“Beyoncé has to come.”
“She’s not on the tip sheet.”
“There’s no way.”
You couldn’t take a step down the red carpet at Tuesday’s “Lion King” world premiere at the Dolby Theatre without hearing whispers from the news media, fans, publicists and celebrity guests alike about a possible Beyoncé appearance.
The singer returns to the big screen July 19 as the voice of lioness Nala, opposite Donald Glover’s Simba in Disney’s reimagining of the 1994 animated classic. “The Lion King: The Gift” album, produced and curated by Beyoncé, drops the same day as director Jon Favreau’s remake.
Of course, just minutes before the carpet closed, the superstar made her grand entrance. Queen Bey and her princess, Blue Ivy Carter, stepped out in matching black and silver suits.
The deafening cries commenced, echoing a quarter mile down the Hollywood Boulevard city block. My ears rang for minutes.
Working with Beyoncé was simply “iconic,” said her costar Glover on the press line.
“They don’t make them like Beyoncé. She’s kind of like the last of the Johnny Carson stars, like people you have to see,” he said beneath an ombre orange tent. “I just learned and listened to her. I tried to put my best foot forward.”
Twenty-five years ago, Nala and Simba were voiced by Caucasian actors, Moira Kelly and Matthew Broderick, respectively. The casting of Glover, Beyoncé and recently Halle Bailey (a Beyoncé mentee) as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action “Little Mermaid” exemplifies how the studio has been trying to add more diverse voices to its remakes of classics.
(Though some attempts to course-correct have highlighted previous missteps, like the quietly deleted casting couch scene in Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 2.”)
I think labeling things as diversity for the sake of diversity, I actually don’t agree with.
The directors of the 1994 original version of “The Lion King,” Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, attended Tuesday’s premiere. Speaking with The Times, they described the casting of the new iteration as a “great evolution.”
Niles Fitch, who starred as young Simba in the Broadway adaptation of the film and who plays a teenage Randall Pearson on “This Is Us,” was also celebrating.
“It’s a cartoon, so I don’t believe there’s one certain look, especially when it’s voice-over,” Fitch said. “And with Ariel, there’s a lot of different Caucasian princesses, and I know how impactful it was for my sister to watch Tiana when she was younger.”
Tiana, the lead in 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog,” was the ninth Disney princess and first to be of African American heritage.
Glover put it this way: “I think anything that gets people used to seeing different types of people is good. I think labeling things as diversity for the sake of diversity, I actually don’t agree with.
“I think diversity of thought and diversity of representation is just an important part of growing as a culture, and I don’t think people should be afraid of it,” he added. “I think people should try and embrace it and just understand different things feel different to different people, so it’s important to just have it.”
Glover proudly shared that the original “Lion King” is his 3-year-old son Legend’s favorite movie. It’s a full-circle experience for Glover; when he was a kid, the 1994 film actually inspired his music career.
He recalled watching the videocassette, which included a segment with the child voice actors performing the “Lion King” tunes. Seeing them made him realize he could sing too.
Glover, who performs under the stage name Childish Gambino, said his love of the movie made dueting on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” with Beyoncé all the more emotional.
“I felt very close to that song. You try and do it the way it felt to you when you were a child.”
Sharing some of the giddiness of the event’s screaming fans, he added, “It’s crazy. It’s Beyoncé.”