The Lion King has been translated and re-recorded in te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, and will greet New Zealanders heading to theatres over their first Māori holiday weekend.
Released as the country celebrates its inaugural national holiday for Matariki – the Māori new year – the film is part of a growing movement to revitalise and strengthen te reo Māori, and spread its use in everyday contexts. Over the course of the last year, the film has been translated, fully recast and overdubbed in te reo Māori, and will play in theatres around the country in full, without subtitles.
“Kia taorotia te reo Māori ki ngā uri puta noa, puta noa! For our language to thrive, it must reach the hearts and homes of our people,” Matewa Media co-director Tweedie Waititi told Te Ao Māori as the film was announced.
The film is the second Disney film to be released in te reo Māori – the first was Moana, in 2020 – and is part of a wider resurgence that has seen Māori language and culture increasingly part of New Zealand’s daily life and popular culture.
While only a small percentage of New Zealanders are fluent in te reo, the number who class themselves as “conversational” is rising – in the 2018 census, it rose to more than 185,000, up from fewer than 150,000 in 2013. That rise is a result of both grassroots and central government campaigns to embrace and revitalise the language. The government has set a target of 1 million speakers of basic te reo by 2040, and 150,000 proficient speakers.
Director Chelsea Winstanley said in a release that she was “extremely thrilled” to work on the Lion King. “It was always our dream to dub more Disney films that our tāmariki [children] love into te reo Māori,” she said as the film’s cast was announced. The Māori version includes five dialects of te reo, which she told RNZ were appearing “for the first time ever in a feature film”.
“We know that continuing to celebrate the indigenous language with the addition of these cherished films will mean a lot to the local community,” Kylie Watson-Wheeler, senior vice-president and managing director of Walt Disney for Australasia, said in a release.
At least 45 language versions of the Lion King have been made since the film debuted in 1994 but the te reo Māori version is the first to include a non-English version of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight. The track was recorded in te reo at the last minute, after directors appealed directly to John for special permission to use it.