Toward the end of the 1994 blockbuster “The Lion King,” Simba, deep in the throes of an existential crisis, is reunited with the spirit of his dead father, Mufasa, who appears as an apparition in the starry night sky. “You have forgotten me,” Mufasa tells his son, before urging Simba to assume his rightful place on the throne of Pride Rock.
Of course, an entire generation of millennials has never forgotten Mufasa, whose death served as their earliest encounter with the notion of losing a parent. Among Mufasa’s biggest and most famous champions: Chance the Rapper (whose real name is Chancellor Bennett), an unabashed “Lion King” enthusiast who’s drawn visual and musical inspiration from the movie and its Broadway incarnation throughout his career. (Sample lyrics include “Call me Mr. Mufasa, I had to master stampedes”; “My pops in the mirror, Mufasa is in me.”)
“I always likened Mufasa to my dad,” Chance said. “My dad’s alive which is great,” he added, but Mufasa “was a lot of young black boys’ depiction of growing into manhood.”
[Read our review of the remake of “The Lion King.”]
The rapper’s love for “The Lion King” has become such a part of his persona that the director Jon Favreau invited him to assist behind the scenes for the computer-animated remake due Friday. (He also has a small cameo voicing a character credited as “Bush Baby.”)
During a recent phone interview, Chance — whose anticipated album “The Big Day” is due July 26 — discussed the original movie’s impact on his life, what it was like to introduce it to his young daughter and his involvement in the remake. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Can you recall the first time you saw “The Lion King” and what that experience was like?
“The Lion King” is so embedded in my childhood that I can’t even remember any time before it. What I do remember very well is my grandmother took me to see the Broadway adaptation when I was 9 in Orlando, Fla., and it changed my life and it made me love musical theater. That was the first soundtrack that somebody bought for me from a play or a movie. Seeing it [onstage] deconstructed and a little bit more — I don’t want to say authentic, but more realized — it made me just fall in love with it all over again.
I saw it on Broadway when I was a kid, too, and it was really cool to see black people onstage playing those roles. I have this theory that a lot of black kids who grew up on the movie have fond memories of it in part because it made Africa seem cool instead of “othered” in a way that a lot of other pop culture does. Is that something you picked up on, too?
Yeah, totally. I grew up really heavy on Michael Jackson, and there was this movie, “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” that we used to watch all the time when I was a kid. So, this dude Jason Weaver was the main kid that played Mike in the movie and he was the singing voice of Simba in the original “Lion King” and I just always was a Jason Weaver fan. I don’t know why, I was a weird kid; I just knew all about actors and stuff.
I also used to watch [“Home Improvement”] so I knew that Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the main [voice of young] Simba but I always felt like it was a black story and a story that made me feel like Africa was this kingdom, you know? It was probably my first real representation of that.
Mufasa is often mentioned in your lyrics. How do you decide if you’re going to include a “Lion King” reference?
It’s never really been something until as of late that I’ve even noticed. It’s embedded in my DNA of what I think about when I think about art and when I think about music and when I think about film, when I think about Africa.
Will there be any shout-outs on the new album you’re working on?
The Social Experiment’s Nico Segal once mentioned you two having had an argument about how he considers “Hercules” to be the best Disney movie. You disagree, correct? You’re all about “The Lion King”?
I am about “The Lion King.” I like “Hercules.” I watched it with my daughter, Kensli. The music, it was scored really well, but I think the pace of the movie isn’t at the same level. It just takes you to a bunch of different places until you get to the end and it’s like, “Was it worth it?” Not that I’m trying to make this interview a “Hercules” diss, but it’s not “The Lion King” by any means.
I assume you’ve also watched “The Lion King” with your daughter?
I’ve been showing Kensli [who is 3] the original since she was born. The Broadway version was really influential in the first project that I did with Nico and the Social Experiment, so when she was born I was playing the first record and playing “The Lion King” soundtrack, the Broadway soundtrack all the time. What’s really crazy is that it was for her and, I think, a lot of kids, an introduction to death as a concept.
I come from a family of Christians and followers of Jesus, and where I think that might have been a bigger issue for a lot of parents just to get a grasp on, to me it was a way to introduce her to the concept of eternal life and ancestry.
How did she handle Mufasa’s death?
I don’t know where she learned the word “died,” but I remember we were watching it all the time in my apartment, and one day I turned it on and she just kept saying at that scene, “He died, he died.” And she’s like 1 1/2 or 2 at the time. So I was really concerned about it, but then also, she really liked the movie and that scene. It wasn’t until probably a couple of months ago that I started to reexplain it to her and just give her a deeper dive into death and life after death and having your family with you forever.
What was your involvement with the new version?
Donald [Glover] is in the movie, and me and Donald have known each other for like 10 years. I always talk about “The Lion King,” and so Donald told Jon [Favreau, the director].
Jon brought me in as kind of a consultant. I was there for the filming process, and then while we were going through editing he just kept having me come up. Any time I was in L.A. he would hit me up to watch different scenes. I got to bring Kensli with me, and she loves it.
I got to see what some of the concepts were for the different characters. Like, he asked me if I thought Scar was scary. And then I was brought in later with Hans Zimmer and Pharrell to work on a track for the movie. And there’s a very small cameo thing that I do in the movie that’s a new character for a second.
Earlier you said you liken your father to Mufasa, but which character do you most identify with? Or has that changed over time?
For a long time, I thought most people saw themselves as Simba, and that’s how I always felt. And I think there was a point in time where I kind of felt like Mufasa when I first had my kid. But now I just feel like grown-up Simba. I don’t think anything’s changed to where I’m a different character, it’s just that you grow up.
I’ve really, really always loved the movie but later in life, right after I made my “Acid Rap” mix tape, I did a tour, made almost a couple million dollars and I moved out to L.A. and got this really nice big house and kind of just did whatever I wanted to every day. Eventually it went sour, and I realized I needed to move back home.
It felt a lot like when Simba goes off to the jungle to just do whatever he wants to do, run away from his problems. I never really understood that angle of the movie for a long time, but he runs away in fear and when Nala first comes to get him, he’s still in denial: “I don’t have to be king, Scar’s got this. Hakuna matata means I ain’t got to worry about [expletive].”
But then he eventually goes back and takes care of his business and moves back home, and I always really, really liked that part of the story. I felt like it really spoke to my life and helped me see that.