Lion King – Animated vs Broadway vs Live Action

live action lion king with baby simba
It’s the Circle of life. (Sniff!)

The “live action” (actually CGI, folks) remake of The Lion King is hitting theaters.  This new version of the Disney 1994 classic features significant differences.  Now is a great time to return to Pride Rock — and revisit Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Mufasa, Zazu, and Rafiki — as we compare the animated, Broadway, and the live action versions of The Lion King.

The Animated Version of The Lion King

In the summer of 1994, Disney released The Lion King.  It was the fifth film in the Disney renaissance that started with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  It was also the first Disney animated film that featured an original story, and not an adaptation of an existing property.  Although it does have strong similarities to the play Hamlet….(link goes to our cool comparison post).

Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the award-winning songs for the soundtrack. Remember Hakuna Matata, and Can You Feel the Love Tonight?   Hans Zimmer himself composed the score.

The movie was a true critical and box office success!

hakuna matata log scene from lion king with simba, timon, and pumbaa
Hakuna matata, forever!

Synopsis of The Lion King (Spoilers)

The film starts with a young lion cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), heir to his father Mufasa’s throne.

All three versions of The Lion King open with the song “The Circle of Life” with the mandrill Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) presenting newborn Simba to the animal kingdom, who bow in reverence.

Simba’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) murders Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and blames Simba for it, sending him into exile and taking over the throne.  Simba forms a new family with free spirits Meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and Warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), who rescue him in the desert.  He embraces their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata” (No Worries).

Time passes.  Simba’s friend and love interest Nala (Moira Kelly) goes in search of him, and finds adult Simba (Matthew Broderick).  They fall in love (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”)  Nala tells him the Pride Lands are in ruin and everyone is starving under Scar’s reign.  She urges him to return home.

Simba refuses and storms off, unable to tell Nala he “killed” Mufasa.  Simba runs into Rafiki, who tells him his father’s spirit lives on in him.  Simba is visited by Mufasa’s spirit, who tells him he must take his rightful place as king (the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther has this concept too, and is also from Disney Studios…hmmmm).

Unable to run anymore, Simba returns home.  Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyenas so Simba can get to Scar.  When Scar thinks he has Simba cornered, he confesses to murdering Mufasa.  Simba pins him to the ground and forces him to confess this out loud to everyone.  Like all Disney villains, Scar ends up getting what he deserves.  Simba takes his rightful place as king with Nala as his queen.  The last scene is of Rafiki presenting their own newborn cub.

The lion king broadway poster
See The Lion King on Broadway, or at Disneyworld, if you ever get the chance!

The Broadway Version of The Lion King

In 1997, Disney brought the Lion King to Broadway.  Beauty and the Beast was still going strong as a musical, so why not adapt one of their other biggest hits for the stage?  Indeed.

From the very start, Lion King was getting rave reviews and selling out. It won six Tonys, including Best Musical.  It is Broadway’s third-longest running show, and the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time.  It made over a billion dollars.  Julie Taymor became the first woman to win Best Director of a Musical.

One of the most significant differences between the Broadway version of — and the other versions of — The Lion King is the appearance of the animals.

Animation is not an option for a live theatrical Broadway performance.  Instead, Julie Taymor designed elaborate costumes — most of them based on puppetry — that create not only the illusion of the animals, but the grace of their movements.

Having seen the show at least five times, I can tell you the effect is breathtaking.  It is the kind of creative risk one wishes Disney would take more of.

rafiki in the lion king broadway musical
Rafiki in the Lion King Broadway musical

Another significant difference is that Rafiki was changed to female, and the role is now traditionally played by a woman on stage.  According to the Wikipedia, Taymor believed there was no leading female character in the film.  Rafiki becomes a sort of Greek chorus in the musical.  She actually leads the song, “The Circle of Life” at the top of the show.

New Lion King Songs in the Broadway Musical

Musicals are generally longer than the average Disney cartoon.  So material had to be added to flesh out the show.  Significant new songs included Zazu’s pun-filled “Morning Report,” Mufasa’s powerful explanation of ancestors “They Live in You,”  Rafiki’s reprise to Simba about Mufasa “He Lives in You,” and Simba’s lament “Endless Night.”

Other new songs written for the musical include:  “Grasslands Chant,” “The Lioness Hunt,” “Chow Down,” “Rafiki Mourns,” “One by One,” “The Madness of King Scar,” “Shadowland,” and “Simba Confronts Scar.”

The book was written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, along with additional music and lyrics by Lebo MMark MancinaJay RifkinJulie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer.

Rafiki’s chants in “Rafiki Mourns” were written by Tsidii Le Loka, who originated the role on Broadway.  Of course, favorites from the animated movie such as “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” remain intact.

The Lion King musical also includes new scenes:

There is a conversation between Zazu and Mufasa about his parenting.  Timon nearly drowns in a waterfall while Simba watches, paralyzed.  This is an event that helps remind him of who he is and the power he has.  Nala departs from Scar when he tries to make her his queen in “The Madness of King Scar.”  She announces her intention to leave home and find help.  During new song “Shadowland”, the other lionesses and Rafiki bless her.

Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical
Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical

Of course, there were new actors playing the roles when the show debuted on Broadway.  The one I felt was especially cool was Max Casella, originating the role of Timon on-stage.  Those of you from my generation may remember him as Vinnie, Neil Patrick Harris’s best friend on Doogie Howser, M.D.

The Live Action Version of The Lion King

It is now 2019 and Disney has gone a little remake crazy. (Done or coming next: The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Mulan, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid.)  Then again, after seeing the promos that show the photo-realistic Circle of Life sequence, a live action Lion King kind of feels irresistible.

I should start off by saying “live action” is a misnomer.  Even though we’re all using this expression, the animals are actually computer generated animation.

A few things the new Lion King has in common with the original:  James Earl Jones is again the voice of Mufasa (as well he should be).  And Rafiki is male again.

Like the Broadway version, the new movie includes The Tokens’ classic pop song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  The Broadway song, “He Lives In You” is also represented.  “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are, of course, highlights of the film.

The movie also boasts a few new songs.  Beyonce contributed a song called “Spirit” and Elton John wrote a new song called “Never Too Late” — which plays over the credits.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s new version of “Be Prepared” is reported to be toothless compared to the original Jeremy Irons version.  Which is ironic, because his version of Scar is angrier and scarier, according to reviews.  He even fought Mufasa for the crown and lost: a new addition to the villain’s back story.

The visuals in the new movie are beautiful.  This is constant across all versions of The Lion King.  The sets on Broadway are amazing.  The look of the original animated film is still dazzling.  (If they ever do another IMAX re-release or even just a theatrical re-release, I highly recommend it.)

According to critics, the new movie fails in two key areas:

One is that by making the film photo-realistic, the characters and the world are now bound by the constraints of reality.  For instance, you can’t have a massive animal pile-up at the climax of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” or an army of hyenas during “Be Prepared.”

The 1994 film wasn’t bound by such constraints.  The Broadway musical gets around this by using a combination of inventive costumes and set pieces, stage magic, and the participation of the audience.  When you’re watching a play, you fill in things with your own imagination.  You’re an active participant in the process.

When you watch a movie, you’re more passive.  You don’t get to co-create the experience with the filmmaker.

The second flaw with the new movie is the limited range of expression the animals have.  Again, this is a problem with setting the movie in a photo-realistic world.  In animation and theater, you can get away with going over the top.  In theater, you have to play to the back row.  However, to accurately portray how an animal looks, you can’t exaggerate its features.

And Timon and Pumbaa? 

The good news is that Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) steal the show here (as they do in pretty much every version).  Some critics claim they’re even more fun in this version than in the original.

*****

Don’t forget to bring the RunPee app to The Lion King

It’s a jungle out there.  Don’t go to the movies without the RunPee app or you  might miss the best parts.  We’ve got Peetimes for The Lion King, Toy Story 4, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, with new movies added every week.  To stay up to date on the latest movie news and reviews, follow us on Twitter @RunPee and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RunPee/.

Aladdin –  Animated vs Stage vs Live Action

The Lion King – Can Disney Remake a Masterpiece?

Surprise! The Lion King is a Hamlet Remake

Character voices for Lion King

Movie Review – The Lion King (2019)

Movie Review - The Lion KingIf you’re not a Lion King fan, then I think you’ll find the 2019  live action (CGI, really) version more enjoyable than the animated one, based on more humor and the outstanding cinematography.

For my part, I feel a little numb because I effectively watched the movie three times today working on the Peetimes. And, until two nights ago, I hadn’t seen the animated Lion King since it first came out in the 90s.

The CGI is outstanding. There wasn’t a single moment where I could tell that something wasn’t real. Of course, the animal talking is unavoidably clumsy because animals don’t have the anatomy to actually talk. But I didn’t find it distracting.

The script has been revised slightly to make it more contemporary and add a little more humor. And the voice cast is top-shelf.

Speaking of humor: Seth Rogen, as the voice for Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as the voice for Timon, absolutely carried the movie. John Oliver as Zazu was a perfect choice; I just wish the writers had given him one five second rant to enjoy.

I’m bummed they didn’t bring back Whoopi Goldberg for Shenzi the hyena, but at least they had “the voice” as Mufasa: James Earl Jones.

Grade: B

About The Peetimes: I would recommend either of the first two Peetimes.

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of The Lion King. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (PG) for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Genres: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Remake

The Lion King – Rewatch Review of the Animated Classic

Character voices for Lion King

Lion King: Animated vs Broadway vs Live Action

The Lion King – Can Disney Remake a Masterpiece?

 

Actor Voices for Every Lion King Character (2019)

Here’s a photographic list of the main characters and the actors’ voices behind them in the 2019 CGI (AKA ‘Live Action’) remake of The Lion King.

Lion King: Simba (young)

Simba (young)

Lion King Simba young JD McCrary

JD McCrary

This talented young (12 y/o) actor already has an extensive TV filmography, even appearing as a young Michael Jackson in the TV series American Soul.
Lion King: Simba (grown)

Simba (grown)

Lion King Simba grown Donald Glover

Donald Glover

Donald Glover is a writer, actor, musician, comedian, producer and director. You should recognize him as the young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story, or for a small, but important, role he had in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Personally, my favorite role of his is as the brilliant astrophysicist in The Martian who came up with the legendary Rich Purnell Maneuver. (For the classic film fans, the adult Simba role was played/sung by Matthew Broderick.) 
Lion King: Nala

Nala

Lion King Nala Beyonce

Beyoncé

Singer and stuff. 🙂
Lion King: Mufasa

Mufasa

Lion King Mufasa voice James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones

No one’s voice exudes power and majesty the same as James Earl Jones’, which is why he’s the only voice actor holdover from the original Lion King. He is Mufasa, and also, in case you didn’t know, the voice of Darth Vader. Among other roles. JEJ just commands respect.
Lion King: Scar

Scar

Lion King Scar voice Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Ejiofor is the Oscar nominated best actor for 12 Years a Slave. For Marvel fans, he’s known as Mordo, Dr. Strange‘s closest sorcerer mentors. Watch this YouTube video here to learn more about him, and especially how to pronounce his name. 🙂

I’m a big Firefly fan, so my favorite role of his is as The Operative in Serenity.

Lion King: Timon

Timon

Lion King Timon Billy Eichner

Billy Eichner

Eichner has done heaps of TV and voice work for years. If you watch American Horror Story, you’ll recognize him as Harrison Wilton / Mutt Nutter / Brock.
Lion King: Pumbaa

Pumbaa

Lion King Pumbaa Seth Rogen

Seth Rogen

If he’s not the funniest, most talented writer/actor in Hollywood right now, I’d like to know who is. (You shut up, James Franco. We’ve been over this. I respect you and you’re super talented, but you’re not Rogen-talented.)
Lion King: Rafiki

Rafiki

Lion King Rafiki John Kani

John Kani

If John Kani looks familiar, it’s probably because you recognize this Tony award winning actor as Wakanda’s King T’Chaka from Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.
Lion King: Zazu

Zazu

Lion King Zazu voice John Oliver

John Oliver

John Oliver is best known for his hit HBO show Last Week Tonight, and previously on The Daily Show, but recently he’s been very active as a voice actor for movies such as Wonder Park, The Smurfs 1, 2, etc., Robot Chicken, Danger Mouse, and much more.
Lion King hyena Shenzi

Sarafina

Lion King hyena Shenzi Florence Kasumba

Florence Kasumba

Florence Kasumba, born in Uganda, lives in Berlin. She’s one of the very few actors to cross over from the MCU to DC. She is Ayo, personal guard of the King of Wakanda in Black Panther, and also played Senator Acantha in Wonder Woman.
Lion King hyena Kamari

Kamari

Lion King hyena Kamari Keegan-Michael Key

Keegan-Michael Key

His name is Keegan-Michael because he’s actually two people: how else could he get so much work done? He’s been in… Actually, it might be faster to list what he wasn’t in. He didn’t appear in Downton Abbey, or Game of Thrones, but was in pretty much everything else, such as: The Predator, Lets Be Cops, Tomorrowland, Keanu, the voice for Ducky in Toy Story 4, and the voice for Murray in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.
Lion King hyena Azizi

Azizi

Lion King hyena Azizi Eric André

Eric André

Eric is the host of his own TV show: The Eric Andre Show. He’s also appeared in a number of TV shows: in Disenchantment as Pendergrast, Man Seeking Woman as Mike, Lucas Bros Moving Co as Wes Borland / Satan / Red, 2 Broke Girls as Deke, and many others.

Movie Review – The Lion King (2019)

Lion King – Animated vs Broadway vs Live Action

The Lion King – Lyrics and Video to Hakuna Matata

The Lion Sleeps Tonight Lyrics & Video from The Lion King

Movie Rewatch Review – Patriot Games

classic patriot games with harrison ford
Another Sean Bean bites the dust

Patriot Games was always on my list of favorite films, up until some other good stuff came along (like the Harry Potter films, the Lord of the RingsThe Hunger Games, and even The Martian) to push it off my personal Top Ten List.

Still, it’s a very fine movie. Really! The soundtrack and Enya crescendos rocked. It was a fine emotional family journey. It just hasn’t aged as well as it did before the Information Age kicked in. The amazing things we see the CIA do are simply no longer that amazing.

[pullquote]It’s like, “Yeah, yeah, re-task the damn satellites;  I could probably do this from my cellphone.”[/pullquote] And the stand-out moment, where a cold analyst says, “That’s a kill,” well…it was a bone-chilling line at the time. But after a few long decades of CIA intel flicks, this doesn’t have the resonance it once had. We’ve become  immured to deaths we see from afar.

[pullquote position=”right”]Don’t take this as a political statement: we now only feel sad when the “good guys” die. Who’s to say who is good, and who isn’t?[/pullquote] For far-away people caught up in a crusade that means everything to them and nothing to us, they must die. Fox Mulder of The X-Files understood the US government wasn’t as benign as they wanted us to believe. I’m just glad they destroyed the desert cell they intended to, based on absolutely no evidence and Jack Ryan’s hunch. (A sunburned man and a girl in a tank top. Really? Do we that casually wound and mass-murder in the name of justice?) [/end rant]

It was also filmed in a world of graininess. The climactic night scenes were hard to decipher, even though from my years of rewatches I knew this film like I knew my face in a mirror. [pullquote position=”right”]Harrison Ford pulled a perfect performance, and was awesomely reunited with James Earl Jones — his first major role since the voice of Darth Vader — in a film where Sean Bean makes one of his early many, many, many (MANY) movie deaths. [/pullquote](What a thing to list on top of your resume. Sean, my Boromir, I love you anyway.)

All this to say that what was once an A+ film has dropped, through no fault of its own, to an A-. [pullquote]We’ve had so many better films over the ensuing decades. How could I say this is a better film than the last batch of Mission Impossible flicks?  Or Jason Bourne‘s journey?[/pullquote] Just because I have a super soft spot for Patriot Games doesn’t mean it’s still the best bag of chips in the vending machine.

Movie Grade: A- (I feel terrible giving this a lower grade on my rewatch. Thank goodness Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jaws, are still perfect films!)

NOTE: I need to rewatch the prequel Hunt for Red October, which I recall as an incredible film, even though Jack Ryan (and his wife) were played by other actors. I recall that the threequel was not up to snuff.  Thoughts?

Quiz – The Hunt for Red October

Hunter Killer is going gangbusters at the box office. Since everyone is excited about this movie, I should pay homage to the submarine genre by doing a quiz on The Hunt For Red October.

The Hunt for Red October

Hunter Killer is going gangbusters at the box office. Since everyone is excited about this movie, I should pay homage to the submarine genre by doing a quiz on The Hunt For Red October.

The Hunt For Red October is a timeless piece of cinema history. I’ve seen this movie a number of times, and one of the great pleasures of watching it is also listening to the soundtrack.
Hope you enjoyed the quiz!