Disney is moving through the “circle of life” with its remake slate this year and using new talent to tell their familiar stories. However, for The Lion King, director Jon Favreau enlisted the original Mufasa, James Earl Jones, to voice Simba’s father among a fresh cast including Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa.
While Jon Favreau recently promised that the remake won’t be a shot-for-shot of the original and will surprise audiences, when it came to Jones reprising his iconic voice role, fans should expect the Mufasa they know. In Favreau's words:
So many of his lines have not actually changed that much, because that’s the one role where it really didn’t feel dated at all. All of the speeches Mufasa makes during the film are timeless and apply to each age, whereas with the humor, the music, some of those other aspects, there were opportunities to update. But with him, that role stayed as close to the original as any.
Why would they? James Earl Jones’ Mufasa is perfection. It's a voice seared into many of our brains since childhood and holds up really well! There’s not much room for growth or change in a performance such as this. Just take a look and listen at this scene from the 1994 original and tell me what’s missing:
Chills! Jon Favreau made a good call casting James Earl Jones again for the role, but the director did admit in his Entertainment Weekly interview that he was surprised he agreed to take it on again 25 years later. Mufasa has the legacy of being one of the most recognizable and treasured cartoon character voices of all time and certainly brings in nostalgia from the ‘90s. The director felt this during their recording sessions too. Here’s what he said:
He would do a take and then he would ask me for direction and I honestly couldn’t give an answer! I was like, ‘You’re Mufasa.’ Far be it from me… Everything he said sounded perfect because it was him saying it.
How does one give notes to Mufasa? While fans can expect a lot of the same performance for Mufasa, perhaps there are a few extra lines here and there the “live-action” version builds upon before the character receives his fate from Scar.
On the other paw, it may feel off-putting to hear James Earl Jones’ Mufasa and not hear Jeremy Irons’ Scar, as this new version of the character will be voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Some have already voiced their distaste with the new take on the movie’s villain after the first full trailer dropped a couple weeks ago.
It looks like the new Lion King will tread the line between doing justice to the beats we all hold dear from the original and offering something fresh and new to the story that will hopefully make the movie’s existence feel earned. Jon Favreau is a huge fan of the classic animated feature who still feels like it holds up well, but wants to deliver on expectation on this version and astonish audiences when it comes to theaters on July 19.