Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Donald Glover as Simba:
A lion who is the crown prince of the Pride Lands. Glover said that the film will focus more on Simba’s time growing up than the original film did, stating that “[Favreau] was very keen in making sure we saw [Simba’s] transition from boy to man and how hard that can be when there’s been a deep trauma”.
JD McCrary as young Simba.
Seth Rogen as Pumbaa:
A slow-witted warthog who befriends and adopts a young Simba after he runs away from home. Rogen said, “[a]s an actor, I […] don’t think I’m right for every role—there are a lot of roles I don’t think I’m right for even in movies I’m making—but Pumbaa was one I knew I could do well”. Favreau encouraged Rogen and Timon’s Billy Eichner, who did their voice recordings together, to improvise a lot. Rogen’s casting would also mark the first time that Pumbaa isn’t played by Ernie Sabella, who reprised the role for every Disney project the character was involved in.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar:
The treacherous brother of Mufasa, the brother-in-law of Sarabi and the uncle of Simba who seeks to take the mantle of king of the Pride Lands. Ejiofor described Scar as more “psychologically possessed” and “brutalized” than in the original film. Ejiofor said that “especially with Scar, whether it’s a vocal quality that allows for a certain confidence or a certain aggression, to always know that at the end of it you’re playing somebody who has the capacity to turn everything on its head in a split second with outrageous acts of violence—that can completely change the temperature of a scene”. Ejiofor also said that “[Scar and Mufasa’s] relationship is completely destroyed and brutalized by Scar’s way of thinking. He’s possessed with this disease of his own ego and his own want”. Favreau said of casting Ejiofor, “[He] is just a fantastic actor, who brings us a bit of the mid-Atlantic cadence and a new take on the character. He brings that feeling of a Shakespearean villain to bear because of his background as an actor. It’s wonderful when you have somebody as experienced and seasoned as Chiwetel; he just breathes such wonderful life into this character.” When Jeremy Irons was interviewed on Larry King Now on November 30, 2016, he expressed interest in reprising the role.
Alfre Woodard as Sarabi:
The Queen of the Pride Lands, Mufasa’s wife, and Simba’s mother.
Billy Eichner as Timon:
A wise-cracking meerkat who befriends and adopts a young Simba after he runs away from home. Eichner described Timon as “physically the smallest character, but he has one of the bigger personalities, and I love the combination of those two things. I kind of played into Timon, as I’ve done with many characters of mine, [the notion that] he might be small in stature but he has a huge sense of entitlement, which is always funny to play,” and that “when Timon speaks and when he’s quote-unquote ‘being funny’, he’s very loud and boisterous, but [his] singing allows this vulnerable side, a slightly softer side, especially in ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and other moments.” Eichner also talked about having “what some may consider a gay sensibility” that he brought to the table when he voiced Timon.
John Kani as Rafiki:
A wise mandrill who serves as the shaman of the Pride Lands, and a close friend of Mufasa’s. Likening his role to that of a grandfather, Kani said, “Rafiki reminds all of us of that special wise relative. His wisdom, humor and his loyalty to the Mufasa dynasty is what warms our hearts towards him. [He’s] always happy and wisecracking jokes as lessons of life and survival.”
John Oliver as Zazu:
A hornbill who is the majordomo to the King of the Pride Lands. Speaking of his role, Oliver said, “I think Zazu is basically a bird who likes structure. He just wants things to be as they should be. I think there are British echoes there because we tend to favor structure in lieu of having an emotional reaction to anything.”
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala:
Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest. According to Favreau, the character has a bigger role than in the original film. Favreau felt that “part of [Beyoncé joining the film] is that she’s got young kids, part of it is that it’s a story that feels good for this phase of her life and her career, and she really likes the original very much. And then, of course, there are these wonderful musical numbers that she can be involved with, and my God… she really lives up to her reputation as far as the beauty of her voice and talent”.
Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Nala. Joseph reprises her role from the Broadway production. Joseph chose to work on the film because “Nala inspires little girls […] She’s a great role model”.
James Earl Jones as Mufasa:
The King of the Pride Lands, Sarabi’s husband and the father of Simba. Jones reprises his role from the original 1994 animated film. According to Favreau, Jones’ lines remain mostly the same from the original film. Ejiofor said that “the comfort of [Jones reprising his role] is going to be very rewarding in taking [the audience] on this journey again. It’s a once-in-a-generation vocal quality”. Favreau saw Jones’ return as “carrying the legacy across” the original film and the remake, and felt that his voice’s change in tonality compared to the original film “served the role well because he sounds like a king who’s ruled for a long time”.
Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre voice Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi: Three hyenas who are Scar’s henchmen. While Shenzi is a character that was featured in the original 1994 animated film, Kamari and Azizi are the respective names of new characters loosely based on Banzai and Ed from the original film. The hyenas’ characterizations were heavily altered from the original film’s, as Favreau felt that they “had to change a lot” to fit the remake’s realistic style, stating that “[a] lot of the stuff around them [in the original film] was very stylised”. Kasumba elaborated, declaring that “[t]hose hyenas were funny. These hyenas are dangerous.” Kasumba also voices Shenzi in the German dub of the film.
Additionally, Penny Johnson Jerald voices Sarafina, Nala’s mother. Amy Sedaris, Chance the Rapper, Josh McCrary, and Phil LaMarr voice a guineafowl, a bushbaby, an elephant shrew, and a topi (miscredited as an impala), respectively, Timon and Pumbaa’s neighbors in the oasis. J. Lee voices a hyena that chases after Timon and Pumbaa.
In the Pride Lands of Africa, a pride of lions rule over the animal kingdom from Pride Rock. King Mufasa’s and Queen Sarabi’s newborn son, Simba, is presented to the gathering animals by Rafiki the mandrill, the kingdom’s shaman and advisor.
Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands and explains to him the responsibilities of kingship and the “circle of life”, which connects all living things. Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar, covets the throne and plots to eliminate Mufasa and Simba, so he may become king. He tricks Simba and his best friend Nala (to whom it is expected Simba will marry) into exploring a forbidden elephants’ graveyard, where they are attacked by hyenas led by the ruthless Shenzi. Mufasa is alerted about the incident by his majordomo, the hornbill Zazu, and rescues the cubs. Though upset with Simba, Mufasa forgives him and explains that the great kings of the past watch over them from the night sky, from which he will one day watch over Simba. Meanwhile, Scar visits the hyenas and manages to convince them to help him overthrow Mufasa in exchange for hunting rights in the Pride Lands.
Scar sets a trap for his brother and nephew, luring Simba into a gorge and having the hyenas drive a large herd of wildebeest into a stampede that will trample him. He informs Mufasa of Simba’s peril, knowing that the king will rush to save his son. Mufasa saves Simba but ends up hanging perilously from the gorge’s edge. Scar refuses to help Mufasa, instead sending him falling to his death. He then convinces Simba that the tragedy was Simba’s own fault and advises him to leave the kingdom and never return. He orders the hyenas to kill the cub, but Simba escapes. Scar tells the pride that both Mufasa and Simba were killed in the stampede and steps forward as the new king, allowing Shenzi’s clan to live in the Pride Lands.
Simba collapses in a desert and is rescued by Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, who are fellow outcasts. Simba grows up in the oasis with his two new friends and other animals in their oasis, living a carefree life under the motto “hakuna matata” (“no worries” in Swahili).
Now a young adult, Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala. She and Simba reunite and fall in love, and she urges him to return home, telling him that the Pride Lands have become a drought-stricken wasteland under Scar’s reign. Feeling guilty over his father’s death, Simba refuses and storms off. He then encounters Rafiki, who tells him that Mufasa’s spirit lives on in Simba. Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the night sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as king. Realizing that he can no longer run from his past, Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands.
Aided by his friends, Simba sneaks past the hyenas at Pride Rock and confronts Scar, who was about to fight Sarabi. Scar taunts Simba over his role in Mufasa’s death and backs him to the edge of the rock, where he reveals to him that he murdered Mufasa. Enraged, Simba attempts to reveal the truth to the rest of the pride, while Scar, who previously claimed that he arrived too late at the gorge, attempts to deny it, but his knowledge of Mufasa’s last moment exposes his role in Mufasa’s death. Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, Zazu, and the lionesses fend off the hyenas while Scar, attempting to escape, is cornered by Simba at a ledge near the top of Pride Rock. Scar begs for mercy and attempts to blame his crimes on the hyenas; Simba spares his life but orders him to leave the Pride Lands forever. Scar refuses and attacks his nephew, but Simba manages to throw him off the cliff after a brief fight. Scar survives the fall but is attacked and mauled to death by the hyenas, who overheard his attempt to betray them. Afterward, Simba takes over the kingship and makes Nala his queen.
With the Pride Lands restored to its usual state, Rafiki presents Simba and Nala’s newborn cub to the assembled animals, continuing the circle of life.