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The Lion King Reo Māori

"filling you with the soul-warming rush of kapa haka richness"

★★★★★ - STUFF 

- Disney's classic tale is now a cultural taonga - 

It goes without saying that the original 1994 Lion King still stands as a timeless cultural icon, with its music and characters a part of many childhoods. However, the Kīngi Raione just got better.

Embodying Māori indigeneity, it feels proximate, and you don’t need to speak reo Māori to appreciate it.

Conceptually, The Lion King in te reo Māori is a perfect marriage, because the story a very Māori one: one of ancestral relationships, mana whenua, kaitiakitanga and kotahitanga. The “circle of life”, the ecosystem which connects all living things, is the vital essence (mauri) in te ao Māori.

When Simba learns that his ipukarea (homeland) has become a drought-stricken wasteland, he looks to the night sky to be visited by his late pāpā, Mufasa. Without needing to change any of the 1994 animation, this scene visually mirrors the beliefs in te ao Māori that the spirits of the dead a released to become stars – a fitting image for the Matariki season.

The director and producers’ vision to highlight dialectal differences in te reo Māori is cleverly executed by giving the animal groups different mita (dialects) to speak in. It’s part of normalising Māori media and deconstructing monolithic views of Māoridom.

The linguistic minefield has also been carefully navigated by a reo expert for each mita. Māori rerenga (sentences) are much longer than those in English, making it all the more impressive that the phrasing and timing of the script matches the mouth movements of the original film, avoiding the awful result of forcefully dubbed films. This version is not just a linguistic translation, but a translation and adaption of te ao Lion King.

The Māori chorus gives the big numbers a unique Aotearoa flavour, filling you with the soul-warming rush of kapa haka richness. Kupu Māori always end in vowels, lending to more open and resonant harmonies that leave a fizzing energy in the room at the end of each song. It will be hard not to sing along once subtitled versions are available.

This production is a lot more than its minutes on-screen: it is a result of the fight for te reo Māori to be recognised. For it to be given sovereignty in a multinational mass media conglomerate makes it all the more of a cultural taonga and an encouraging force of motivation for reo learners like myself.

- Eda Tang, STUFF

In Te Reo with no subtitles, The Lion King Reo Māori is playing this Matariki weekend at Light House Cinema! 

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