The hunt for Disney's The Lion King reo Māori cast begins

By Piripi Taylor

The Lion King. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The hunt begins for the cast for the Māori version of Walt Disney Animation Studios' iconic film The Lion King, with the announcement today by production company Matewa Media that the first round of auditions is now open.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Chelsea Winstanley (Merata, Jo Jo Rabbit) and Tweedie Waititi (Moana Reo Māori, Rūrangi) of Matewa Media revealed in July that developments were underway to create reo Māori versions for both Academy Award-winning animated features The Lion King and Frozen. It follows their successful collaboration with Disney in 2017, which brought the reo Māori version of Moana to New Zealand and Australian cinemas and Disney+ (2020).

Tribal dialects will also be celebrated in the film, with different iwi represented through the beloved characters.

The Tainui mita (dialect) has been chosen for Simba, Mufasa and the rest of the lion's of Pride Rock, in a nod to the Kiingitanga movement. Timon and Pumba will hail from Te Taitokerau, Rafiki from Tūhoe, Zazu from Taranaki and the hyenas from Ngāti Kahungunu.

“You don’t have to be from any particular rohe to audition. Just like Moana Reo Māori we encourage everyone to have a go, Karawhiua!” Winstanley says. However, Waititi has emphasised, “you will be expected to pull it off nō reira kia kaha rā!” All levels of Reo Māori fluency are being welcomed. 

For the online first-round auditions, each character will have a different audition piece. 

As with Moana Reo Māori, Winstanley and Waititi will be working with Rachel House (Moana, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, Soul) who will be performance director and with musical director Rob Ruha (Moana Reo Māori).

The Lion King Reo Māori is set to premiere in New Zealand and Australia in June 2022 to align with Matariki - the Māori New Year. 

Details for auditions are available at Auditions close on Sunday, 17 December 2021 at 5pm NZDT.