In 2016, just months after The Jungle Book remake found success with a combination of live-action and CGI tools, the studio fast-tracked the Lion King concept for production, revealing plans for the Favreau-directed adaptation later that year. Jeff Nathanson, who also wrote Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, penned the script, with Brenda Chapman credited with the story and the characters credited to Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. Favreau is producing alongside Jeffrey Silver and Karen Gilchrist.
A star-studded voice cast — including Donald Glover, Beyonce, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, Alfre Woodard and John Oliver — was announced in November of last year, with the film slated to hit theaters on July 19, 2019.
Although Disney has yet to release any footage online, select clips from the film were exclusively screened at D23 last summer.
Attendees got a look at the opening sequence, in which Rafiki lifts Simba above Pride Rock as “Circle of Life” plays — just as audiences will remember from the original animated film.
Little has been said about the plot of the remake, which remains a musical and will include a reworked score by Hans Zimmer. With an opening sequence that replicates the original, it seems unlikely the filmmakers will stray far from the beloved story.
As anticipation builds in the year leading up to the film’s release, you can learn more about the film with The Hollywood Reporter‘s cheat sheet. Check back here for updates as more details are released.
THE LION KING CHEAT SHEET
Donald Glover: Plays Simba, the lion crown prince and protagonist of the film. The Atlanta creator and star has demonstrated his wide range of talents before, writing for television while also finding success as a hip-hop artist under the name Childish Gambino. With two Emmys and a Grammy under his belt, Glover will have no problem meeting the singing and acting demands of the film.
JD McCrary: Plays young Simba. Before joining the cast, the 10-year-old actor appeared on Disney Channel’s K.C. Undercover and Starz’s Blunt Talk. Earlier this year, McCrary joined Glover on stage at the 2018 Grammy Awards to perform “Terrified”.
Beyonce: Plays Nala, the fierce lioness and Simba’s childhood friend-turned-love interest. The Lion King marks the singer’s first feature film role since she voiced Queen Tara in Epic (2013). The 22-time Grammy winner received critical acclaim for her performance in 2006’s Dreamgirls, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Shahadi Wright-Joseph: Plays young Nala. Joseph performed as young Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King at just 9 years old, becoming the youngest actress to play the role.
James Earl Jones: Plays Mufasa, Simba’s father and king of the Pride Lands. Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the original animated film, reprises the role after more than 20 years.
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Plays Scar, the villainous lion who seeks to usurp the throne from his brother, Mufasa. In addition to voicing the role, the 12 Years a Slave star recently confirmed involvement in another Disney film, Maleficent II.
Billy Eichner: Plays Timon, the meerkat who introduces young Simba to a carefree life of “Hakuna Matata.” The actor and comedian hosts Billy on the Street, for which he was nominated for an Emmy.
Seth Rogen: Plays Pumbaa, the warthog who befriends young Simba. Rogen previously lent his voice to the R-rated animated film Sausage Party, which he also wrote and produced.
John Kani: Plays Rafiki, the baboon who offers guidance to Simba throughout his journey. The South African actor’s recent credits include Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War.
John Oliver: Plays Zazu, Mufasa’s feathered confidant. The Last Week Tonight host has won multiple Emmys and a Peabody award.
Alfre Woodard: Plays Sarabi, Simba’s mother. Throughout her expansive career, Woodard has won four Emmys and a Golden Globe, as well as received nominations for a Grammy and an Academy Award.
Eric Andre: Plays Azizi, one of Scar’s hyena henchmen. The comedian currently hosts The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim, which he created and writes.
Florence Kasumba: Plays Shenzi, another one of Scar’s hyena accomplices. The German-Ugandan actress previously played Ayo in 2017’s Black Panther.
Keegan-Michael Key: Plays Kamari, Scar’s third hyena henchman, reimagined for the live-action film. Key first received recognition as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele with Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele. His most recent projects include Netflix’s Friends from College and Meteor Shower, in which he made his Broadway debut.
“It is a director’s dream to assemble a talented team like this to bring this classic story to life,” Favreau said in a statement after the casting announcement in November.
— Disney (@Disney) November 1, 2017
The 1994 animated film follows Simba (Glover), a young lion and heir to the throne of the Pride Lands over which his family reigns. After his father, Mufasa (Jones), is killed by the power-hungry Scar (Ejiofor), Simba grows up away from his family before returning to avenge the death of his father.
Like The Jungle Book, Favreau’s Lion King is being created using “virtual production,” or a mix of CGI and live-action techniques.
But is Favreau’s adaptation a live-action film or an animated one? So far it doesn’t seem like there will be any human characters in the film, unlike Mowgli in The Jungle Book, but Lion King‘s VFX supervisor Rob Legato previously said of his work on the Favreau-directed Jungle Book, “I don’t consider this an animated movie,” he said. “I consider this just a movie, and this happened to be the best way to make it. We [made] it comfortable for Jon Favreau to come in and be able to direct as if it was a live-action film.”
Legato told THR of The Lion King, “We are going to use a lot of virtual reality tools so it feels akin to what you are looking at [if you were on a real set]. You can walk around the set like a cameraman. [Wearing VR headsets] the actors can now walk into a scene and see the other actors and trees … and because you are in 3D, you get a realistic sense [of the environment]. That’s what we are incorporating in the next version of this.”
The studio’s investment in motion-capture and blue-screen technology for many of its long-awaited anticipated live-action remakes — including Dumbo and Aladdin — may indicate a trend of filmmakers leaning into more advanced CGI techniques.
Favreau’s adaptation, like the original, will be set in Africa, but filming took place in Los Angeles using virtual-production techniques.
Disney announced plans for the remake in the fall of 2016, with the movie set to hit theaters on July 19, 2019.
The animated Lion King grossed $968.5 million worldwide at the global box office. Since that film’s release in 1994, numerous spinoff projects were developed, including a sequel, a children’s television series and a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.
Part of The Lion King‘s acclaim came from the standout soundtrack, with songs composed and written by Elton John and Tim Rice.
John revealed in February that just four of the songs on the original soundtrack made it into the live-action film: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Hakuna Matata,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Circle of Life.”
John and Rice will, however, return to The Lion King to compose a new a song for the film, collaborating with Beyonce. In an interview with THR in February, McCrary announced the name of another new song written for the film, “Inviting All of You”.
Disney’s pattern of remaking its animated hits as live-action movies has proven to be successful at the box office, with recent versions of Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty origin-story Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast each raking in hundreds of millions at the global box office. Even more adaptations are planned.
With The Jungle Book grossing nearly $1 billion at the global box office, The Lion King may be primed to make as much if not more as just one of the studio’s three planned remakes (along with Dumbo and Aladdin), set to be released in 2019.