'The Lion King': 'Simba actor Donald Glover reveals how remake differs from 1994 original

The Lion King
The global press conference for Disney's "The Lion King" held in Beverly Hills, California, on July 10, 2019. |

BEVERLY HILLS — Disney’s live-action reimagining of "The Lion King" is different from the 1994 original because it reflects the “global” nature of the modern world, Donald Glover, who stars as “Simba,” said. 

The cast and crew of Disney's “The Lion King” gathered in Los Angeles, California, Wednesday for a news conference to promote the film that will be released on July 19.

 In attendance were director Jon Favreau, along with stars Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, John Kani, Hans Zimmer, Lebo M, Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, and Billy Eichner. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who voices Nala, was not in attendance. 

Following a rousing rendition of “The Circle of Life” performed by Lebo M and Clydene Jackson, along with a choir, the cast and crew discussed the reimagining of the classic film during the hourlong conference.

When asked what drew him to the role of Simba, Glover said he wanted the Disney remake to be a “global and metropolitan” film.

"[Favreau] was really good about the circle of life having a major hand in it," the popular singer and actor said. "I really feel that it's good to make movies that are global and metropolitan in a sense of citizens of the world and making sure we talk about how connected we are right now. It's the first time we've really been able to talk to everybody at the same time. It was a necessary thing. He was really good about talking about that very upfront in the beginning." 

Donald Glover
Donald Glover at the Global Press Conference for Disney's "The Lion King." |

Glover, often known as his stage name, Childish Gambino, added that his son, Legend, loved the film — even though he was unaware of his father’s involvement in it. 

“My son saw it last night and was freaking out,” Glover said. “I didn't tell him anything, I really didn't. It's his favorite movie so I was like, 'I'll just wait until he gets there.' But somehow he found out about it, but still didn't know I was in it. He was just like, 'Oh, the one with Beyoncé.' And then during the movie, 'Oh, dad's in it too! This is great! A bonus.'"

Three years in the making, "The Lion King" uses the same photorealistic computer-animated techniques as Favreau’s previous film, 2016’s "The Jungle Book." A heroic tale of good versus evil, this hyper-realistic reimagining brings to life beloved characters of Simba, Nala, Rafiki, and the others.

"We started experimenting with [VR] at the end of [2016's] 'The Jungle Book,'" he said. "We essentially were writing code as if we were going for a multiplayer VR filmmaking game. We kept the same film culture and planted into this VR realm. It's nice to look at technology as an invitation for things to progress and not always something that is going to change the things that came before."

The Lion King
Donald Glover and Jon Favreau at the Global Press Conference for Disney's "The Lion King." |

Although “The Lion King” is almost a scene-for-scene remake of the 1994 original, the cast of the remake put their own spin on the classic characters.

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor brought his own touch to the film’s villain, Scar, who convinces Simba he was responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa, in order to become king.

“I felt that it was really interesting to go into that psychology, to really try and uncover that and to look at it. I’m a huge fan of what was done before, obviously, like everybody else, by Jeremy Irons,” the “12 Years a Slave” actor said. “[My approach was] just going back in and exploring that character again from a slightly different perspective and seeing what was there.”

Alfre Woodard ("Captain America: Civil War") also made the role of Simba’s mother Sarabi, her own: “It is called 'The Lion King,' but everyone knows that the lionesses are actually the rulers, the protectors, the nurturers, the hunters of the pride. And so Jon was able to give us the space to be that,” she said. 

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen at the Global Press Conference for Disney's "The Lion King." |

Simba’s meerkat and warthog friends Timon and Pumbaa are voiced by Eichner and Rogen, who sing the iconic “Hakuna Matata.” Yet, the two said their dynamic took “a lot of improvisation.”

“What was so nice was we were actually together every time that we recorded, which is a very rare gift to have as someone who’s trying to be funny in an animated film,” said Rogen. “I think you can really tell that we’re playing off of each other; it’s incredibly naturalistic-feeling.”

“I can’t imagine now, looking back, not being in the room together,” Eichner concurred. “Being able to riff off each other and really discover our chemistry together in the same moment, you can feel it when you’re watching the movie. I was shocked by how much of the riffing actually ended up in the movie.”

"The fact that it has a looseness applied to probably the most technologically incredible movie ever made is an amazing contrast," added Rogen. "It feels like people in a room just talking and it's refined to a degree that is inconceivable in a lot of ways."

“The Lion King” is rated PG. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures will release “The Lion King” in theaters on July 19.

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