The movie confirmed our worst suspicions. Nala's role hasn't significantly increased from the 1994 original, despite the fact that she speaks with the voice of the closest thing America has to actual royalty. Instead, the most exciting contribution Beyoncé makes to the project is in the form of a companion album called The Lion King: The Gift, out Friday. That compilation, which she produced and describes as a "love letter to Africa," features solo numbers as well as contributions from husband Jay-Z, daughter Blue Ivy, co-star Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino), Kendrick Lamar, and Pharrell. It's unclear how explicitly these songs will reference the story of Simba, though one is called "Find Your Way Back (Circle of Life)" and another is "Scar." Other titles are less explicit.
Most of the songs featured on The Gift don't even play in the movie, the notable exception being "Spirit," which has been released as a single and now has an accompanying music video. But Nala doesn't belt out "Spirit" from her lion mouth. Instead, it's featured in a transitional moment as Simba decides to make the journey back home to face off against Scar.
The lack of Beyoncé in the finished film is odd not just because it's Beyoncé we're talking about. In an era where Disney has attempted to reimagine the Disney princess, Nala still largely plays second fiddle to Simba. Sure, there are a couple of moments where director Jon Favreau's movie swerves from its urtext. In the final battle, Nala essentially acts as a general, and goes head-to-head with the hyena Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), who's reimagined as a fierce villain instead of a wise-cracking Whoopi Goldberg.