Meet The Voices Behind Young Simba and Nala in The Lion King

What would you get if you packed talent, brains, personality, and a little bit of spunk into two young actors?  You'd get JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph of course!  These two are rising stars and are the voices behind Young Simba and Young Nala in Disney's The Lion King opening everywhere July 19th.  I recently had an opportunity to sit down with these two when their press trip brought them to Washington, D.C. for an interview to get to know them better.  It's probably wrong to actually call this a true interview though.  I was joined by two other bloggers and the actors - that's it. It was an easy conversation in a suite at The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. instead of the feel of a big media event.  Because of this atmosphere, we had a nice chat with the two young stars about making The Lion King, what it's like to be a star on the rise in the music and movie world, and what's next for them!  So let's check it out!

On Making The Lion King - Several of the questions we asked JD and Shahadi were about their experience making the film.  Both of them talked about the influence the 1994 animated classic had on their performance.  Like most everyone else, they've grown up watching the animated version of The Lion King and certainly thought back on it as they dove into their roles.  Shahadi shared that they wanted to stay "as authentic as possible while adding our own personalities to it."  JD agreed and described the opportunity to play Simba as a "dream come true."  When asked about their favorite scenes to record, Shahadi shared that her favorite was "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" as she has been "loving that song for a long time," while JD enjoyed recording the stampede scene.  Sharing a bit of the emotions that can take over when creating movies, JD told us that he really cried when recording that particular heartbreaking scene.  Along the same lines, each of the actors found ways that they connected with their characters.  JD talked about really looking up to his dad, just like Simba does with Mufasa, and also being brave adding "I used to get scared of stuff a lot easier than I do now."  On the other side of the table, Shahadi felt that she can relate to Nala's spunk, wit, and confidence.  I then posed a question about the new technology that Director Jon Favreau used in this film.  To create the world of The Lion King with a "live action" feel, Favreau used virtual reality to allow actors to actually be transported to Pride Rock, the Elephant Graveyard and throughout Africa. On using the new VR headsets, JD shared, "We put it on, we had these controllers in our hands, and just looked around.  You can see Pride Rock, the savannah, the watering hole.  We saw the elephant graveyard and everything was so real. It was crazy."  Helping to add to the realistic feel, Favreau had young Simba and Nala work with some of the other actors in the film as well when recording.  The two young stars had a chance to record with the hyenas, Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), and Billy Eichner (Timon).  The hyenas were apparently as scary to record with as they come across in the film!

JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph voice Simba
and Nala in Disney's The Lion King. Photo from
Walt Disney Studios.
What Their Lives Are Like Now - Both young stars are incredibly down-to-earth and humble, especially given the fact that their careers are literally exploding right now.  As musicians and actors these two keep themselves busy.  When we talked about balancing the entertainment industry with being a kid, both JD and Shahadi made it all sound easy!  Shahadi continues to attend regular school in New York and finds time to hang out with her friends when she's not working.  Likewise, JD enjoys playing video games just like many other 12 year old kids and is homeschooled in Los Angeles.  Both also talked about getting some rest and relaxation following this whirlwind press tour that ends shortly after the release of the film.  Shahadi couldn't hold back a smile when she talked about ending the press tour just a short subway ride away from home and looking forward to a family cruise later this summer.  My daily work with middle school students lead me to ask this 12 and 14 year old what advice they would have for kids their age about pursuing their dreams.  Shahadi, showing a maturity well beyond her years, began "I think that you should find something that you are really passionate about and just keep striving for it, keep working for it."  JD then added "The people that kept going for it and never gave up, always made it to where they wanted to go."

What's Next For Shahadi and JD? - Speaking of following their dreams, these two are certainly doing that! Shahadi has already starred on Broadway, coincidentally playing the role of Young Nala, and on screen.   Now, she's tackling the music world and was excited to share that she just released a new single, "Skin I'm In" that was debuted by Billboard just a few days before our interview.  JD has been busy making waves in the music industry himself, as the youngest male solo artist ever signed to Hollywood Records.  He released an EP, "Shine" that features 4 songs and was also beaming as he talked about his singles "Keep in Touch" and "My Name." One thing is certain - we are only beginning to hear from these bright young stars!

These two certainly shine on the big screen as Simba and Nala and I'm sure you'll join me in falling in love with them when The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19.  In the meantime, don't miss my thoughts on this film.  You can also download a FREE family activity packet courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.  You can follow all of The Lion King fun on social media below! Hakuna Matata!

Hashtag:  #TheLionKing

Can you STILL feel the love for The Lion King in 2019?

I should start out by saying that I was 10 when Disney released the animated version of The Lion King and it's been one of my favorite movies of all-time ever since.  From the music to the heartfelt story, it was everything a Disney movie should be.  The little girl in me was thrilled when I heard about a remake of this classic hitting the big screens in 2019 and with Jon Favreau directing (he also directed The Jungle Book), I had a feeling we were in a for a real treat.  So can you still feel the love 25 years later for The Lion King?  Short answer - YES!

If you're unfamiliar with the story of The Lion King, let's catch you up with the official Disney synopsis of the film:

Disney’s “The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book”), journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

Staying true to the classic story, director Jon Favreau utilizes pioneering filmmaking techniques to bring the iconic characters to the big screen in a whole new way. Featuring the voices of Donald Glover as Simba, BeyoncĂ© Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon, Disney’s “The Lion King” opens in U.S. theaters on July 19, 2019.

So the big question on everyone's mind is how does it stack up to the original.  The story is basically the same, but using CGI to create the characters and background you obviously have the more "live action" feel to film.  Along with that, you lose the cartoon emotions of the animals that you see in the original, instead relying on voice delivery to carry the emotions for the movie.  I think some may find this to be a bit disappointing when compared to the original, but I felt like it just made the story seem more "real." Standouts for me were young Simba and young Nala voiced by JD McCrary and Shahadi Joseph Wright.  They perfected the attitude and innocence of the two young cubs looking for adventure and being anxious to grow up.  I was really pleased to hear James Earl Jones back as the voice of Mufasa - I mean, could you imagine anyone else in the role?  Naturally Beyonce and Donald Glover crushed "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" leaving you feeling all the feels.  The only performance that didn't click for me was Scar.  I always thought "Be Prepared" was such a great villain song in a Disney film and this one is very different than the original and just didn't work for me.  Hands down though, Pumbaa and Timon (voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner respectively) steal the show.  If you thought this warthog and meerkat duo were funny before, JUST WAIT until you see them now!
Timon and Pumbaa - stealing the show!!
Photo from Walt Disney Studios

The next thing to know is this movie is visually stunning - I mean unreal CGI.  You will feel like you are right there with the characters in Africa.  I was fortunate to have my screening in IMAX and I highly recommend that if you have a theater near you.  This movie was made for the biggest and best screen around.  With all of this true-to-life feel, the action in the movie is more intense than in the original.  Watching the lions fight is really like watching lions fight.  Watching the stampede in the gorge seems so real and intense that it may be a little much for small ones to handle.  Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to bring your littlest cubs along with you to the movie.

Musically, the movie holds it's own with the tough-to-top 1994 original soundtrack.  I had chills listening to "Circle of Life" as the movie opened and I think this opening may even be more powerful than the original.  McCrary and Joseph bring the fun in "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and Beyonce and Glover are powerful in "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"  Rogen and Eichner are hysterical in "Hakuna Matata" - they definitely use the previous version as an inspiration, but also put their own twist on the song. . .you'll see!  The only song that I didn't enjoy was "Be Prepared" which wasn't even much of a musical number in this adaptation.

I would definitely recommend this and I'm putting up there with Beauty and the Beast as my favorite "live action" remake.  While it wasn't perfect - it was pretty darn close in my book and I can't wait to see it again with the whole family.  And don't miss this FREE Activity Packet you can download which has both educational and fun activities for your whole family!

Hashtag: #TheLionKing

I was able to attend an advanced media screening to bring you all the details before it hits theaters!  As always, thoughts and opinions are my own!

What's New in Disney Movie News! - July 8th

Y'all the last few days have been enough to make any Disney movie fan's head spin.  It seems like there is trending, top news every day!  So let's break it down in case you've missed any of the hype.

The Lion King (Releasing July 19, 2019) - We are fast approaching the opening of this live action remake of the 1994 classic and I can certainly feel the love tonight!  This looks like a great film and features the voice talents of Seth Rogen, Donald Glover, and Beyonce - among many others.  I'll be attending an advanced screening of the film at the Air and Space Museum in DC on Wednesday, 7/10 and then will have the chance to interview some of the cast the following week!  That's right, I'll be interviewing Young Simba, JD McCrary, and Young Nala, Shahadi Wright Joseph.  I can't wait to share all of the excitement with you!  For now, grab a peek at the trailer before you join the stampede to see it in theaters!

Walt Disney Studios: Disney’s “The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book”), journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Releasing October 18, 2019) - So a new trailer just dropped today for this sequel to the 2014 Maleficent.  I have to say, Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain and I was a big fan of the original.  I enjoyed the fact that Disney did a live-action spin-off instead of sticking to the usual remake option.  It's really cool to hear the story of Sleeping Beauty from the villain's side.  If you haven't yet seen Maleficent, do it and get ready to catch up with Aurora, Maleficent and the rest of the humans and fairies in the kingdom!

Walt Disney Studios: The years have been kind to Maleficent and Aurora. Their relationship, born of heartbreak, revenge and ultimately love, has flourished. Yet the hatred between man and the fairies still exists. Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighboring Moors, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. When an unexpected encounter introduces a powerful new alliance, Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart to opposing sides in a Great War, testing their loyalties and causing them to question whether they can truly be family.


Mulan (Releasing March 27, 2020) - Disney has a habit of releasing movies on my birthday weekend every year. . .they can keep that streak up.  Mulan will release the day before my birthday and the first teaser trailer was released Sunday during halftime of the Women's World Cup final.  The movie seems like it will be a little more "serious" than the cartoon (I don't know if that's the right word, but it's all I can come up with now). There's no sign of Mushu in the trailer the fan favorite songs weren't featured.  What does this mean for the film?  It's yet to be seen!  I was not a big fan of the original Mulan, and I can already tell I'm going to like this more.  The scenery and costumes look stunning.  What do you think?

Walt Disney Studios: When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father.  Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation. . .and a proud father. 


The Little Mermaid (Coming ?????) - Disney is just now releasing casting information for this film that is in the works and it's already making controversial headlines.  Social media lit up when it was announced that Halle Bailey will be Ariel.  Halle is a talented singer and actress, but because of the color of her skin, some people took to social media to voice their outrage and #NotMyAriel began trending.  My heart broke for this young girl when I saw this happening.  Imagine working incredibly hard to be at the top of your game, find out you get to play the role of a Disney princess in what will surely be a blockbuster film, and then see the ugly side of social media tear you down.  I have to say that I'm excited to see her portrayal of Ariel and applaud Disney for making a casting choice that will allow more young girls to see themselves as Ariel too.  The Little Mermaid is one of the first movies I remember seeing as a little girl and I can't wait to see it on the big screen again!

And if you think this is busy, just wait for the end of summer to heat up as I'm sure will get new details about Frozen 2 releasing in November and Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker releasing in December.  Walt Disney Studios is certainly on fire and doesn't show any signs of slowing down!  Which movies are you most excited to see??

Know Before You Go: Camp Ocean on Carnival Cruise Line

The cruise industry has adapted and continues to make changes to meet the needs of families as more adults are choosing cruise vacations that include little ones.  Let's face it - a cruise is a great family vacation.  There is so much to do on the ship, lots of food, and incredible ports of call.  Cruising is even more family friendly thanks to the kids clubs that most cruise lines offer now.  Our two most recent cruises have been on Carnival Cruise Line - the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa and the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore.  On each of these trips we had kids under 6 and I'm here to answer some questions you may have about Camp Ocean on Carnival!

What ages are able to go to Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is open to young cruisers from 2 through 11.  This is great news for parents!  Most cruise lines don't accept children until age 3 in kids clubs and several require that children are potty trained.  The fact that Carnival accepts 2 year olds and there was no potty training requirement was a big part of our decision to sail with Carnival in 2017.  Camp Ocean is divided into different age groups to make sure that activities are age appropriate and little ones don't have to worry about being with 11 year olds all day long.

Is there a cost for Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is included with your cruise fare so no extra fees.  Well, maybe a few for some extra activities if you choose.  Camp Ocean closes in the evening at 10PM, but if mom and dad want to stay out and party later, you can enroll your child in Night Owls for a small fee and they will keep care of them until 1AM.  The counselors have a variety of activities and also offer quiet space for kids who are ready to sleep.

Sample Schedule from Carnival Paradise - 2017
Speaking of hours, what hours is Camp Ocean open for use?

This will definitely vary day-by-day.  During embarkation, Camp Ocean is open for an "open house." You can't drop kids off during this time, but it's a great opportunity to see the space with your children and meet the camp staff.  They are super friendly and can answer any specific questions you have.  On at-sea days, the camp is typically open in the AM for some time, closes mid-day and then re-opens in the evening.  Throughout the mid-day, there tends to be some family-friendly entertainment planned on ship including the Seuss At Sea activities, Build-A-Bear, and much more!  The kids staff tends to lead these events for younger cruisers so it makes sense why they are close during this time.  For more information on kid-friendly activities on board a Carnival Cruise, check out my older post about Seuss At Sea.  During port days, you can usually find Camp Carnival open the duration of the time in port.

Wait. . .I can leave my kids in Camp Ocean while off the ship?  Is that a good idea?

Yes, you can check your kids into camp then disembark and enjoy some more grown-up excursions.  Some excursions do have age requirements so if you are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, this may be an option for you.  As far as if it's a good idea, that's up to you.  Personally, I have never opted to do this and don't see myself doing so in the future.  There's so much to consider here in my opinion that the risk (while admittedly slight) of something going wrong far outweighs the benefits.  I would be a nervous wreck that something terrible would happen and I wouldn't make it back to ship - then my kids are on board and I'm not.  I also really believe in family travel.  While we love Camp Ocean and enjoy using it for mom and dad to take a nap on the Serenity Deck or grab an upscale dinner one night, I don't want to have my kids spend our entire vacation away from us.  We have never had a problem finding excursions that our whole family will enjoy!

You mentioned dinner.  Will Camp Ocean feed my kids?

Yes and no.  You cannot send food with your kid into camp.  On at-sea days, camp will always be closed for lunch so you'll be feeding your own children.  If your child is in camp on a port day, lunch will be provided.  A great option offered nightly though, especially for parents looking to enjoy some of the more upscale dining options on board, is a Kids Only Dinner.  You can drop your child off at the Lido Deck buffet with camp staff and they will feed them dinner before taking them up to camp for the evening.  The only downside to the meal is that it is pre-selected and can't be changed for picky eaters.  We took advantage of this on two nights and it worked well.  One of the nights was a chance for us to do the Chef's Table which was incredible!
Inside Camp Ocean on Carnival Pride 2018

What about safety?  How do I know others won't have access to my kids?

Great minds think alike as this is always one of the top priorities I look at when talking childcare anywhere for my kids!  And you can rest assured that we felt Carnival took great care of keeping our kids safe.  When you register your child for Camp Ocean, you designate who can check your child or children in and out.  These authorized adults must present sail and sign cards which will be scanned and reviewed at check-in and check-out.  You can even give adults permission to access your children who are in other staterooms which is perfect if you're traveling with extended family or friends.  If you kids fall in the 9-11 age group, you can choose whether or not to give them the ability to check themselves in and out of camp.  I'm still a few years away from that decision yet, but I find myself leaning towards keeping control of their time in camp.

Last, but not least - will my kids have fun??

While I certainly can't guarantee this for every child, I will say that my boys have LOVED their time in Camp Ocean.  Both of them were a little nervous the first time at drop off, but after that couldn't wait to return each day for some play time with their new Camp Ocean friends.  They even enjoyed seeing their friends throughout the ship when they weren't in camp and playing in the pool together.  The activities are well organized and they bring home lots of goodies - crafts, prizes, etc.  The staff has always been amazing and we felt our boys were well cared for.

As with any program that is offered across a large company, there will be variations from ship-to-ship.  You can always find out more information at and look for specific details about your ship.  If you have questions that relate to the Carnival Paradise or Carnival Pride, feel free to drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to give you my experiences! Happy sailing!

Top Tips to Beat the Mid-Atlantic Heat AND a New Giveaway!

Summer has certainly set in throughout the Mid-Atlantic and temperatures are rising fast!  No need to fear though, your Mid-Atlantic Moms team is here with our favorite ways to beat the heat this summer.  Keep reading through our tips too, because we have an AWESOME family giveaway opportunity to share with you as well!
Learn more about Duke's Lagoon at Dutch Wonderland!

From Mid-Atlantic Mom Rachel (@prettyinbabyfood)While I am not really a hot weather kind of individual it seems like where I live it keeps getting hotter every summer. Haha! Usually we cool off in our own pool, but this year that wasn’t an option. Before school let out we would get out of the heat by going to the local library, but with school out for the summer the Library has been pretty busy. Haha! So, we have been trying to go to some water parks. Like Mid-Atlantic mom Kristi, we love to go to Duke's Lagoon at Dutch Wonderland, and to keep cool while walking around the park in the heat we LOVE to pack our rechargeable stroller fan and cooling towels. These two items have been a lifesaver on many occasions. They are great for any indoor/outdoor occasion where it will be hot. Our stroller fan can rotate to cool whoever is in the stroller, or the person pushing the stroller. The cooling towels can be used for hours once wet. Above all when out and about in the heat stay hydrated. Lots of water!

From Mid-Atlantic Mom Kristen (@genymama) - My favorite ways to beat the heat? I like taking my girls to the local pool club/splash pad, beach or water park! I also enjoy cool treats like ice cream or frozen yogurt while strolling on the boardwalk, (and an iced adult-beverage when we’re at a BBQ!) On super hot days nothing beats the cool, air conditioned rooms of a children’s museum! Loads of energy can be burned without anyone getting sunburned!

From Mid-Atlantic Mom Kristi (@dsnyrunrgrl) - Our family has become huge fans of beating the heat at water parks.  At 4 and 7, both of my boys love splashing, swimming, and sliding their ways to summer fun.  Many theme parks now have water parks as part of their attractions. It means one extra bag to pack of swimming clothes, but those water play areas can be really refreshing on a summer day!  One of our favorite spots at a theme park is Duke’s Lagoon at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA. All of the attractions are perfectly sized for little ones to enjoy so no worries about bringing floaties or dangerous water depths for parents!  If it’s too hot to even go outside, a stay at an indoor water park resort like Great Wolf Lodge might be just the ticket! If you’re looking for us, we’ll be racing down the water slides!

Click here to learn more about Port Discovery!

And speaking of keeping cool, indoor activities are another great option to beat the heat - like Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore! Which brings me to our giveaway I mentioned earlier! I am so excited to share that we have a family 4-pack of tickets to Port Discovery Children's Museum that will be going to one lucky winner!!! Wanna win??? It's super easy!

  • Like the video and comment "I want to go to Port Discovery!"
  • You can even earn a bonus entry for each person you tag in the comments.
  • Giveaway entry period opens July 4th and closes at 9PM on Sunday, July 7th
  • Winner will be announced after the entry period closes!
So don't wait! Head over to Instagram and follow these simple directions. Don't forget, Port Discovery just opened some brand new exhibits in June so it's a perfect time to go and visit this great destination to enjoy a fun day with your kids! Good luck and stay cool this summer!

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