See the Voice Cast of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Then and Now
After ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and ‘Aladdin,’ Disney animation was on a roll. Still, almost no one predicted the titanic box office success of ‘The Lion King,’ a monster hit that remains one of the highest grossing animated films of all time. The film’s star-studded cast cemented the growing trend of casting big name actors in animated films. Here’s what the voices of ‘The Lion King’ have been up to lately.
James Earl Jones, Mufasa
Then: James Earl Jones was a household name long before Disney cast him as the voice of their leonine patriarch. A veteran of stage, film, and television, Jones had played characters ranging from the villain in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ to writer Terrance Mann in ‘Field of Dreams’ to next door neighbor Mr. Mertle in ‘The Sandlot.’ He was also no stranger to voice acting, having already voiced Darth Vader in the original ‘Star Wars’ films and guest starred in two “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of ‘The Simpsons.’
Now: Jones remains a well-respected and prolific actor. He’s had guest appearances on various TV shows, such as ‘House, M.D.’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’ He still does voice over work periodically and visitors to the Disney parks can hear him as Darth Vader once again in the new version of Star Tours. His next film role is in ‘The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,’ starring Robin Williams.
Madge Sinclair, Sarabi
Then: Prior to voicing Simba’s mother, the Jamaican born actress was best known as Belle from the TV miniseries ‘Roots’ and Queen Aoleon, wife of James Earl Jones’ King Joffer in ‘Coming to America.’ ‘Star Trek’ fans knew her as Captain Silva LaForge, mother of Geordi, on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’
Now: Following ‘The Lion King,’ Sinclair had a supporting role on the Steve Harvey sitcom ‘Me and the Boys’ and a guest appearance on ‘Dream On’ before leukemia brought her life and career to a sadly premature end in 1995.
Robert Guillaume, Rafiki
Then: Guillaume was best known as the butler Benson duBois on the TV series ‘Soap’ and the spinoff ‘Benson,’ and the superintendent in the film ‘Lean on Me.’ He had dabbled in voice acting prior to ‘Lion King,’ with spots on ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers,’ the animated ‘Addams Family’ and the extremely short-lived ‘Fish Police.’
Now: Guillaume went on to more vocal performances, such as the role of Dr. Eli Vance in ‘Half-Life 2: Episode 2.’ He’s continued to make guest appearances on various TV shows and played the TV executive in Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Sports Night.’ His most recent film role was in the 2012 Selma Blair thriller ‘Columbus Circle.’
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Young Simba
Then: Taylor Thomas was one of the biggest teen stars at the time of ‘The Lion King’s’ release thanks to his role as middle son Randy on the sitcom ‘Home Improvement.’ It was the voice of Young Simba that helped launch JTT’s film career.
Now: His role on ‘Home Improvement’ lasted until 1999. Meanwhile, Disney cast him in such family friendly flicks as ‘Tom and Huck’ and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’ After ‘Home Improvement,’ he continued to make guest appearances on various television shows and had recurring roles on ‘Smallville,’ ‘8 Simple Rules,’ and voicing a character on ‘The Wild Thornberrys.’ After a lengthy hiatus during which he graduated from Columbia University, he reunited with his former TV dad on the Tim Allen sitcom ‘Last Man Standing’
Niketa Calame, Young Nala
Then: Unlike Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Calame was pretty much unknown when she was cast as the voice of young Nala. Her only previous screen credit was in ‘CB4,’ the Chris Rock parody of rap culture.
Now: Though she’s had a couple of film roles and once appeared on ‘MADtv,’ Calame has largely ditched the screen for the stage. She is a member of the Selah Gospel Choir and recently appeared in the stage musical version of ‘The Color Purple.’
Rowan Atkinson, Zazu
Then: Atkinson is instantly recognizable as Mr. Bean, who already had his own TV series and a variety of guest appearances to his credit at the time of ‘The Lion King.’ The comedic actor had also starred in four seasons of the BBC medieval comedy ‘Blackadder.’ Earlier in 1994, he stole the spotlight from Hugh Grant as the tongue-tied Father Gerald in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’
Now: Mr. Bean starred in two movies, had his own animated series and appeared at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics before Atkinson announced that he was retiring the character. Atkinson also played the lead role in ‘Johnny English,’ a James Bond parody, and its sequel ‘Johnny English Reborn.’
Jeremy Irons, Scar
Then: Like James Earl Jones, Irons was already a successful and acclaimed actor when he was cast in the role of Mufasa’s murderous brother. He got his start in the theater and appeared in several British television shows, winning praise for his role in the miniseries ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ He had recently won the Academy Award for his portrayal of suspected murderer Claus von Bülow in ‘Reversal of Fortune.’
Now: Irons has since been in everything from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance.’ On television, he’s starred in ‘The Borgias’ and guest starred in two episodes of ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ His recent film performances include Macon Ravenwood in the movie adaptation of the young adult novel ‘Beautiful Creatures’ and the lead role in ‘Night Train to Lisbon,’ based on a philosophical German novel. He’s currently working on the intriguingly title film ‘A Magnificent Death from a Shattered Hand.’
Whoopi Goldberg, Shenzi
Then: Though she was primarily known for comedic roles like the singing nun in ‘Sister Act,’ Goldberg had also appeared in dramatic films like ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Sarafina!’ and won an Oscar for her supporting role in ‘Ghost.’ She had played Guinan on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ for five years and voiced Gaia on ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers.’
Now: Her career continues to jump back and forth between comedic and dramatic roles. On the voice actings side, Goldberg recently played Stretch the octopus in ‘Toy Story 3.’ In 2007, she replaced Rosie O’Donnell as moderator and cohost of ‘The View.’
Cheech Marin, Banzai
Then: The star (alongside comedy partner Tommy Chong) of a series of stoner comedies may have seemed like an odd choice to play a character in a Disney film. But by the 1990s, Marin had some voice acting and children’s entertainment credentials. He voiced Tito the chihuahua in ‘Oliver and Company’ and Buck the dog on the TV series ‘Married With Children.’ In 1992, he released a children’s album called ‘My Name is Cheech, the School Bus Driver.’
Now: Marin is the voice of Ramone in both of the Pixar ‘Cars’ films. He’s a regular in Robert Rodriguez films ranging from the ‘Spy Kids’ movies to ‘Machete.’ On television, he played the father-in-law on the 2012 series ‘Rob.’
Jim Cummings, Ed
Then: A Disney regular, Cummings got his start on the 1985 TV series ‘Dumbo’s Circus.’ He became the voice of Winnie the Pooh in 1988. Two years later, he was playing Tigger too.
Now: He’s still Tigger, Pooh and a ton of other beloved cartoon characters. He voices Pete in ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ and other productions and played Ray the firefly in ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ Recently he appeared in a Funny or Die video promoting a (fake) ‘Darkwing Duck’ Kickstarter as part of an April Fool’s Day prank.
Matthew Broderick, Adult Simba
Then: Broderick got his start in theater. His breakout film role was the title character in the comedy ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.’ Prior to ‘The Lion King,’ he had received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Robert Gould Shaw in the 1989 Civil War film ‘Glory.’
Now: Broderick’s current career includes a lot of TV guest spots on shows like ‘Louie,’ ’30 Rock’ and ‘Modern Family.’ He returned to musical theater and found success in ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,’ ‘The Producers’ and his current hit show ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It.’
Moira Kelly, Adult Nala
Then: Kelly’s first film role was in the gangster drama ‘Billy Bathgate.’ She played an Olympic figure skater in ‘The Cutting Edge,’ Laura Palmer’s best friend in ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ and two of Charlie Chaplin’s romantic partners in ‘Chaplin.’
Now: Kelly played the White House media consultant in the first season of ‘The West Wing’ and had a regular role as a single mom on ‘One Tree Hill.’ Lately, she has been in a couple of TV movies and guest-starred on ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Heroes’ and ‘Numb3rs.’
Nathan Lane, Timon
Then: Though he had a few screen credits to his name, including a role in ‘Addams Family Values‘ and a guest appearance on ‘Miami Vice,’ Lane was primarily known as a stage actor. He received his first Tony nomination in 1992 for ‘Guys and Dolls’ in which he played Nathan Detroit, the character who inspired his stage name. (He was born Joseph Lane, but changed his name to avoid an Actor’s Equity conflict.)
Now: Lane is still big on Broadway. He won a Tony Award for his performance as Max Bialystock in the musical version of ‘The Producers’ opposite fellow ‘Lion King’ alumnus Matthew Broderick. (Both actors reprised their roles in the movie version of the musical.) Currently he’s starring in the Broadway play ‘The Nance.’ His most recent onscreen appearances have been on television, with recurring roles on ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Modern Family,’ and he has a movie, ‘The English Teacher,’ due out later this year.
Ernie Sabella, Pumbaa
Then: Sabella had a ton of TV credits during the ’80s and ’90s, with multi-episode runs on ‘Perfect Strangers,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ and ‘Saved by the Bell’ and a memorable appearance as a naked man on the subway on ‘Seinfeld.’ But it was probably his stage career, including a role in ‘Guys and Dolls’ with Nathan Lane, that attracted DIsney’s attention.
Now: When not voicing Pumbaa, Sabella has continued to perform on Broadway. He’s also appeared in multiple episodes of ‘That’s So Raven’ and the 2010 movie “Listen to Your Heart.’