a high-profile job in recent years? If so, that was nonsense. Nothing you do should ever bring you shame, JTT.

The next step was to ferociously search the IMDB listings of his former costars who might be in touch with him. Suddenly--like the bear that popped out of nowhere at JTT and his friends in the suspenseful denouement of "Wild America"--it appeared: the personal email address of Zachery Ty Bryan! Bryan played JTT's older brother on "Home Improvement" and was bound to know where his on-screen sibling had been hiding out.  I was almost embarrassed I didn't think of it sooner.

I sent Bryan (or ZTB) a message inquiring about JTT's current life. He responded immediately with a bio of his own production company, saying only of his one-time fake sibling: "The EW shoot went great! It was wonderful to see everyone in person!"

JTT, if only you gave me that much.

I was out of options, and needed to get back to an assignment interviewing a young star who was, you know, actually relevant. My job often requires that I talk to the tweens popular with today's younger generation -- Justin Bieber, Taylor Lautner, Zac Efron. I’m often perplexed by the obsession with them. After my Nancy Drew impersonation of the past six hours, however, it seemed just a little bit harder to pass judgment.


A 'Lion's' tale

'Moneyball' is a hit, but 'Lion' is box-office king

'Lion King': Is moviegoing changing before our eyes?

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Jonathan Taylor Thomas in 1998's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," the most recent feature-length film he's appeared in on the big screen. Credit: Alan Markfield

Box office: 'Lion King' No. 1 again, tops Pitt, Lautner [video]

September 26, 2011 |  2:32 pm

Brad Pitt's new film Moneyball was No 2 at the box office this weekend

Hollywood was surprised when a 3-D version of "The Lion King" took the top spot at the box office last weekend. But few distribution executives predicted the movie would be No. 1 again this weekend with $22.1 million, beating out four new and diverse movies that debuted in theaters.

The 17-year-old animated classic beat out "Moneyball," a critical darling that still got off to a decent start with around $20 million. The baseball drama starring Brad Pitt has earned the actor some of the best reviews of his career, and Sony -- the studio behind the film -- is confident that positive word of mouth will make it successful in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Taylor Lautner had his debut as an action star in "Abduction," which grossed only a so-so $11 million. What does this say about his future as a leading man on the big screen? Check out this week's box-office video report for thoughts on the teen hunk and Hollywood's most recent hits and flops.


'Moneyball' is a hit, but 'Lion' is box-office king

'Lion King': Is moviegoing changing before our eyes?

Box office: 'Lion King' rules, Sarah Jessica Parker flops [Video]

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Brad Pitt stars in "Moneyball." Credit: Sony

'Lion King:' Is moviegoing changing before our eyes?

September 26, 2011 |  9:02 am


It's tempting to see in the box-office win for "The Lion King 3-D" this weekend one more depressing sign about the lack of Hollywood originality, or our appetite for same.

After all, in topping the take for "Moneyball" with $22.1 million, the 17-year-old movie didn't just defeat a late-summer dump-off. It trumped -- in its second week of re-release -- a well-reviewed, heavily marketed crowd-pleaser with one of the world's most famous celebrities (albeit a film with lower 2-D ticket prices).

The "Lion King" numbers the last two weeks ($62 million and counting) are almost a message from the universe. You thought remakes were bad? Welcome to retreads.

But under all the pessimism might lie something else: a subtle realignment of the way we consume entertainment.

It's hardly a stretch to say that the culture of moviegoing has begun to splinter and drift to other distribution platforms in recent years. Theatrical windows for both the Internet  and DVD are shrinking and video on demand is growing, while the storytelling role of cinema is being eaten at by television networks. (And that's not even getting into original Web content, which is poised in the not-too-distant future to take its own bite out of the film world.)

But unless theater owners are prepared to call for the wrecking ball, filmgoing isn't going away. And so a new order is emerging, one in which a mix of franchises, remakes and, yes, even retreads, could dominate.

Cinema can't compete with what television does narratively, not with so many shows and the possibility of so many programming hours. And it can't match the convenience of the television set or the computer laptop. So it  distinguishes itself in another way -- by serving up a communal experience that no living room can offer. And that experience, almost inevitably, is best enjoyed by viewing something familiar.

Sequels, franchises and revivals offer the most compelling pitch. Take a flier with a bunch of strangers on something I've never heard of? Maybe. Share an experience with hundreds of like-minded fans? Now you’re talking.

And so series such as "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" top the box office, while 3-D conversions of musical favorites like "Lion King" outdraw original films.

Recognizing this, Hollywood will offer more. Soon we'll see the 3-D return of epics such as "Titanic" and "Star Wars," the revival of the popular '80s comedy  "Ghostbusters" (a movie that can now, thanks to digital projection, be brought back to theaters across the country a lot more easily), and even the screening of concerts and live events, as opera simulcasts or the upcoming one-day showing of the concert-heavy doc "Pearl Jam Twenty" demonstrate.

Theatergoing in the next decade may increasingly need to concentrate not the frisson of the new but the comfort of the familiar. The more individuated thrill of discovery — which can be experienced at home as easily as in a movie theater — could be de-emphasized in favor of the communal uplift that can really only happen in a large public space.

In this sense, "The Lion King" doesn't represent a Hollywood out of ideas -- it's a movie industry responding with the best tools it has.

This adjustment may not be to everyone's taste, and of course it won't always be the case. Hollywood will still produce wholly original movies that will be consumed by the masses at a movie theater. But the economics and the technology suggest that this experience, dominant for nearly a century, could begin to make way for something else. The Lion King may only be the beginning.


Can 'Ghostbusters' pull a 'Lion King'?

Pitt, Lautner beaten by 17-year-old 'Lion King'

3-D makeover coming to aging Hollywood blockbusters

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Lion King." Credit: Walt Disney Co.

Box office: 'Lion King' rules, Sarah Jessica Parker flops [Video]

September 19, 2011 |  5:24 pm

The Lion King was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
A 3-D version of "The Lion King" ruled the box office this weekend — 17 years after the original animated film was released in theaters. How did the Disney flick pull off a win against three new releases?

In our inaugural weekly box office video report, staff writer Amy Kaufman breaks down which movies did well and which tanked in theaters over the weekend. While "The Lion King" may have roared to the top of the charts, actress Sarah Jessica Parker didn't have as much to celebrate. Her latest film, the romantic comedy "I Don't Know How She Does It," sold a paltry $4.5 million worth of tickets.


Word of Mouth: Carrie Bradshaw as a working mom?

Box Office: 'Lion King' climbs to No. 1 again after 17 years

As "Lion King" goes 3-D, cast and filmmakers recall making

Photo: "The Lion King" Credit: Disney


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