Hundreds of millions of people have seen and fallen in love with "The Lion King" since its debut 25 years ago, but perhaps no one is more excited to bring the story full circle than the cast of the newest version of the iconic film.
The stars and creative minds behind the highly anticipated photorealistic version of "The Lion King" shared their fondest memories from the Disney classic and the musical moments they're most excited to see play out in front of a new generation of fans.
Donald Glover, who voices Simba, said he vividly remembered the first time he encountered the original "Lion King" back when he was in fourth grade. He called it a "pivotal moment" when he saw the trailer for the 1994 film.
"I remember that super well because I don't think anybody's done a trailer like that, since really, where it's like no words," he said. "It's just music and stuff, and then it says, '"Lion King" coming soon.' You're like, 'Who's "Lion King?" I want to meet him.'"
Even now, the Grammy-winning singer said, "I remember how influential it was on me."
"I remember watching on the home videos, the behind the scenes — the kid singers and stuff. I started writing my own songs. I remember being like, 'You can be that young and do that,'" Glover said of the film's musical impact.
Memories of the music also came to the forefront for Seth Rogen, who voices the goofy warthog Pumbaa. He specifically spoke of the song "Hakuna Matata," which he sings in the new film alongside Glover and Billy Eichner, who voices the wise-crackiong meerkat Timon.
"I still like 'Hakuna Matata.' When I put my phone on shuffle these songs still come up," Rogen said.
Rogen went on to say that singing the new "Hakuna Matata" was special because the cast recorded it together rather than separately as is done in most animated movies.
"I've done a lot of these animated movies. You are never with the people that you are interacting with," he said. "The fact that a lot of what we did together is very rare. It made it more fun and I think when I watched it, it really feels natural. It really seems like three people interacting in a very casual way that I think would be really hard to capture [separately]."
Eichner added, "There's a really natural off the cuff rhythm that you notice when you're watching the movie and it feels very real, because it was."
For his part, Eichner was excited to relive another iconic track: "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," with Beyoncé and Glover.
"When I heard 'Can You Feel Love Tonight,' I wasn't expecting it. I literally teared up," he said. "The song is obviously beautiful. It was a hit song, but Beyoncé and Donald's take on it feels very different from the original. It feels very current and it feels very real."
"It's well acted in addition to being well sung," he continued. "Beyoncé has just a particular tone to her voice, and you just recognize it and it just takes it to a new level."
Glover reminisced about performing the romantic song with Beyoncé, saying that he listened to her verses and made his own adjustments.
"I was like, 'I have to bend to her.' I have to make sure because the way she did it is just incredible," he said, adding that it was less about stepping up his own vocals and "more just like, 'Let me clean these diamonds.'"
In addition to being careful with the musical technicalities of the original songs, the cast also spoke about how struck they were by the lyrical themes evoked through the songs as they returned to them at a later stage in life.
"I think the 'Circle of Life,' as a child, you hear that and you know...it's a good song and you understand it. Being like, 'Oh yeah, it's very cool,'" Glover said. "But I think, as a father, I was holding my son the other day and walked past a mirror and I had my glasses on, and I was like, 'I look just like my dad.' It was a moment of, 'Oh this just keeps going.' I think now, with this movie, you see the continual nature of life."
Elton John, who composed many of the original songs on the soundtrack 25 years ago — including "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” — said he "was so lucky" to work on the original project.
"I got a phone call from Tim Rice that said 'Disney asked me who would I like to write with,'" John recalled.
John said that Rice told him Disney didn't think Rice would be able to enlist John for the soundtrack. "I said to Tim, 'Are you joking? I'll do this,'" John said.
"I feel that a lot of what makes all of us relate to the story so well is that it is a coming of age story,"said Keegan-Michael Key, who voices one of the hyenas, Kamari. "We all have a decision to make when we reach a certain age in our lives. It's saying that 'If I have gifts or talents, my job is to share them. Am I going to share them?'"
Florence Kasumba, who voices the alpha hyena Shenzi, said she enjoyed the physicality they explored in recording voiceover tracks that emulated animalistic movements.
“We had so much freedom and a lot of things happened especially when we started moving around each other, we were allowed to scream and threaten people,” she said. “That was fun.”
Key said that for him, it was all about perfecting that classic cackle.
“You're just going, ‘Ha-ha-ha,’ you'd realize, no hyena in the history of the world has ever sounded like that, so then you're like, ‘OK, I'm sorry, I should have done more work,’” he said of researching videos of the animals in the wild. “So you go to YouTube, you'd look at the video.”
Director Jon Favreau said that as an adult "you relate to different characters" from the movie.
"As you live life, you're starting to think you're, like, relating more to Mufasa, whereas when you're little, you like them singing, '[Just] can't wait to be king' and it's a romp," he said. "It's fun. It's the humor."
James Earl Jones returns as the voice of Mufasa. Favreau said he "didn’t know what to say" when the film legend asked him for notes as he was preparing to read lines for the stoic lion patriarch.
“I was like, ‘No. Just say it. Because even just you talking to me about it sounds like Mufasa,’” the director recalled.
Favreau said he took lengthy notes during the initial scripting.
“With a movie like 'Lion King,' it’s pages. And so we had to hit those moments that people knew so well — and looking at it where we could, it’s tough to, say, improve upon it, but expand upon it, and dimensionalize it and take it a step further, update it and find a way to not just make the same movie again,” he explained. “Because if you’re going to see that, you may as well just go look at the old one.”
Favreau's take on the beloved film as a whole is expected to give it a new look and take it to the next technical level.
"I was humbled a lot and I was taken aback a lot through it," he said. "But I said, 'I think I could do something special with this that really honors the original. That adds to the legacy.'"
Tom Schumacher, an executive producer for both the original 1994 film and the 2019 one, said the new film will evoke many of the same emotions in a "moving" way.
"It's lost none of its soul from the original one," he said. "What Jon has done with this is really glorious and I think people will find the experience deeply moving emotionally."
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