To paraphrase Simba: I just can’t wait…for 2019.
That’s when Disney will release its much-anticipated remake of The Lion King, and the star-studded cast Disney announced on Wednesday only added to the buzz.
Disney confirmed what’s long been speculated; that Beyoncé will voice Nala, the childhood friend-turned-love interest of Simba. The lead lion himself will be voiced by Donald Glover.
James Earl Jones is reprising his role of Mufasa, the character he voiced in the 1994 animated version of the film. The cast is rounded out by Chiwetel Ejiofor as villain Scar, John Oliver as uptight hornbill Zazu, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan voicing the comedic duo of Timon and Pumbaa.
Beyoncé’s role as Nala will be the pop star’s first voice work in a film since the 2013 animated flick Epic, a movie about a teenager transported to a dense forest that’s enduring a battle between good and evil.
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Disney’s original Lion King, released more than two decades ago, remains one of the highest-grossing animated films ever, earning $968.5 million at the box office worldwide. The musical adaptation, which debuted on Broadway in 1997, has generated at least $6.2 billion in ticket sales and has been performed in 19 countries around the globe.
In recent years, Disney has turned to remaking its beloved animated classics as a key growth strategy, raising the stakes for casting such revivals.
Its remake of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson as Belle was a booming success, breaking records with a $170 million debut earlier this year and garnering $1.3 billion worldwide. But for another remake—the live-action version of Aladdin—casting was problematic. Disney endured intense criticism in July for selecting Naomi Scott, a non-Arab actress to play Jasmine. To be clear, Aladdin—the story of a rough-and-tumble kid from the streets who enlists a genie to win the love of Princess Jasmine—is set in fictional Agrabah, but it’s largely seen as representing a Middle Eastern city and critics blasted the casting decision as an indication that Disney sees non-white people as interchangeable.
Like Aladdin, the upcoming Lion King remake is also “live action” but not in the typical sense. Beyoncé—for instance—won’t appear physically in the film, but she will be heard. Jon Favreau, director of the film, has said the movie will rely on innovative filmmaking techniques with the African savanna and its colorful characters coming to life via photo-realistic animation.