Marvel’s Luke Cage star Alfre Woodard is lending her voice to Sarabi, the mother of Simba, in director Jon Faverau’s The Lion King re-telling/re-imagining. Woodard joins a voice cast for the film that thus far includes Donald Glover as the grown-up Lion King-to-be Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Simba’s scheming uncle Scar, John Oliver as Zazu aka. the majordomo to Simba’s royal Lion family, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as comical relief Timon and Pumbaa.
So far, Favreau’s The Lion King – a film that will bring its many animal characters to life in the same computer-animated, photorealistic style as the filmmaker’s The Jungle Book re-telling – only includes one returning voice actor from the Mouse House’s 1994 animated version of the story, in the form of James Earl Jones (once again voicing Simba’s father, Mufasa). That isn’t expected to change either, even though there are a few key roles remaining to be filled in the new big screen take on Simba’s tumultuous ascension to the (lion) throne.
With Woodard set as Sarabi in Lion King (news that Tracking Board broke first), that leaves Nala, Rafiki and the hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, as the remaining major roles to be filled in the movie. Beyoncé is the first choice to voice Nala in the film, but that casting has yet to be confirmed. According to TB, Favreau’s The Lion King may feature both some of Elton John’s beloved songs from the original animated film and new tunes by Beyoncé. As such, the Mouse House could be holding off on confirming that casting news, in favor of a joint announcement that includes the movie’s soundtrack.
The 1994 animated Lion King is one of Disney’s most popular and beloved films ever, so it’s only natural that Favreau would assemble an A-list roster of character actor talent to voice his iteration’s many animal characters – with even a relatively smaller role such as Sarabi being occupied by a highly-respected performer like Woodard. Favreau himself is coming off a similarly massive critical and box office success with his Oscar-winning Jungle Book, so the opportunity to collaborate with the director on another live-action retelling of a Mouse House classic, is all the more incentive for big name talent to sign on for the project.
Lion King doesn’t hit theaters until the summer of 2019 (about two years from the time of writing this), giving Favreau all the more time to raise the bar for quality of storytelling and special effects here, even about the high benchmark that he and his many collaborators achieved with The Jungle Book. The odds remain stacked against Favreau and his team surpassing the animated Lion King in terms of its iconic status – but then again, few thought his Jungle Book would become (arguably) more beloved than its animated predecessor, so best to not count them out in this respect, just yet.