Walt Disney Pictures brought the Pride Lands to Sin City. The studio unveiled footage of “Mufasa: The Lion King” at their CinemaCon panel this Monday, showcasing Barry Jenkins’ prequel of the 2019 “Lion King” remake.

Jenkins accompanied the film to Las Vegas at CinemaCon, and he explained to the crowd, “what the director of ‘Moonlight’ is doing here to tell me about an 8-quadrant legacy film.” Well, he said making it was “one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.” 

A photorealistic CGI film in the vein of the 2019 film, “Mufasa: The Lion King” will focus on the ascension of Mufasa (voiced in the prequel by “The Underground Railroad” star Aaron Pierre) to the ruler of the Pride Lands. Kelvin Harrison Jr. will also star as Scar, along with Seth Rogan, Billy Eichner, and John Kani all reprising their roles from the 2019 “Lion King” as Pumbaa, Timon, and Raifiki, respectively.

'Young Woman and the Sea'

An image of an ARRI light suspended against a color gradiant background.

Jenkins said “Mufasa” is a “very personal film” for him and that he’s seen the original animated “The Lion King” over 200 times as he was babysitting his nephews when they were at a young age. The script for the film reminded him of what young people do with their emotions and “how they can become great the way they are.”

But he added that while “Moonlight” was a small film with a massive heart, “Mufasa” is “this is a massive fucking film, and it was my job to fill it with massive heart.”

We only saw a teaser from the film, but it looks markedly different from the live-action remake that played very much like a shot-for-shot remake of the original. The high-fidelity CGI looked even better than before, and Jenkins said the film had all new songs, but Disney was “handcuffing” him in revealing who made those songs.

“This story begins far beyond the mountain and the shadows on the other side of the light,” a narrator says in the trailer. “A lion was born without a drop of nobility in his blood, a lion who would change our lives forever.”

Discussing the film at 2022’s D23 Expo where it was officially unveiled, Jenkins described “Mufasa: The Lion King” as a rags-to-riches story exploring Mufasa’s rise as a young lion.

“It’s a story about how Mufasa rose to royalty,” Jenkins said. “We assume he was just born into his lineage, but Mufasa was actually an orphaned cub who had to navigate the world alone. In telling this story, we get to experience the real journey of how Mufasa found his place in the circle of life.”

Jenkins further said he was drawn to the story of a rise to greatness after his own ascension in Hollywood following “Moonlight” winning Best Picture.

“As I was reading this wonderful script, I was thinking about Mufasa, and why he’s great, and how people become great,” Jenkins said. “I was on stage at the Oscars with ‘Moonlight.’ And I was there, and five of my best friends from college were also there. And what you’ll learn from the story is that Mufasa is who he is, is great, because of the family and the friends that he has. And so I saw myself in that. I thought: ‘This is a really beautiful story to tell.’”

Jenkins directs “Mufasa: The Lion King” from a script by Jeff Nathanson. Several of Jenkins’ collaborators from his first two films “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” worked on the project, including cinematographer James Laxton and editor Joi McMillon. Nicholas Britell will also contribute to the score, which also features music from Pharell Williams and Hans Zimmer.

The original 1994 animated “Lion King” is frequently considered one of Disney’s greatest films, and is the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all-time. Although 2019’s “The Lion King” was similarly successful, grossing over $1.6 billion in theaters, it received much more negative reviews from critics. IndieWire gave the film a “D,” with critic David Ehrlich calling the film a “disastrous plunge into the uncanny valley.”

“Mufasa: The Lion King” will release in theaters December 20, 2024.

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