'The Lion King' Turns 20 So Whatever Happened to Pumba, Nala, Rafiki & Sarabi? — VIDEOS
Happy 20th Anniversary, creatures of the savannah! As we celebrate the release of what used to be the most successful Disney film of all time, we should take a moment to catch up with the voice actors who brought the main characters to life. For what would Mufasa be without James Earl Jones's deep baritone, or how would Rafiki survive without his chuckle? Most of us know what has happened to James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, and Nathan Lane over the years, and some of us have probably have checked in on Johnathon Taylor Thomas out of morbid child-actor curiosity. However, some of the lesser-known voiceover artists from the animated film have been left in the dustbin of Lion King history.
That doesn't mean that these actors haven't been doing great work in the last double-decade: some of them have played roles in movies, tv shows, and even video games. A few have starred in critically-acclaimed indie and mainstream movies, while others have chosen to live on the small screen. Let's catch up with the actors who brough Nala, Pumba, Sarabi, and Rafiki to life, and see how they've handled the last 20 years of living in the post-Lion King world.
Rafiki - Robert Guillaume
Robert Guillaume's performance as Rafiki might be one of the most memorable in The Lion King, primarily due to his signature giggle. Since this breakthrough performance, Guillaume has gone on to play Agent Steve Bishop in Spy Hard, a silly parody of Bond films starring Leslie Nielsen. He also starred in Sports Night, the Aaron Sorkin comedy that mocked sports news through the turn of the millennium. Most memorable to non-members of the Aaron Sorkin cult will be Guillaume's performance in Big Fish as the family doctor who declares that Edward Bloom is dying.
Since Big Fish, Guillaume seems to have taken to video game voice acting, and if you play Kingdom Hearts II or Half-Life 2, you might recognize his voice as Rafiki or Dr. Eli Vance, respectively. It is also important to note that he had a long career before The Lion King, winning two Emmys and multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations before 1994. His 50-year career has brought us some wonderful movies and games, so hopefully he's enjoying semi-retirement at the age of 84.
Sarabi - Madge Sinclair
Although Nala is the leading lady of The Lion King, I've always thought Sarabi was the most strong-willed. She manages to survive under Scar, while speaking truth the power. Some of Sarabi's strength stems from Madge Sinclair, who voiced the ferocious feline. After The Lion King, Sinclair's star was on the rise with a guest-starring role in the Steve Harvey sitcom Me and My Boys. Shortly after, she was one of the first female starship captains on Star Trek, but her life was tragically cut short when she succumbed to leukemia in 1995.
Pumba - Ernie Sabella
Pumba is my favorite character in The Lion King, hooves down. His friendship with Timon, adoption of Simba, and sensitive outlook on life have endeared me to him since he found a half-dead lion in the desert. So it saddens me to say that Ernie Sabella, the actor who plays Pumba, has not done much since Lion King. Sure, he starred along Nathan Lane in the sequels to The Lion King, as well as their own desert-island TV show, and the Lion King segments of Kingdom Hearts II. Other than that, he has had a few recurring roles on '90s shows like The Practice and That's So Raven, and not much else.
Luckily, he will be appearing in a new indie boxing movie called The Challenger, which is currently in post-production. It's possible that this could be the role we need to see Pumba's voice rise again.
Young Nala - Niketa Calame
Niketa Calame, who voiced the younger version of Nala, was a relatively unknown actor before she voiced baby Nala when she was 14. Since then she has a few bit parts on television, including a part on MADtv back when MADtv was a thing. Lately, it seems she's taken to starring in and producing short films, which often feature real human stories of infidelity, unemployment and the limits of consciousness.
Adult Nala - Moira Kelly
Since voicing the grown-up Nala, Moira Kelly has found a home on television. Before The Lion King, she starred opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin, but afterward, she settled in to the small screen. Her recurring role as Mandy Hampton in the first season of The West Wing was phenomenal, even if Aaron Sorkin cut her out of Season 2. After her Sorkin run-in, she played Karen Roe on One Tree Hill, where she stayed for six seasons. She has also been in a number of indie movies, including the made-for-TV account of Dorothy Day's life and a role alongside Glenn Close in The Safety of Objects. Although her next project is unknown, it wouldn't be out of the question for Moira to star in a TV drama once again.