Seth Rogen & Billy Eichner Talk Improvising on 'Hakuna Matata,' Plus 5 More Highlights From 'Lion King' Twitter Panel
Twitter's private screening event of "The Lion King" on Wednesday night brought together the movie's stars and fans for a celebration of the "Circle of Life" that has become the franchise itself.
After viewing the film, attendees were treated to two panels with select actors and those behind the film, hosted by Entertainment Tonight's Nischelle Turner. Though the realistic animation added stunning dimension to the movie, it was clear in both conversations that the thread holding the reimagined version together was its music.
Below, find six highlights from the discussion.
Jon Favreau's Vision
First up was the acting panel, consisting of director Jon Favreau, Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), JD McCrary (Young Simba) and Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala). Favreau started out by describing how important the casting process was to the film's reimagining, since the incredibly lifelike visuals required all emotion to be expressed from the voice. Along with redefining the original score, Favreau said the new interpretation of the visuals is what first attracted him to the project.
Improvising "Hakuna Matata"
Rogen and Eichner, who made a refreshingly hilarious duo as Pumbaa and Timon, revealed that their version of "Hakuna Matata" was mostly driven by improvisation. The two recorded their vocals with only a piano, allowing them to play off of each other and then return to the song in order to nail the banter in between verses. "I saw the movie for the first time last night and I was shocked," Eichner said. "There’s so much improv in it and our conversation feels so natural, even though I’m a meerkat and he’s a warthog." In response, Rogen quipped: "And as you can see, it's not that different!"
Feeling the Love
Though Favreau said he attempted to stick closely to the original scenes, one of the moments he took freedom in altering was the sequence during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." With Donald Glover voicing Simba and Beyoncé as Nala, the timeless classic was modernized with flawless riffs and goosebump-inducing harmonies. Of the first time he heard Glover and Beyoncé rehearse the tune, Favreau said, "It was the moment when I felt that there was something we were doing that was different and new that defined our production but still connected it to the old one."
Chance the Rapper's Role
To accomplish his goal of staying true to the original while bringing a fresh perspective to the project, Favreau revealed that he turned to none other than Chance the Rapper. Introduced to him by Glover, Favreau said that Chance became a "technical consultant" for the film, making sure that moments still resonated with those who grew up with it. In return, Chance got to make more than a few cameos: "Half the animals around the grubs were Chance," Favreau said.
Redefining the Recording Process
Favreau, Hans Zimmer and Lebo M represented the music panel, with Zimmer and Lebo having been attached to the project since its conception. However, when Zimmer agreed to help with the remake, he took a completely different approach to his recording process. Inspired by his performance at Coachella in 2017, Zimmer decided to record the score as if it were a concert. Zimmer rehearsed for a week with a combined orchestra, half of which were from the predominantly black Re-Collective Orchestra, and it culminated in a live-recording of the score performed for its crew. "At first, I thought we were dealing with the most amazing group of diversity," Zimmer said of the experience. "Then, I realized it wasn’t diversity -- it was unity."
A Birthday Chant
Recalling when he and Zimmer first wrote "Circle of Life" more than 25 years ago, Lebo revealed that the original demo of its famous chant ("Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba") was used once again in the new version. "You can't re-create it because it's so organic," Lebo said. He then launched into the opening line with immense power, bringing out Carmen Twillie and a full choir for a rousing performance of the song. With everyone on their feet, there was another sweet surprise: The choir broke out into the Happy Birthday song as a cake was carried out to celebrate Lebo's birthday on July 11. Overcome with emotion, Lebo graciously thanked everyone before continuing to belt "He Lives in You," bringing the evening to a fittingly heartfelt end.
The Lion King arrives in theatres July 18. The Twitter post-screening event will be broadcast live exclusively on Twitter for all on July 15.