The Lion King

The Lion King
The Lion King
In an African savannah, several animals stare at a lion atop a tall rock. A lion's head can be seen in the clouds above. Atop the image is the text "Walt Disney Pictures presents The Lion King".
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin[1]
Directed by
Produced by Don Hahn
Written by
Music by Hans Zimmer
Editing by Ivan Bilancio
Studio Walt Disney Feature Animation
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Release date(s) June 15, 1994 (1994-06-15)[2]
Running time 87 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $45 million[3]
Box office $936,694,906[3]

The Lion King is a 1994 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 32nd feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The story takes place in a kingdom of anthropomorphic lions in Africa,[4] and was influenced by the Bible tales of Joseph and Moses, the Epic of Sundiata, and the William Shakespeare play Hamlet. The film was produced during a period known as the Disney Renaissance.[5] The Lion King was directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton, produced by Don Hahn, and stars Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, Robert Guillaume, Madge Sinclair, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings. It tells the story of Simba, a young lion who is to take his father Mufasa's place as king. However, after Simba's uncle Scar kills Mufasa, he must stop his uncle from conquering the Pride Lands and avenge his father.

Development of The Lion King began in 1988 during a meeting between Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney and Peter Schneider while promoting Oliver & Company in Europe. Thomas Disch and Woolverton wrote treatments of the film and George Scribner was signed on as director. Production began in 1991 and the staff traveled to Hell's Gate National Park for the film's setting and based the characters on real-life animals. When Allers joined the project, Scribner left production and was replaced by Minkoff. When Hahn joined the project, he was dissatisfied with the script and the story was promptly rewritten. In 1992, Mecchi and Roberts joined Woolverton as screenwriters. During production, most of the animators decided to work on their other project, Pocahontas, as they thought that it would be the more prestigious and successful of the two films. Nearly 20 minutes of animation sequences took place at Disney-MGM Studios in Florida. Computer animation was also used in several scenes, most notably in the wildebeest stampede scene.

The Lion King was released on June 15, 1994[2] to a positive reaction from critics, who praised the film for its music and story. The film is the highest-grossing hand-drawn film in history,[6] the highest-grossing 2D animated film in the United States,[7] and the 15th-highest-grossing feature film. The Lion King garnered two Academy Awards for its achievement in music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Its songs were written by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans Zimmer.[8] It has earned over $936 million worldwide as of 2011.

A Broadway adaptation of the film opened in 1997, and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Disney produced two direct-to-video films – a sequel The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998) and a prequel/parallel The Lion King 1½ (2004). The film was re-released worldwide in 3D on September 16, 2011 to further box office success.



A large number of animals gather around Pride Rock in Africa witnessing the arrival of Simba, the newborn son of the lion king and queen, Mufasa and Sarabi. Mufasa's younger brother, Scar, is displeased with the birth of this heir. As a young cub, Mufasa teaches Simba about being king. While touring of the Pride Lands, Simba asks about a shadowy place; Mufasa tells him it is forbidden. The lesson is stopped when Zazu, Mufasa's Hornbill adviser, informs him that hyenas have entered the Pride Lands. Mufasa tells Zazu to take Simba home while he gets rid of the hyenas. Later that day, Scar tells Simba that the shadowy place is in fact an elephant graveyard. Simba's curiosity is piqued, and he convinces his best friend Nala, a female lion cub, to come with him. Sarabi sends Zazu to keep an eye on the two cubs, but they soon leave him behind. They finally reach the elephant graveyard, where they come upon three spotted hyenas, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. The hyenas chase after the cubs, but Mufasa rescues them. Mufasa sends Nala and Zazu back to Pride Rock, and admonishes Simba before teaching him about the stars. Simba learns that these stars represent the past kings who will always be there to guide him.

Meanwhile, Scar plots with the hyenas to take over the Pride Lands. On Scar's orders, the hyenas stampede a large pack of wildebeest into a gorge and Simba runs away. Mufasa learns of Simba's predicament, rescuing the cub. However, as Mufasa attempts to flee by climbing the gorge's walls, Scar throws him back down the gorge to his death. Scar tricks Simba into thinking that Mufasa's death resulted from the cub's carelessness. Ashamed, Simba flees the Pride Lands, intending to never return. In Simba's absence, Scar steps forward as Mufasa's rightful heir and becomes the new king.

Simba collapses in the wasteland after his escape, but is found by Timon, a meerkat, and Pumbaa, a warthog. The duo nurse him back to health and take him in, teaching him their motto, "hakuna matata" (interpreted as "no worries"). Years later, as an adult, Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, discovering that the lioness is Nala. Simba learns from Nala that Scar's irresponsibility as King of the Pride Lands is leading to the suffering of its inhabitants. Still feeling guilt over his father's death, Simba refuses to return. The wise mandrill Rafiki tracks Simba down and summons Mufasa's ghost for Simba. The ghost informs Simba that he must return to the Pride Lands and become king; Simba refuses, but the ghost tells him to remember that he is his son and the true king.

Simba returns to Pride Rock with Nala, Timon and Pumbaa, who all agree to help him fight. While Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyena guardians, Simba confronts Scar on Pride Rock. Scar forces Simba towards the edge of Pride Rock to kill him, informing him that he killed Mufasa. Enraged at this realization, Simba leaps back up and pins Scar, forcing his uncle to reveal the truth to the other lions. A fight ensues between the hyenas and lionesses while Simba confronts Scar alone at the top of Pride Rock. Scar begs Simba for mercy, accusing the hyenas of planning everything. Despite Simba sparing Scar, the lions attack again, and Simba eventually throws Scar off a cliff. Scar survives the fall, but is attacked and killed by the hyenas, who overheard his attempt to betray them.

With Scar and the hyenas gone, Simba is greeted by Sarabi and Nala. Simba walks up Pride Rock and remembers Mufasa, then lets out a roar in which all the lionesses join. Sometime later, Pride Rock is restored to its former glory and Simba looks down happily at his kingdom with Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa by his side; Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub to the inhabitants of the Pride Lands and the circle of life continues.

Voice cast

  • Matthew Broderick as Prince Simba - Mufasa and Sarabi's son, Scar's nephew, Nala's husband and the current King of the Pride Lands. Joseph Williams provides Simba's singing voice. Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays the younger Simba, with Jason Weaver providing his singing voice.
  • James Earl Jones as King Mufasa - Scar's older brother, Sarabi's husband, Simba's father, Nala's father-in-law.
  • Jeremy Irons as Scar - Mufasa's younger brother, Sarabi's brother-in-law and Simba's uncle.
  • Moira Kelly as Nala - Sarafina's daughter, Simba's best friend and wife, Mufasa and Sarabi's daughter-in-law and the current Queen of the Pride Lands. Sally Dworsky provides Nala's singing voice. Niketa Calame plays the younger Nala, with Laura Williams providing her singing voice.
  • Ernie Sabella as Pumbaa - Simba and Timon's warthog friend.
  • Nathan Lane as Timon - Simba and Pumbaa's meerkat friend.
  • Robert Guillaume as Rafiki - a wise old mandrill who serves as shaman of the Pride Lands and presents newborn cubs of The Lion King and Queen to the animals of the Pride Lands.
  • Rowan Atkinson as Zazu - A Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill who serves as The Lion King's adviser.
  • Madge Sinclair as Sarabi - Mufasa's wife, Scar's sister-in-law, Simba's mother and was Queen of the Pride Land until Scar took over.
  • Whoopi Goldberg as Shenzi - The only female and leader of the hyena trio who serve Scar.
  • Cheech Marin as Banzai - One of the two male members of the hyena trio who serve Scar.
  • Jim Cummings as Ed - One of the two male members of the hyena trio who serve Scar and the only one of the trio who laughs instead of talking.


Story development

The idea for The Lion King started in late 1988 during a conversation between Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney and Peter Schneider on a plane to Europe to promote the film Oliver and Company. During the conversation, the topic of a story set in Africa came up, and Katzenberg immediately jumped at the idea.[9] Katzenberg also decided to add elements involving coming of age and death.[10] In November of that year Thomas Disch (author of The Brave Little Toaster) wrote a treatment, entitled King of the Kalahari,[11] and in the following year Linda Woolverton did the first draft of the script, which was entitled King of the Jungle and drew much inspiration from Hamlet.

The original version of the film was very different from the final film. The plot was centered in a battle being between lions and baboons with Scar being the leader of the baboons, Rafiki being a cheetah,[10] and Timon and Pumbaa being Simba's childhood friends.[12] Simba would also not leave the kingdom, but become a "lazy, slovenly, horrible character" due to manipulations from Scar, so Simba could be overthrown after coming of age.[13]

Oliver and Company director George Scribner was the initial director of the film,[13] being later joined by Roger Allers, who was the lead story man on Beauty and the Beast in October 1991.[9] Allers brought with him Brenda Chapman, who would become the head of story.[13] After six months of story development work Scribner decided to leave the project, as he clashed with Allers with his intention of making a documentary-like film more focused on natural aspects, and also disagreed on turning the film into a musical.[9][14] Rob Minkoff replaced Scribner, and producer Don Hahn joined the production. Hahn found the script unfocused and lacking a clear theme, and after establishing the main theme as "leaving childhood and facing up to the realities of the world", asked for a final retool. Allers, Minkoff, Chapman and Hahn then rewrote the story across two days' worth of meetings with directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, who had just finished Beauty and the Beast.[15] The script also had its title changed from King of the Jungle to The Lion King, as the setting was not the jungle but the savannah.[9]

During the summer of 1992, the team was joined by screenwriter Irene Mecchi, with a second screenwriter, Jonathan Roberts, joining a few months later. Mecchi and Roberts took charge of the revision process, fixing unresolved emotional issues in the script and adding comic business for Pumbaa, Timon and the hyenas.[16] Lyricist Tim Rice worked closely with the writing team, as his songs needed to work in the narrative continuity, and the lyrics were even pinned to the storyboards during development.[15]


The voice actors were chosen for how they fit and could add to the characters - for instance, James Earl Jones was cast because the directors found his voice "powerful" and similar to a lion's roar. Nathan Lane originally auditioned for Zazu, and Ernie Sabella for a hyena. Upon meeting each other at the recording studio, the actors, who at the time were co-stars in Guys and Dolls, asked to record together as hyenas. The directors laughed at their performance and decided to cast the duo as Timon and Pumbaa.[1][17] For the hyenas, the original intention was reuniting Cheech & Chong, but while Cheech Marin accepted to play Banzai, Tommy Chong was unavailable. Thus his role was changed into a female hyena, Shenzi, played by Whoopi Goldberg.[12]


"The Lion King was considered a little movie because we were going to take some risks. The pitch for the story was a lion cub gets framed for murder by his uncle set to the music of Elton John. People said, 'What? Good luck with that.' But for some reason, the people who ended up on the movie were highly passionate about it and motivated."

Don Hahn[1]

The development of The Lion King started concurrently with Pocahontas, which most of the animators of Walt Disney Feature Animation decided to work on instead, believing it would be the more prestigious and successful of the two.[4] The story artists also did not have much faith in the project, with Brenda Chapman declaring she was reluctant to accept the job "because the story wasn't very good",[13] and writer Burny Mattinson saying to co-worker Joe Ranft about the film that "I don't know who is going to want to watch that one."[14] Most of the leading animators were either doing their first major work supervising a character, or had much interest in animating an animal.[10] Thirteen of these supervising animators, both in California and Florida, were responsible for establishing the personalities and setting the tone for the film's main characters. The animation leads for the main characters included Mark Henn on young Simba, Ruben A. Aquino on adult Simba, Andreas Deja on Scar, Aaron Blaise on young Nala, Anthony DeRosa on adult Nala, and Tony Fucile on Mufasa.[16] Nearly 20 minutes of the film, including the "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" sequence,[12] were animated at the Disney-MGM Studios facility.[16] Ultimately, more than 600 artists, animators and technicians contributed to The Lion King over the course of its production.[16]

The character animators studied real-life animals for reference, as was done for the 1942 Disney film Bambi. Jim Fowler, renowned wildlife expert, visited the studios on several occasions with an assortment of lions and other savannah inhabitants to discuss behavior and help the animators give their drawings an authentic feel.[15] During pre-production in 1991, several of the lead crew members, including Allers, Scribner, Hahn, Chapman, and production designer Chris Sanders, had taken a trip to Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya, in order to study and gain an appreciation of the environment for the film. The Pride Lands are modeled on the national park.[16] Since the characters were not antropomorphized, all the animators had to learn to draw four-legged animals, and the story and character development was done through usage of longer shots following the characters.[12]

The use of computers helped the filmmakers present their vision in new ways. The most notable use of computer animation is in the "wildebeest stampede" sequence. Several distinct wildebeest characters were created in a 3D computer program, multiplied into hundreds, cel shaded to look like drawn animation, and given randomized paths down a mountainside to simulate the real, unpredictable movement of a herd. [18] Five specially trained animators and technicians spent more than two years creating the two-and-a-half minute stampede sequence.[16] Other usages of computer animation were done through CAPS, which helped simulate camera movements such as tracking shots, and was employed on the coloring, lighting and particle effects.[12]

The enthusiastic audience reception to an early Lion King film trailer, which consisted solely of the opening sequence with the song "Circle of Life", suggested that the film would be very successful. While both The Lion King and Pocahontas were commercial successes, The Lion King received more positive feedback and earned larger grosses than did Pocahontas, released one year later.[19][20][21]


Lyricist Tim Rice, who was working with composer Alan Menken on songs for Aladdin, was invited to write the songs, and accepted on the condition of finding a composing partner. As Menken was unavailable, the producers accepted Rice's suggestion of Elton John,[17] after Rice's invitation of ABBA fell through due to Benny Andersson being busy with the musical Kristina från Duvemåla.[10] John and Rice wrote five original songs for this film ("Circle of Life", "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", "Be Prepared", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight") with the singer's performance of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" over the end credits.[22] The IMAX and DVD releases added another song, "The Morning Report", which was based on a song discarded during development that eventually got featured in the live musical version of The Lion King.[23] The film's score was composed by Hans Zimmer and supplemented with traditional African music and choir elements arranged by Lebo M.[22]

The film's original motion picture soundtrack was released on July 13, 1994. It was the fourth-best-selling album of the year on the Billboard 200 and the top-selling soundtrack.[24] It is the only soundtrack for an animated film to be Diamond certified (10x platinum). Additionally, The Lion King Expanded Score contains never-before-released instrumental music from Hans Zimmer's original score.[25]



Upon release, The Lion King was accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign which included tie-ins with Burger King, Mattel, Kodak, Nestlé and Payless Shoesource, and various merchandise,[26] accounting 186 licensed products.[27][28] In 1994, Disney earned approximately $1 billion with products based on the film,[29] with $214 million alone for Lion King toys during Christmas 1994.[30]

Box office

Box office revenue Box office ranking Reference
United States Foreign Worldwide All time domestic All time worldwide
$422,294,906 $514,400,000 $936,694,906 #9 #15 [3]

The Lion King has earned $422,294,906 in North America, as of November 17, 2011, and an estimated $514,400,000 in other territories, as of November 17, 2011, for a worldwide total of $936,694,906.[3] It is the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time worldwide and the highest-grossing film of Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is also the highest-grossing motion picture of 1994 worldwide.[31] The Lion King held the record for the highest-grossing animated feature film (in North America, overseas and worldwide) until it was surpassed by the computer animated Finding Nemo (2003), Shrek 2 (2004), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). During its 3D re-release in 2011, The Lion King surpassed Finding Nemo, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Shrek 2 to rank as the second-highest-grossing animated film worldwide behid Toy Story 3. Therefore, as of 2011, it remains the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated feature film[32] and the biggest animated movie of the last 50 years in terms of estimated attendance.[33]

Original theatrical run

The Lion King had a limited release in North America on June 15, 1994, playing in only two theaters, El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It still earned $1,586,753 across the weekend of June 17–19, standing at the tenth place of the box office ranking.[34] The average of $793,377 per theater stands as the largest ever achieved during a weekend.[35] The wide release followed on June 24, 1994, in 2,550 theaters. The Lion King grossed $40.9 million - which at the time was the fourth biggest opening weekend earning ever and the highest sum for a Disney film - to top the weekend box office.[36] By the end of its theatrical run, in spring 1995, it had earned $312,855,561,[3] being the second-highest-grossing 1994 film in North America behind Forrest Gump.[37] The worldwide total was $772.6 million, placing it as the highest-grossing film of the year.[38]


The film was re-issued on January 1, 2002 for IMAX and large-format theaters, from which it earned $15,686,215 in North America.[39]

In 2011, The Lion King was converted to 3D for a two-week limited theatrical re-issue and subsequent 3D Blu-Ray release.[40][41] The film opened at the number one spot on Friday, September 16, 2011 with $8.9 million[42] and finished the weekend with $30.2 million, ranking number one at the box office.[43] This made The Lion King the first re-issue release to earn the number-one slot at the American weekend box office since the re-issue of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi in March 1997.[32] The film also achieved the fourth-highest September opening weekend of all time.[44] It held off very well on its second weekend, again earning first place at the box office with a 27% decline to $21.9 million.[45] Most box-office observers had expected the film to fall about 50% in its second weekend and were also expecting Moneyball to be at first place.[46] The weekend overall broke the record for the busiest September weekend of all time (at least a $117 million aggregated gross).[45]

After its initial box-office success, many theaters decided to continue to show the film for more than two weeks, even though its 3D Blu-Ray release was scheduled for two-and-a-half weeks after its theatrical release.[45] But during its third weekend, the film came in third place behind Dolphin Tale and Moneyball after falling a steep 52% fall to $10.6 million.[47] However, notably, while September 2011 was the highest-grossing September of all time,[48] The Lion King 3D was September's highest-grossing movie (with a $71.9 million gross by the end of the month). This was also the highest gross for a movie in September since The Sixth Sense earned $84.4 million in 1999.[49] The successful 3D re-release of The Lion King made Disney and Pixar plan 3D theatrical re-releases of Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and The Little Mermaid from 2012 - 2013.[50]

Critical response

The Lion King garnered critical acclaim and at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 75 reviews collected, the film has an overall approval rating of 88%, with a weighted average score of 8/10.[20] Among Rotten Tomatoes' Cream of the Crop, which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs,[51] the film holds an overall approval rating of 100 percent.[52] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized 0–100 rating to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 84 from the 13 reviews it collected.[53]

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert called the film "a superbly drawn animated feature" and, in his print review wrote, "The saga of Simba, which in its deeply buried origins owes something to Greek tragedy and certainly to Hamlet, is a learning experience as well as an entertainment."[54] On the television program Siskel & Ebert the film was praised but received a mixed reaction when compared to previous Disney films. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film a "Thumbs Up" but Siskel said that it was not as good as earlier films such as Beauty and the Beast and was "a good film, not a great one".[55] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called it "an impressive, almost daunting achievement" and felt that the film was "spectacular in a manner that has nearly become commonplace with Disney's feature-length animations", but was less enthusiastic toward the end of his review saying, "Shakespearean in tone, epic in scope, it seems more appropriate for grown-ups than for kids. If truth be told, even for adults it is downright strange."[56] Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly, praised the film and wrote that it "has the resonance to stand not just as a terrific cartoon but as an emotionally pungent movie".[57] Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers praised the film and felt that it was "a hugely entertaining blend of music, fun and eye-popping thrills, though it doesn't lack for heart".[58] The staff of TV Guide wrote that "The film has some of Disney's most spectacular animation yet—particularly in the wildebeest stampede—and strong vocal performances, especially by skilled Broadway comedian Nathan Lane. However, it suffers from a curiously undeveloped story line."[59] James Berardinelli, film critic for ReelViews, praised the film saying, "With each new animated release, Disney seems to be expanding its already-broad horizons a little more. The Lion King is the most mature (in more than one sense) of these films, and there clearly has been a conscious effort to please adults as much as children. Happily, for those of us who generally stay far away from 'cartoons', they have succeeded."[60]

In June 2011, TIME named it one of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films".[61]


The Lion King received four Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. The film would go on to win two Golden Globes, for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score,[62] as well as two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score (by Hans Zimmer) and Best Original Song with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" by Elton John and Tim Rice.[63] The songs "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata".[63] "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" also won the BMI Film Music Award, and the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance.[64][65] The film also won Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Best Achievement in Voice Acting (for Jeremy Irons) and Best Individual Achievement for Story Contribution in the Field of Animation.[66]

At the Saturn Awards, the film was nominated in two categories, Best Fantasy Film and Best Performance by a Younger Actor although it did not win in either category.[67][68] The film also received two nominations at the British Academy Film Awards, for Best Sound as well as the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music although it lost in both categories to Speed and Backbeat respectively.[69] The film received two BMI Film & TV Awards for Film Music and Most Performed Song with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."[70] At the 1995 MTV Movie Awards the film received nominations for Best Villain and Best Song, though it lost in both categories.[71] The Lion King won the Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Movie at the 1995 Kids' Choice Awards.[72] In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "10 Top 10"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Lion King was acknowledged as the 4th best film in the animation genre.[73]

American Film Institute Lists[74][75][76]
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
  • AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
  • AFI's 10 Top 10 – #4 Animated Film

Home media

The Lion King was first released on VHS and laserdisc in the United States on March 3, 1995, under Disney's "Masterpiece Collection" video series. In addition, Deluxe Editions of both formats were released. The VHS Deluxe Edition included the film, an exclusive lithograph of Rafiki and Simba (in some editions), a commemorative "Circle of Life" epigraph, six concept art lithographs, another tape with the half-hour TV show The Making of The Lion King, and a certificate of authenticity. The CAV laserdisc Deluxe Edition also contained the film, six concept art lithographs and The Making of The Lion King, and added storyboards, character design artwork, concept art, rough animation, and a directors' commentary that the VHS edition did not have, on a total of four double sided disks. The VHS tape quickly became one of the best-selling videotapes of all time: 4.5 million tapes were sold on the first day[77] and ultimately sales totaled more than 30 million[78] before these home video versions went into moratorium in 1997.[79]

On October 7, 2003, the film was re-released on VHS and released on DVD for the first time, titled The Lion King: Platinum Edition, as part of Disney's Platinum Edition line of animated classic DVDs. The DVD release featured two versions of the film on the first disc, a remastered version created for the 2002 IMAX release and an edited version of the IMAX release purporting to be the original 1994 theatrical version.[80] A second disc, with bonus features, was also included in the DVD release. The film's soundtrack was provided both in its original Dolby 5.1 track and in a new Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix, making this one of the first Disney DVDs so equipped.[81] By means of seamless branching, the film could be viewed either with or without a newly-created scene – a short conversation in the film replaced with a complete song ("The Morning Report"). A Special Collector's Gift Set was also released, containing the DVD set, five exclusive lithographed character portraits (new sketches created and signed by the original character animators), and an introductory book entitled The Journey.[79] The Platinum Edition of The Lion King featured changes made to the film during its IMAX re-release, including re-drawn crocodiles in the "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" sequence as well as other alterations.[82] More than two million copies of the Platinum Edition DVD and VHS units were sold on the first day of release.[77] A DVD boxed set of the three The Lion King films (in two-disc Special Edition formats) was released on December 6, 2004. In January 2005, the film, along with the sequels, went back into moratorium,[83] but new and used copies still sell very well.[84]

The Diamond Edition of The Lion King was released on October 4, 2011.[40][85][86] This marks the first time that the film has been released in high-definition Blu-ray and on Blu-ray 3D.[40][85][86][87] The release was produced in three different packages, including a 4-disc combo pack, a 2-disc combo pack, and an 8-disc "Trilogy Box Set."[40][85][86]

Following the release of the Diamond Edition, The Lion King also became available on 1-Disc Disney DVD on November 15, 2011. The film was also released on DVD, Blu Ray and 3D Blu Ray on November 7, 2011 in the UK.[88]


Story origin

Comparison of Kimba the White Lion (left) and The Lion King on Pride Rock (right).

The Lion King was the first Disney animated feature to be an original story, rather than being based on an already-existing story.[4][16] The filmmakers have said that the story of The Lion King was inspired by the Joseph and Moses stories from the Bible and William Shakespeare's Hamlet.[4] However, certain elements of the film bear a resemblance to a famous 1960s Japanese anime television show, Kimba the White Lion.[89] One similarity is the protagonists' names: Kimba and Simba, although the word "Simba" means "lion" in Swahili.[90] It is also noteworthy that in The Lion King, two of the three villainous hyenas who are confidants of Scar have Japanese names: Shenzi and Banzai. Many characters in Kimba have an analogue in The Lion King and various individual scenes are nearly identical in composition and camera angle. Matthew Broderick, the voice of Simba, believed initially that he was in fact working on a remake of Kimba, since he was familiar with the Japanese original.[91] Early production artwork on the film's Platinum Edition DVD even includes a white lion.[92] Disney's official stance is that the similarities are all coincidental.[93]

Yoshihiro Shimizu, of Tezuka Productions, which created Kimba the White Lion, has refuted rumours that the studio was paid hush money by Disney but explains that they rejected urges from within the industry to sue because, "we're a small, weak company. It wouldn't be worth it anyway... Disney's lawyers are among the top twenty in the world!"[94]

Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, described Disney's request that he suggest how to improve the plot of The Lion King by incorporating ideas from Hamlet.[95] It has also been noted that the plot bears some resemblance to the West African Epic of Sundiata.[96]

Alleged subliminal messaging

The supposed "SEX" frame.

In one scene of the film's original VHS and LaserDisc releases, it appears as if the word "SEX" might have been embedded into the dust flying in the sky when Simba flops down,[97] which conservative activist Donald Wildmon asserted was a subliminal message intended to promote sexual promiscuity. The film's animators have stated that the letters spell "SFX" (a common abbreviation of "special effects"), and was intended as an innocent "signature" created by the effects animation team.[98] It could also be a signature by SEK Studio, a North Korean animation studio alleged to have done some outsourced production on the film.[99]

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

The use of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in a scene with Timon and Pumbaa 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 from Disney. In February 2006, Linda's heirs reached a legal settlement with Abilene Music, who held the worldwide rights and had licensed the song to Disney for an undisclosed amount of money.[100]

Portrayal of hyenas

A number of Disney studios artists spent two days observing and sketching captive spotted hyenas maintained at the Field Station for Behavioural Research in the hills above the University of California's Berkeley campus. Dr. Laurence Frank, and other scientists who had organised the visit, expressed a strong request that the portrayal of the hyenas featured in The Lion King be positive. The artists responded that they would do their best to make the hyenas appear more comical than evil.[101] The resulting portrayal did not impress most hyena biologists: one hyena researcher sued Disney studios for defamation of character.[102] In a spotted hyena fact sheet written for African Geographic in May 2006, Dr. Frank included boycotting The Lion King as a way of helping to preserve hyenas in the wild.[103] Hyena researcher Stephen Glickman found parallels between the unflattering portrayal of hyenas in The Lion King and Ernest Hemingway's The Green Hills of Africa: "In both Hemingway and The Lion King there is an emphasis on greed, gluttony, and stupidity that is ultimately designed to be comical. This reaches its "pinnacle" when a hyena (Ed) feeds on its own body, as described in The Green Hills of Africa and in the American children's computer game based on the movie."[101]


A musical adaptation with the same name premiered in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 1997, opening on Broadway in October 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. It won six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show moved to the Minskoff Theatre in 2006 and is still running to this day. It is now Broadway's seventh longest-running show in history. The show's financial success lead to other productions in North America and all over the world.

Impact on popular culture

Because of its popularity, The Lion King has been referenced in a variety of media. For instance, the animated TV series The Simpsons spoofed the film in the episode "'Round Springfield". Toward the end of the episode, the ghost of Mufasa appears in the clouds with Bleeding Gums Murphy (who had died earlier that episode) and Darth Vader, and James Earl Jones (who voiced both Mufasa and Darth Vader) says, "This is CNN. You must avenge my death, Kimba... dah, I mean Simba," a reference to the Lion King/Kimba the White Lion controversy.[104] Simba and Nala's escapade to the elephant graveyard was mentioned in a Season 2 episode of House. In 2005, Doctor Who referenced The Lion King, when the new Doctor (played by David Tennant) confused from his recent regeneration, quotes from "The Circle of Life" when arguing with the invading Sycorax, saying "Look at these people, these human beings. Consider their potential. From the day they arrive on the planet, and blinking step into the sun, there's more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than - " then stops abruptly, before finishing with "No, hold on, sorry, that's The Lion King."

Disney has also frequently referenced The Lion King in its own films and shows. For example, in the Disney-released, Pixar-produced 1995 computer animated film Toy Story, the song "Hakuna Matata" can be heard playing in Andy's car during the film's climax.[105] Pumbaa made a cameo in Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996),[106] and Hercules (1997) paid homage to both The Lion King and the Nemean lion: Scar's skin is worn by the title character while he is posing for a painting on a Greek vase.[107]


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