The Lion King is becoming a cinematic universe with a prequel about Mufasa.
The Lion King is one of the best animated films from Disney’s catalog, and it looks like the company is ready to milk it for everything it’s worth. In a New York Times interview, the president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, Sean Bailey, said that the franchise could become “a big, epic saga,” comparing it to Star Wars (via The Direct). If you had The Lion King being turned into a cinematic universe on your 2023 bingo card, you can go ahead and proudly scratch off that square.
The Lion King got a live-action remake in 2019, part of Disney’s ongoing trend of making live-action versions of their animated classics and making a ton of money at the box office while doing so. Most recently, the company released the live-action version of The Little Mermaid, and there are live-action remakes of Snow White, Lilo & Stitch, and even the recent Moana in the pipeline. As long as these films continue to make the big bucks, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a good reason for Disney to stop making them.
As for The Lion King, we should be getting a taste of what that potential cinematic universe will look like when we see the prequel film Mufasa, which will come to theaters on July 5, 2024. Mufasa will focus on Simba’s father in his younger days, and we’ll likely be seeing more of his Shakespearan-like relationship with his brother Scar. The film will also move the present-day story forward as Simba teaches his cubs to follow in his footsteps. Aaron Pierre will be replacing James Earl Jones as the voice of young Mufasa, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. is reportedly playing a young Scar.
Mufasa: The Lion King is a prequel to the 2019 live-action film and will also see Billy Eichner return as Timon, Seth Rogen return as Pumbaa, and John Kani return as Rafiki. It remains to be seen if Donald Glover will return as Simba or if Beyonce will return as Nala, but these two names are a big enough draw that it seems likely Disney would at least try to bring them back. Jeff Nathanson, who wrote the 2019 adaptation, will be returning for this film.
Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) is coming on board as director, replacing Jon Favreau, who directed the 2019 adaptation. If Mufasa: The Lion King can manage to bring in the impressive box office numbers of the 2019 film, the cinematic universe expansion of the franchise will likely be assured. Disney has plenty of massive IPs to draw from, and while the Marvel and Star Wars names have been fruitful, the House of Mouse is undoubtedly not sated with just a couple of cinematic universes.
It does seem like Disney is assembling very solid creative teams to take The Lion King franchise forward. For now, we’ll have to see if the quality of these films can live up to the expectations. In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated on Mufasa and other upcoming Disney franchises.