Beyonce is to take a lead role in the remake of Disney’s classic animated film, The Lion King, alongside an A-list cast including Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver and Seth Rogen.
She will voice the role of lioness Nala, next to lead character Simba, the young lion learning how to be king played by Donald Glover. Young Simba and Nala will be played by up-and-comers JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph.
The singer posted the full cast list to her Facebook account, confirming rumours circulating since March that she had been offered the role of the female lead in the Jon Favreau-directed remake. The list was also confirmed on Disney’s Twitter account.
James Earl Jones reprises his role from the 1994 animated version as Simba’s father, Mufasa, and Alfre Woodard plays Simba’s mother, Sarabi.
Talk show host John Oliver will play the hornbill Zazu, originally voiced by Rowan Atkinson, while Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen will play the comical meerkat and warthog team, Timon and Pumbaa.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of Twelve Years A Slave, will take on the role of villainous Scar, first performed by Jeremy Irons. His sidekick Shenzi, originally voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, will be played by Florence Kasumba, most recently seen as Senator Acantha in Wonder Woman.
Beyoncé’s role as Nala will be the pop star’s first voice work in a film since the 2013 animated flick Epic, a movie about a teenager transported to a dense forest that’s enduring a battle between good and evil.
Disney’s original Lion King, released more than two decades ago, remains one of the highest-grossing animated films ever, earning $968.5 million at the box office worldwide. The musical adaptation, which debuted on Broadway in 1997, has generated at least $6.2 billion in ticket sales and has been performed in 19 countries around the globe.
In recent years, Disney has turned to remaking its beloved animated classics as a key growth strategy, raising the stakes for casting such revivals.
Its remake of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson as Belle was a booming success, breaking records with a $170 million debut earlier this year and garnering $1.3 billion worldwide. But for another remake—the live-action version of Aladdin—casting was problematic.
Disney endured intense criticism in July for selecting Naomi Scott, a non-Arab actress to play Jasmine. To be clear, Aladdin—the story of a rough-and-tumble kid from the streets who enlists a genie to win the love of Princess Jasmine—is set in fictional Agrabah, but it’s largely seen as representing a Middle Eastern city and critics blasted the casting decision as an indication that Disney sees non-white people as interchangeable.
Like Aladdin, the upcoming Lion King remake is also “live action” but not in the typical sense. Beyoncé—for instance—won’t appear physically in the film, but she will be heard. Jon Favreau, director of the film, has said the movie will rely on innovative filmmaking techniques with the African savanna and its colourful characters coming to life via photo-realistic animation.