The Lion King Stars Share Memories of Original 1994 Film

The Lion King is hitting theaters this week, which means the cast of the upcoming film have been busy promoting the latest live-action Disney remake.’s Brandon Davis had the opportunity to meet up with some of the cast during the film’s press junket and ask about their opinions on the original animated feature, which was released back in 1994. Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), Billy Eichner (Timon), and John Kani (Rafiki) all shared their thoughts on the iconic film.

“Well, the older version was already amazing because I remember, I was very entertained. I liked the songs. I thought it was very colorful. But I was at a different time of my life. I was, like, in my early 20's and my vision was I want to become a performer so a lot of things that I love in the new version, they were already there back then but I just didn't get it. You know? I'm talking about the life advice. The Lion King is not just entertainment. The Lion King is not just a movie for children,” Kasumba replied.

She added, “Back then I thought, oh, Disney movies are for kids. That's so not true but I wasn't mature enough to get it. Now, I'm watching The Lion King years later. I am a mother. I've had 20 years of work experience. I'm a sister, I'm married. You know, so there are a lot of things that happened in the movie that apply to my life and although I might think, okay, I'm a woman ... I still relate to what the man or what the guys in this movie say or what they experience ... I understand it so, I guess I just grew older and I'm more mature and I'm able to understand the message behind the movie.”

“Okay and I'm 48. Yeah, so exactly," Key explained. "We're right there. We're right there. So I was 24/25. My first impressions of the film were very academic. I was in graduate school at the time, I was studying Shakespeare. I was studying classical theater, so I'm going, 'Ooh, look at these parallels to Hamlet...' But once I got through that, the technical stuff that wowed me, I'm sorry, the academic stuff that wowed me, I finally got to this place where the things that resonated with me most were the father/son dynamics. You know the mark of a good film is when, as you grow and evolve as a human, you start to see new things in the film. As you've lived more life, you get to feel and see more things that the filmmakers meant.”

“I somehow vividly recall seeing it in the theater with my parents,” Eichner added. “And I was a kid during that sort of classic era of Disney movie musicals becoming a big event again in terms of Little Mermaid and Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. And then Lion King. I saw all those movies in the theater and I loved them. And then I saw the Broadway version and I, yeah, I love musicals. I mean, I love Broadway shows. I grew up in New York City. I was a theater kid. I thought I was going to do Broadway. So everything else I've done has always been a bit of a shock because I haven't done Broadway and I've done all these other things. But this is really getting me back to something I really love, which is a great musical and it has musical comedy elements. And I grew up loving Nathan Lane even before The Lion King from his stage work in New York. And so it's full circle in many ways.”

“How can you miss it when you couldn't watch anything else because of the children?,” Kani said. “You see look at this picture there. You end at the images. You know there's nothing beyond. And the images are drawn or by technological whatever, but you're not dealing with the reality. You know it's not the real animal, because it's drawn. You know that Pumbaa and Timon it's an unlikely relationship. You know that the relationship between this monkey and the lion is a snack to the lion. But then when the CGI version, the new version, as it opened the vista, the animals, the giraffe they were real. And you begin to do something very important for art work, believe. And I sat there like I'd never been to the theater or cinema. It had nothing to do with art, but the little 12-year-old kid, and I was told a great story. Absolutely.”


In addition to the above cast, the new version of The Lion King stars Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, Eric Andre, Alfre Woodard, and James Earl Jones.

The Lion King hits theaters everywhere on July 19th.

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