The Lion King is one of Disney’s most celebrated feature length animated musicals. Originally released in 1994, it was turned into a Broadway hit in 1997 and still runs in theaters to this day. It was re-released to the IMAX big screens in 2002, and then re-released to theaters in Disney Digital 3D in 2011.
The film is an epic musical that takes place in the Pride Lands of Africa and tells the story of Simba, a young lion cub, as he journeys into adulthood and learns to accept his royal destiny. The cub’s happy childhood turns tragic when he is tricked into thinking he killed his revered father Mufasa, King of the Pride. The cub is exiled by his devious uncle Scar and as Simba flees the pride he abandons his identity as the future King.
A great deal of thought was put into casting the right voice actors in the Lion King. They were selected based on how well they fit with the characters, for instance, James Earl Jones was cast because the directors found his voice "powerful" like a lion's roar. The characters and original actors of choice were shuffled around in order to get just the feel for the characters. Nathan Lane originally auditioned for Zazu and Ernie Sabella for one of the hyenas. At that time the two actors were starring in Guys and Dolls together and were instead asked to record Timon and Pumbaa, giving a hilarious performance. The original intention for casting the hyenas in the film was to reunite Cheech & Chong, but Tommy Chong was unavailable. His role was changed into a female hyena, Shenzi, who was voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.
With a perfect cast, stunning animation and a beautifully written story of hope, love, and family responsibility the Lion King is still one of most beloved animated movies to come from Disney.
Voice Over Cast of the Lion King:
- Matthew Broderick as Simba – Mufasa and Sarabi's son
- Jonathan Taylor Thomas voices young Simba
- James Earl Jones as Mufasa – King of the Pride, Simba's father
- Madge Sinclair as Sarabi – Mufasa's queen, Simba's mother
- Moira Kelly as Nala – Simba's best friend and later his wife
- Niketa Calame as young Nala
- Zoe Leader as Sarafina – Nala's mother
- Nathan Lane as Timon, the meerkat
- Ernie Sabella as Pumbaa, the warthog
- Robert Guillaume as Rafiki – a wise old mandrill who is referred to as a baboon
- Rowan Atkinson as Zazu – a hornbill who serves as the king's majordomo
- Jeremy Irons as Scar – Mufasa's younger brother and Simba's deceiving uncle
- Whoopi Goldberg as Shenzi, the hyena
- Cheech Marin as Banzai, the hyena
- Jim Cummings as Ed, the hyena
Disney released a little known direct-to-video sequel titled Lion King II: Simba’s Pride in 1998. Even though most of the original cast reprised their roles the film lacked the panache of the original and was a flop with critics. In one review, TV Guide said it “comes nowhere near the level of its big-screen predecessor.” Although not popular among critics, the film reportedly sold 3.5 million copies in just three days and has developed a large cult following with dedicated fans of the original film.
A third film titled Lion King: 1 ½ turned the franchise into a trilogy. It was released direct-to-video and had a short run in theaters. The film centers this time on the comedic pair Timon and Pumbaa with many of the actors from the original reprising their roles including; Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings. The Lion King: 1 ½ was well received by critics with this one measuring up to the original Lion King both musically and in its artistry.