The Lion King is the 32nd film in the Disney animated feature canon, and is also the highest-grossing traditionally animated feature film ever released in the United States. It was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, originally released to selected cities by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution on June 15, 1994, and put into general release on June 24, 1994. A digitally retouched and enhanced Special Edition version of the film was released in IMAX format on December 25, 2002.
The film is about a young lion cub named Simba who learns about his place on the throne of Pride Rock and his role in the circle of life.
It is commonly claimed that The Lion King was inspired from Osamu Tezuka's 1960s animated series Kimba the White Lion, although Disney denies this.
Unlike previous Disney animated films, which used a few well-known voice actors alongside lesser-known performers, nearly all of the voice acting work for this film was done by well-known actors, including James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Rowan Atkinson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Robert Guillaume, and Nathan Lane. The Lion King is a musical film, with songs written by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, and a film score by Hans Zimmer. Many of the John/Rice tunes became Disney standards or pop hits in their own right, but Zimmer's score also drew substantial praise.
About the film
The Lion King, though a very humanistic story, remains the only Disney film to have absolutely no trace of human existence. Robin Hood featured only anthropomorphized animals who lived like humans, while Bambi featured only unseen human characters; whether this makes The Lion King Walt Disney's first "non-human animals-only" film is open to interpretation, but it is one film that is free of "human elements". The film was also the first Disney animated feature to have a non-villain main character die on-screen.
Computer animation was used extensively in the creation of the movie, particularly during the "Circle of Life" and the technologically innovative stampede sequences.
During its production, The Lion King was considered a secondary project to Pocahontas, which was in production at the same time. Many of the Disney Feature Animation staffers preferred to work on Pocahontas, thinking that film would be the more prestigious and successful of the two. However, as the film was being marketed, the studio noticed that the released teaser, which consisted of the entire opening sequence featuring the song, "Circle of Life", was getting a strongly enthusiastic reaction from audiences. Furthermore, when the film was in limited release in two major theatres, the film did very impressive business which suggested that this "secondary project" promised to be popular. Upon general release, the film more than confirmed that suspicion by becoming the most successful film of the year and the most successful animated feature film of all time (though with inflation factored in it would be fourth). The film made $328,541,776 in domestic gross income and $783,841,776 worldwide.
Simba's father Mufasa, the king of the Pride Lands, is murdered by his own brother and Simba's uncle, Scar, who then convinces Simba that Mufasa's death was Simba's fault and encourages the young cub into self-imposed exile ("Run away, Simba. Run... Run away and never return."). Scar reports Mufasa's and Simba's "accidental" death to the pride, believing the cub to have been killed by his vicious hyena henchmen. He becomes king and his hyenas overrun the Pride Lands.
Simba escapes from the hyenas but collapses, exhausted, in the desert. The young cub is saved and befriended by Timon and Pumbaa (a meerkat and warthog respectively). After growing up with the pair, the adult Simba encounters his childhood friend, a formidable lioness named Nala, who has fled Scar's dictatorial rule to seek help. She urges Simba to return to the Pride Lands and retake his rightful throne, but he refuses, still traumatized by the false belief that he caused his father's death. After Rafiki the witch-doctor mandrill shows Simba that Mufasa's spirit still lives on inside him, Simba goes back home. His return inspires the lionesses of the pride to rise up against the hyenas; Simba defeats his evil uncle in combat – but not before Scar reveals to all that it was in fact he who killed Mufasa – and reclaims his kingdom. The film concludes with the birth of Simba and Nala's cub.
The plot bears similarities to both Shakespeare's play Hamlet and the 1942 Disney animated feature Bambi. During production, Disney staffers jokingly referred to The Lion King as "Bamblet".
Mufasa, Simba's father and King of the Pride Lands.
- Mufasa - King of the Pridelands, father of Simba and mate of Sarabi, murdered by his brother Scar; the name is possibly derived from "Mustafa", another name of Kemal Atatürk. The hyenas in the movie pronounce the name in a funny way that is often imitated in American pop culture. Also, Mufasa was reportedly the name of the last king of the Bagada people, who were dispersed during the English colonization of Kenya. (see )
- Simba - The future ruler of the Pridelands, son of Mufasa, who was exiled by his uncle Scar. The word "simba" in the Swahili language means "lion".
- Nala - Friend and future mate of Simba (Swahili for "gift"). According to co-director Rob Minkoff , speaking in 2004, the general assumption during production was that Nala was the offspring of either Scar or Mufasa. The film never specifies this, for obvious reasons of taste, though it is consistent with the real-life behaviour of lions.
- Scar - Brother of Mufasa and Simba's Uncle. It is said that Scar's name was "Taka" (Swahili for "dirt" or "trash") before his disfiguration.
- Sarabi - Mother of Simba and Mufasa's mate (Swahili for "mirage").
- Rafiki - Mandrill shaman, Simba's spiritual guide (Swahili for "friend").
- Timon and Pumbaa - A comical duo who adopt Simba and raise him under the philosophy of "Hakuna Matata" (Swahili for 'no worries'). Pumbaa means "simpleton" in Swahili. Timon could be named after a Greek philospher or the title character of Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens.
- Zazu - A pompous hornbill who is King Mufasa's majordomo (advisor).
- Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed - Three hyenas who assist Scar in murdering Mufasa and exiling Simba. Shenzi is Swahili for "uncouth"; Banzai means "skulk" or "lurk".
- Sarafina - Although her name is never spoken in the movie, Sarafina is Nala's mother
Sequels and spin-offs
The Lion King was so successful that Disney's television animation arm created a direct-to-video sequel called The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998), focusing on Simba's daughter Kiara. A spin-off television series called Timon and Pumbaa focused on the Meerkat and Warthog duo, and implied that the story took place during the mid Twentieth Century through the appearance of humans, human clothing and technology. A second direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King 1½ (also known as The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata), was released on February 10, 2004, and takes place on a parallel time line that interweaves with the original Lion King, but from Timon and Pumbaa's perspective.
The original movie was remastered and, on October 7, 2003, released as The Lion King: 2-Disc Special Edition, part of Disney's Platinum Edition line of DVDs. Among the extra features on the disc was an extended version of one scene, where a short conversation has been replaced with a complete song, "The Morning Report", which was originally written for the stage musical (see below). By means of seamless branching, the movie could be viewed either with or without the extra scene.
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride was re-released in a 2 disc Special Edition on August 31, 2004.
A boxed set of the three films (in double-disc Special Edition formats) was released on December 6, 2004.
The movie was also adapted into an award-winning Broadway stage musical with the same title, directed by Julie Taymor, featuring actors in animal costumes as well as giant, hollow puppets. The stage show first opened on November 13, 1997 in New York City, and was an instant and tremendous success. A version later opened London, and another in Toronto, playing there until January 2004. It is also now playing in Buffalo, New York, Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.
A soundtrack CD was sold separately from the film. In the original United States version, this CD had the following tracks:
- Circle Of Life (by Carmen Twillie)
- I Just Can't Wait To Be King (Jason Weaver, Rowan Atkinson, Laura Williams )
- Be Prepared (Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings)
- Hakuna Matata (Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jason Weaver, Joseph Williams )
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight (Joseph Williams , Sally Dworsky , Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Kristle Edwards )
- This Land (instrumental, by Hans Zimmer)
- To Die For (instrumental, by Hans Zimmer)
- Under The Stars (instrumental, by Hans Zimmer)
- King Of Pride Rock (instrumental, by Hans Zimmer)
- Circle Of Life (Elton John)
- I Just Can't Wait To Be King (Elton John)
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight End Title (Elton John)
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight (Elton John remix)
In most international releases of the CD, Elton John's versions were removed except for the bottom one.
More recently, with the making of the Special Edition and its extra song, "The Morning Report", newer CDs include this track:
- The Morning Report (James Earl Jones, Jeff Bennett, Evan Saucedo )
Controversies surrounding The Lion King
The Lion King bears a striking resemblance to a famous Japanese animated television show, Kimba the White Lion, and many claims have been made that The Lion King was strongly inspired by it. Each character in Kimba has an analogue in The Lion King, the plot has the same structure, and many individual scenes are nearly identical in composition and camera angle. However, Disney's official stance is that any resemblances are a coincidence, and the directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff claim they were well into the development process before someone pointed out the Kimba similarity. The family of Osamu Tezuka, Kimba's creator, have not filed suit against Disney; fans have speculated that this may be because of Tezuka's well-known love for Disney's works during his lifetime.
In one scene of the movie it appears as if animators had embedded the word "sex" into several frames of animation — the intention, however, was the letter combination "SFX" (for "special effects"), sort of an innocent "signature" signed by the effects animation team to the work they did.
The use of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has led to disputes between Disney and the family of South African Solomon Linda , who composed the song (originally titled "Mbube") in 1939. In July 2004 the family filed suit, seeking $1.6 million in royalties.
It has been said that a part of a scene was removed from the American version of The Lion King stage musical. When Mufasa dies, the lionesses cry over his dead body: this is enacted using a Japanese puppet mourning technique in which ribbons flow out of the eyes to symbolize tears. To some, the story goes, this looks like the lionesses were crying out toilet paper, causing the audience to laugh at an inappropriate moment. However, the scene was not actually removed, nor does it provoke laughter or confusion during live play. The story can therefore be dismissed as an urban legend.
The two child actors playing the lead roles of Simba and Nala in the Australian stage version were fired due to bad acting, lack of singing talent and inconsistent American accent.