Hakuna Matata, indeed.
Disney debuted all-new footage of the highly anticipated remake at CinemaCon, the annual exhibition trade show in Las Vegas. The roughly five minute clip followed a young Simba (JD McCrary) and his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, returning in all his baritoned glory) as they survey their kingdom in the Pride Lands.
“Look, Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom,” Mufasa intones, instructing the princeling that “a king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.”
These are lines made famous by the 1994 animated classic. The 2019 edition is a remake of sorts, but one that puts a photorealistic polish on the familiar story. And oh, what wondrous effects are being deployed in that effort. Director Jon Favreau has created a stunningly realistic African savannah, a sun-baked landscape that teems with herds of antelopes and elephants. A spider web is all dew-caked gossamer, the long grasses sway in the wind, and the lions’ fur is a thing of beauty, matted and moving along with the breeze. The footage, despite its familiarity, received strong applause from the crowd of theater owners, who weren’t just blown away by the technical accomplishment — they no doubt recognize a box office smash when they see one.
The studio enlisted a star-studded cast to bring Simba’s coming of age story back to the big screen. The A-listers lending their voices include Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, John Oliver as Zazu, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumba. Jones is reprising his role as Mufasa from the 1994 classic.
Jon Favreau, who previously oversaw a 2016 remake of “The Jungle Book,” is directing “The Lion King, which is one of three re-imaginings from the Magic Kingdom releasing this year. Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” hit theaters last weekend, and Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” arrives on May 24. Disney also teased a sequence from “Aladdin,” featuring Will Smith putting a hip-hop spin on “Friend Like Me,” the antic Robin Williams song that became synonymous with the late comedian. The elaborate number featured Smith’s genie fighting off sword-carrying thieves and turning his hand into a marionette, before instructing audiences that they could “clap now” while miming a mic drop.
“The Lion King” bows July 19, a little over 25 years after the original made its silver screen debut. “Aladdin” hits theaters on Memorial Day weekend. The studio showcased footage as part of its presentation to exhibitors teasing its upcoming slate. Disney also has “Avengers: Endgame,” “Frozen 2,” and the latest “Star Wars” movie on deck for this year, but it only showed a short sequence from the Avengers sequel.