#32 The Lion King

#32 The Lion King

Royal families and their drama, am I right?

This week I tackle the Disney film with one of the biggest legacies: The Lion King!

The earliest ideation for this movie occurred when Disney execs were on a plane together and started discussing making a movie set in Africa. Jeffrey Katzenberg was excited about the idea and started brainstorming a storyline that involved heavier topics, pulling from life experience. Writing began on drafts of the script and the story changed quite a bit as time went on. Creating The Lion King offered a new challenge to the team as it was the very first Disney movie to be an original idea and story (yeah, everyone knows that it’s basically Hamlet, but it’s not like an exact adaptation). An early title of the film was King of the Jungle, which was changed when it was decided that the film does not take place in a jungle. One of the producers, Thomas Schumacher, wound up walking away from production after disagreeing with the directors and other producers; Schumacher apparently was unhappy with the film changing from a more nature documentary style that the early script drafts had to a musical. Don Hahn eventually stepped in and helped hone the story, pushing for it to focus on the coming-of-age themes we see it have today. The animators even found themselves relating to the story’s theme of leadership and the pressure it brings.

Ironically enough, it seems as though most of of the studio didn’t have much confidence in the soon to be hit. Pocahontas was in production at the same time and animators believed that to be the more worthy project. Jeffrey Katzenberg even thought Pocahontas was the more sure hit and that Lion King was more experimental. Still, the animators and production team truly did their homework when making this film. Several production heads traveled to Kenya to study the environment they were basing their film in. And animators took a lion drawing class as well as visited the Miami MetroZoo to study the animals. However, they didn’t just look to wildlife for inspiration, but also classic films and directorial styles. Art director Andy Gaskill said, “We wanted audiences to sense the vastness of the savannah” while also featuring the more “subtle” aspects of nature. Their computer systems were a great help in adding realism – during the wildebeest stampede (which took two years to create) animators were able to give the wildebeests unique paths down into the cavern.

Alan Menken was busy and unable to work on the music for the film, as he had done with Disney’s previous two movies. Tim Rice (who had stepped in to write songs for Aladdin after Howard Ashman’s passing) did come back, but he needed a partner. His first suggestion was ABBA, but they were also busy, so they had to go with his next choice: the legendary Elton John! They aimed for songs that would be enjoyable for both kids and adults, and I’d say they hit their mark. The Lion King soundtrack was the fourth-best selling album of the year. The score was, of course, composed by the one and only Hans Zimmer, who included traditional African musical elements to his music. Honestly, I’m not sure why Disney spent so much money on Elton John and Hans Zimmer for a movie that they didn’t think was going to be successful but I’m sure grateful that they did. The Lion King won Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) at both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and received nominations for “Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life”. Elton John also won a Grammy for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. However, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” scene. The family of the composer of the song, Solomon Linda, sued Disney for royalties and wound up settling with the company who had the rights to the song.

The Lion King had some heavy hitting actors bringing life to it’s characters. Matthew Broderick was cast as adult Simba, with Jonathan Taylor Thomas voicing young Simba. James Earl Jones brought his powerful voice to Mufasa, while Jeremy Irons made Scar the creepy and unsettling villain we know today. Nathan Lane leant his iconic voice to Timon. The two speaking hyenas, Shenzi and Banzai, were voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, respectively. And Rowan Atkinson voiced Zazu, with Robert Guillaume voicing Rafiki.

Despite doubts from the Disney team, the film was incredibly successful. At the time of it’s release it earned the record of having the fourth biggest opening weekend, and it was the highest grossing film of 1994. Critics across the board gave the film high praise, noting not only the fantastic animation, but the deep topics that it touched on. Hal Hinson called it “Shakespearean in tone, epic in scope” while Roger Ebert said it was “a learning experience as well as entertainment.” It won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. TIME has given it the distinction as being one of the “25 All-Time Best Animated Films” and The American Film Institute has ranked it has the fourth best animated film of all time. It has even been chosen to be preserved in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress. This was also the first and only Disney film to be dubbed in Zulu.

Since the film has come out there has been quite the controversy surrounding the similarities between it and the Japanese animated children’s series Jungle Emperor (also known as Kimba the White Lion), including how character’s are portrayed, the names of the protagonists, and even the names of the cartoons. In fact, civilians and animators alike protested The Lion King in Japan. However, the Disney production team has maintained that any similarities are completely coincidental as they were unaware of Kimba’s existence while making their film. It is for sure a lot of coincidences…and I thought it was interesting to discover that Matthew Broderick actually thought The Lion King was an American take on Kimba at first. What is the truth? I suppose no one can say for sure.

Today, The Lion King is still one of the most loved and well-regarded Disney films of all time. It is remembered fondly by 90’s babies and continues to be a classic. In the Disney Parks, it is well represented – the music is featured in many shows, parades, and nighttime displays. Animal Kingdom in Orlando has the very popular show “The Festival of the Lion King” which features floats, puppets, and acrobatics used in performances of the classic songs. There have been two direct-to-video sequels: The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, which told the story of Simba and Nala’s daughter, and The Lion King 1 1/2, which told the story of how Timon and Pumbaa came to meet. There was also a show made for Disney Channel called The Lion Guard which is about Simba and Nala’s son. And most recently, there was the live-action-but-not-really-because-it-was-CGI remake featuring Donald Glover and Beyoncé.

I loved The Lion King as a kid, and still love it today! While I wouldn’t say it is one of my top top favorite’s, it definitely feels like the most epic Disney movie to me. And the older I get, the more I can appreciate it for tackling deeper issues such as loss, growing up, and moving forward after hardship. I’m very excited for this post. So, join me in the Pride Lands as I watch The Lion King!

My thoughts on The Lion King:

  • I just keep being fed so well I love this decade
  • Name a more iconic opening second in film history – I’ll wait
  • Oh my god the animation…all the scenic shots…the different animals 
  • “There’s far too much to take in here” it’s true because everything is so perfect
  • MUFASA!!!
  • Awww baby Simba is so cute!
  • The lift!!
  • Wow the sun is providing a spotlight, nature is amazing

You know there’s at least one random animal at this presentation ceremony like “This could have been an email”

  • That last drum bang with the opening title is so impactful
  • I had a bird for a few years as a kid and I named him Zazu
  • It was a parakeet
  • Why would Zazu go and taunt Scar alone, that’s just silly
  • “Don’t turn your back on me Scar” “Oh no, Mufasa, maybe you shouldn’t turn your back on me” such iconic dialogue, this script wasn’t playing games
  • Good to know family drama extends to even the animal kingdom
  • That score, I’m literally clutching my chest it hits so good
  • I was never a kid who woke up early, I loved sleeping in
  • “Before sunrise he’s your sun” hahaha
  • I know it’s nature and all, but it’s very hard not to think about how all the animals are anthropomorphic and the lions have to slaughter the prey to survive
  • And sure, Mufasa, when you die you become grass and the antelope eat the grass but when YOU’RE getting eaten as grass you’re not sentient
  • Zazu is the definition book smarts without any street smarts
  • I love how Mufasa encourages Simba’s playfulness
  • Scar is evil but I love his sarcasm
  • Why do the elephants have their own graveyard?
  • You gotta give it to Scar, tricking Simba into going to the graveyard is clever. Even if Simba mentions Scar told him what it is, it was in the context of warning him away, Scar can’t get in trouble
  • I wonder why Mufasa and Sarabi chose Nala as Simba’s fiance…If Mufasa is king and Simba’s a prince, is she like a lion duchess or something
  • I’ve always loved the colorful visuals of I Just Can’t Wait to be King
  • And of course I loved the playfulness of Simba and Nala and the ways Zazu gets in trouble!
  • I love Nala – she’s a good friend, she’s clever, and I like that she physically beat Simba twice in a row
  • I never got why they wanted to see the elephant graveyard, idk, I wasn’t into creepy stuff as a kid
  • The hyenas are masters of puns
  • Ooh Simba got a smack in, good job
  • We see in a second how scared the hyenas are of Mufasa, so why would they even attempt to actually kill Simba? I get that it’s their land, but Mufasa will still wreck them
  • “You deliberately disobeyed me” ugh every time I watch this I feel like I let Mufasa down
  • God I love their relationship so much, I think I’m already starting to tear up
  • “And we’ll always be together, right?” yep definitely tearing up
  • I should start looking up to the stars for guidance
  • Oh boy oh boy oh boy
  • That drum intro
  • Those perfectly timed green geysers
  • Be Prepared is certainly the most haunting villain song, it sounds the most evil
  • Scar on the elevated rock, the marching, the imagery is so powerful
  • The “you won’t get a sniff without me” still scares me a little
  • Ooh the dancing skeletons still creep me out too!
  • “My teeth and ambitions are bared” the lyrics are so good in this song
  • I like that while most of the hyenas are watching scar, one is playing the skeleton xylophone, thanks for helping out with the tunes dude
  • That ending shot with the moon in the background is so cool
  • You know, I really didn’t mind the remake, but I do think it was terrible that they basically got rid of Be Prepared and only spoke a few lines, like, the audacity
  • Okay, everyone pause for a water break so you don’t dehydrate after crying in a few minutes
  • “Simba, it’s to die for” ah chills, and not good ones
  • That zoom on Simba – God the visuals of this movie are unparalleled 
  • I want to know how Scar gets away with all this without suspicion – I’m guessing by Mufasa’s reaction that he and Zazu were out patrolling or whatever for the day, so I assume that Scar went to Sarabi and was like “hey I wanna take Simba out for a Uncle-Nephew day 🙂 “ so how come when all was said and done Sarabi wasn’t like “wtf Scar how did Simba get to the bottom of the gorge by himself I thought he was with you?”
  • I can understand one hand why Mufasa isn’t asking questions bc he’s in a rush, but on the other hand, I think as I was running I would be asking “how’d he get there? Who was he with? How did this happen?”
  • “Why did you SEE him in the gorge Scar and not go down and HELP HIM?”
  • The stampede is such a scary and thrilling scene
  • Oh man, when you see Mufasa leap up and you’re a kid and it’s the first time you’re watching it and you think he’s gonna be okay and get out of this somehow because it’s a Disney movies and heroes never die and villains never win or succeed with their plots and everything is always okay and happy in the end and-
  • The horror in Mufasa’s eyes
  • The “long live the king”
  • This movie is stunning and wonderful and the music is fantastic and it is absolutely one of Disney’s all time best, but, gosh, it will never be my favorite purely because of Mufasa’s death it’s just too sad having to watch the protagonist lose their parent (usually one parent is dead, but it’s before the movie begins or sped through) like it just breaks my heart I like a movie that makes me happy
  • I can’t even watch this rn
  • “Dad get up…we gotta go home” I’m in pain
  • I understand that Simba is young and traumatized and I get him blaming himself, but, I’m gonna be honest, even when I was a child myself, I didn’t get why he would think he would get in trouble for Mufasa’s death…..especially when SIMBA knows he was down there because Scar told him to be there, not because he was playing or messing around
  • Look, Scar screws up by sending the imcompetent hyenas to kill Simba, BUT he did actually murder one of his targets and it was the much more powerful and strong target, and he killed him with his own two hands, Scar is literally the most successful Disney villain
  • I guess you could call him the best Disney villain in terms of plot working out…even though Simba doesn’t die, Scar DOES take over Pride Rock 
  • Wow I just realized this, he’s the only villain whose plan works, albeit temporarily
  • I don’t want the hyenas to kill Simba, but there’s no other way around?
  • Poor, poor Simba: traumatized, hurt, blaming himself for Mufasa’s death, doesn’t get to say goodbye, and he doesn’t get to see Mufasa off at the funeral/memorial
  • So, Scar slapped Zazu, which knocked him unconscious so he couldn’t get help…so Zazu was really out that WHOLE time, didn’t even wake up after the stampede to see Scar send the hyenas after Simba? And when he woke up he was just like “lol that was weird of Scar to slap me, definitely nothing suspicious there” ??!!
  • God, poor Sarabi, losing her husband and son on the same day
  • Now, if this was a fair society, Sarabi (as queen) would take over
  • Like how Clarisse took over as Queen after King Rupert (may he rest in peace) died
  • I’m only 45 minutes into this movie but it feels longer – and I mean that in a completely positive way, I feel like I’ve already seen so much excitement and iconic moments 
  • Timon and Pumbaa!!!
  • My roommate and I were given a teddy bear named Timon our sophomore year of college
  • That’s TWO things in my life named after Lion King characters wow!
  • Man, Pumbaa is played for the stupid half of the comic relief, but if it weren’t for him, Simba would have died
  • I love how much they both take care of Simba
  • “He looks blue” “I’d say brownish gold” hahahaha
  • “Bad things happen and you can’t do anything about it” 2020 in a nutshell
  • Maybe I should start saying Hakuna Matata to try to get through 2020
  • “I when I was a young warthoooogggg”
  • When I was a kid, I never got what Pumbaa was gonna say before Timon shushed him (which is supposed to be the word farted) and as an adult I don’t understand why Timon shushes him and says “not in front of the kids” because we just saw a bunch of fart jokes? Kids love fart jokes? At least, I guess they do because there are so many of them in kids movies. Why would farted be censored for kids, only kids say the word farted at all
  • As an adult I’m also thinking about Timon and Pumbaa’s “forget about your hard past with this cheery song” is (even though they don’t know it) basically saying “forget about your dad who just died yesterday with this cheery song”
  • Their home is so gorgeous
  • Can Simba even survive without meat?
  • Eww the eating bugs part is so gross
  • I always liked the visual of walking across the log to show Simba’s growth but always wanted to know how long it translated to
  • I’m gonna look that up
  • So Lions reach maturity at 3 years and start fighting for dominance at 4-5 years, so, wow, yeah okay he was with Timon and Pumbaa and away from home for awhile
  • I don’t want Zazu to die, but really, why HASN’T he been killed yet?
  • Simba sounds like Ferris Bueller now!
  • I LOVE that Pumbaa guesses exactly what stars are, it’s a joke that goes over your head as a little kid, but it’s great as you grow up
  • Aww, Simba sharing his father’s words
  • “A bunch of royal dead guys are watching us?” hahaha
  • Aww it’s sad though, stop making fun of Mufasa!!!
  • It’s been like 3 years, why did the winds just NOW tell Rafiki that Simba was alive?
  • In the Jungle reminds me of Friends and Marcel the monkey
  • Glad to see Nala’s only gotten fiercer with age
  • “Go for the jugular” lmfaooo I love Timon
  • I love the throwback to Nala pinning him down as kids
  • Glad to see she can still kick his butt
  • Their reunion is so cute!!! They just revert back to being kids
  • And Timone confusion is hysterical
  • “Your majesty, I gravel at your feet” hahaha I love Pumbaa too
  • “I can see what’s happening and they don’t have a clue”
  •  I love the back and forth between them at the start of the song
  • “our trio’s down to two / oh”
  • “Disaster’s in the air!!” Timon is so extra but I love it
  • Not to be a Debbie Downer, and maybe it’s because I’ve never reunited with a long lost childhood best friend after years of thinking he was dead, but if I were Nala, I think I’d want to deal with the current famine, destruction of my homeland, and despot ruler on the throne, before going into romance times
  • They are cute, though, I don’t have a heart of stone
  • I like that they are so playful – like him pulling her into the water and then her pushing him
  • Timon and Pumbaa straight up sobbing hahaha 
  • It’s about time we got down to business
  • “You’re starting to sound like my father” “good at least one of us does” GET HIM NALA
  • “You said you’d always be there for me” ouch, it hurts
  • Simba is still dealing with so much pain, I do feel bad for the poor guy
  • Rafiki is so tricky
  • Is it really that surprising to Simba that someone recognizes him? He was literally thrown up in front of the whole kingdom
  • Oh man the disappointment that came as a kid watching this for the first time
  • You really think “of course Mufasa is alive! It’s a Disney movie! I knew people didn’t die!”
  • And then you get the “he lives in you Simba” bs
  • The sentiment isn’t bs it’s just…you get what I mean
  • MUFASA!!!!
  • This is so powerful
  • Remember who you are
  • Simba’s face is truly all of our faces
  • Mufasa came back in cloud form to tell you to get it together 
  • “The past can hurt but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it” Best. Disney Quote. Ever
  • Yes Simba!!! Go back!!!!! 
  • “Who?” “Scar” “Whose got a scar?” “No it’s his uncle” “the monkey’s his uncle” hahaha I love this whole exchange
  • This music is so triumphant and epic as Simba races across the desert
  • Gosh, things got bleak
  • Timon and Pumbaa could have easily stayed in their lovely home, but they came to help, absolute kings! True ride or die friends
  • “We’re gonna fight your uncle…for this??” lmfao
  • “Talk about your fixer upper” and then Chip and Joanna appeared
  • I think the “what do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?”…”LUAU!” is the best transition in Disney history, it’s hysterical!
  • Pumbaa with the apple in his mouth hahahaha I love this part so much
  • Simba returning with the lightning in the background, nature LOVES this family
  • Scar thinking for a moment that Simba is Mufasa is such a nice touch
  • “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rip you apart” there are none, throw some mfing hands Simba
  • I’m still confused at this part because Simba claims he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death (because Mufasa was saving him in the gorge) but why are the other lions surprised? Didn’t they know Mufasa died saving Simba in the gorge? I mean, they both (Simba supposedly) died in the gorge, so????
  • It’s not like anyone would actually believe little baby Simba, who was utterly devoted to his father and showed no signs of malice or murder actually liked pushed him in so, what are the lions thinking he means?
  • Is it because he thinks his roar caused the stampede?? Maybe I’m dumb, but I’ve never found it clear or not whether Simba thinks his roar was responsible…I guess he is supposed to think that because that’s why Scar goads him into practicing….
  • Gosh, two decades of watching this movie and there’s still so much to unpack, please explain to me in the comments if you know what’s going on lmao
  • “I killed Mufasa” so chilling!
  • Go lionesses! Go!!!
  • “Let me out let me out!” “let me in let me in!” hahaha
  • “Are you talking to me??…They call me Mr. Pig!!” hahaha
  • There are too many great lines in this movie (and yes I know that last one was taken)
  • The fire, the drama, the detail of the embers in the air, beautiful yet terrifying
  • Nah, I get Simba doesn’t want to murder and I respect that, and I get he’s repeating Scar’s line to him about running away, but, is it really smart to let him go, out into the wild, where he can build up another army and come back? You gonna put a tracking device in him Simba to make sure he doesn’t come within 100 ft. of Pride Rock? There has to be some sort of Lion jail
  • Embers in the eyes ah!
  • The slow-mo fighting wow
  • Good thing the hyenas were pissed enough to kill Scar so Simba doesn’t have to do it
  • *me through tears* I will remember Mufasa…
  • That ROAR
  • I love that Timon and Pumbaa join them
  • BABY!!! So small, so cute 
  • Circle of Liiiiffeee
  • Lion King has it’s title at the end again just so you KNOW the iconic film you just saw
  • Thank you Elton, thank you Tim Rice, thank you Hans Freaking Zimmer
  • God Lion King has high quality animation, high quality and well known talent for the voice actors, high quality score, high quality songs, it does not slack anywhere 
  • Truly an incredible film

This movie is so iconic and always such a joy to watch (except for, you know, the murder). As I said in the intro, I love how it handles tough themes, but I also love how funny it is for all ages. And boy does that music AND score slap. Definitely a Disney movie that holds up and holds up strong.

Next up on the list is The Lion King’s production twin, Pocahontas!

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