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The Live Action Lion King Has Made A Lot Of Changes To Rafiki

Rafiki's original version side by side with remake version

The new trailer for the brand new version of The Lion King is here and it shows us a lot of the same. Most of the moments are ones that we already saw in the original version of the film. However, there are some differences in one character that are a bit interesting. Pretty much everything we see Rafiki do in the new trailer is slightly different from what he does in the original film. Most of these changes are only minor differences that likely don't mean much, but at least one could be a bit more significant.

The majority of The Lion King's new trailer is dedicated to the opening sequence of the film, or at least what was the opening the sequence in the original, which we assume, especially now, will be the opening of the new movie when it arrives next summer. "The Circle of Life" plays as we see that young Simba has been born and he is being presented to the Pridelands as the future king. The animals have all assembled for the ceremony and are surrounding Pride Rock waiting to see their next king for the first time. Check it all out in the trailer below.

It's the perfect way to tease the new movie. The opening of The Lion King is, quite simply, one of the best movie openings ever. While I personally hope that the new movie makes a few changes to the story in order to be at least slightly fresh, I don't have a problem with this sequence being the same. You can't improve on perfection.

However, my favorite character in all of The Lion King is the mandrill shaman Rafiki, and as such, I noticed that this version of the character does a few things differently than the original version. The biggest difference, or pair of differences actually, is that this Rafiki doesn't carry a walking stick. When we first Rafiki in the trailer, he's climbing up a hill. He's clearly not carrying anything in either hand.

This change is likely due to the fact that the way we see Rafiki move is more like that of an actual mandrill, rather than the more human-like movement of Rafiki in the hand-drawn original. In the case of most of the characters in The Lion King this change doesn't make a big difference, they were all quadruped animals to begin with, but in the case of the characters that we do see walking on two legs in the first Lion King, it doesn't appear that will be the case this time around. We might see Rafiki stand on two legs at points, but probably not walk around that way.

This idea is exemplified by another moment in the new trailer, the iconic moment where Rafiki holds up Simba for all to see.

Rafiki holding up Simba in the new Lion King

While it's difficult to see, it does seem clear that Rafiki isn't standing upright, holding Simba up with his arms extended in the way he did in the original movie. Rafiki appears to be sitting on his haunches. While this moment is certainly something we'd never actually see from animals in Africa, this position for Rafiki is probably as close to "real" as we'd get from a mandrill.

There is one other change between the original Lion King and this one. In the 1994 film, Rafiki marks Simba's brow with juice from sort of fruit. In the new movie, he uses roots which give off a red dust.

Rafiki holding roots

This change is most interesting because it seems the least necessary. It's a minor detail that most wouldn't even notice. I'm far from an expert on African botany, but I can't help but wonder if this change is also made in the name of realism. Perhaps the roots are more likely to be found in Africa than whatever fruit Rafiki was supposed to be using in the previous version of the movie.

While it's far too early to know what this new version of The Lion King really has in store for us, what we see from Rafiki and the few changes that are visible likely indicate that one place where the new movie will be different is in the dipiction of the animals. It fits when you consider that the same was true with Disney's previous remake of an animal-focused remake, The Jungle Book. In the original of that film, Baloo the bear spent a lot of time walking upright like a human being, however, his computer-animated counterpart in the remake moved much more like you would expect an actual bear to walk.

There's certainly some value in that change. While The Lion King is as much an animated movie this time around as it was the first time, the type of animation allows the animals to look almost real, as such, seeing them move in an unreal way might take the audience out of the movie. It would be a sort of uncanny valley where the animal's movements would make it clear they weren't real, and cause the audience to have some discomfort watching them.

At the same time, I look at this Rafiki and I can't help but feel like he doesn't actually look that old. The stylized hand-drawn animation allowed Rafiki's hair to look like a beard and the added walking stick made it clear he was an older character, so when you hear the voice of Robert Guillaume, it sounded right. Without those elements, this just looks like a mandrill, and he seems to move so well that he doesn't seem like he's all that old. However, since the character is voiced by 75-year-old John Kani (T'Chaka from Black Panther) he clearly will be.

Of course, we won't know for sure how it all works together until we start to see these animals talk. The trailer was very careful to not actually show any of the characters speaking so we won't know what Rafiki or any of the other characters sound like until probably the next trailer.

Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.