"I wrote three songs
for the Lion King but none of them were used.
The producers said they
wanted to go in another direction.
Too bad, this movie could
have been a hit."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
THE LION KING
Lion King (1994) is the 32nd animated feature in the Disney animated
feature canon, and the highest-grossing traditionally animated
feature film ever released in the United States. 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 frequently
alleged that The Lion King was based on Osamu Tezuka's 1960s animated
series Kimba the White Lion, although the filmmakers deny this. The
filmmakers do, however, acknowledge the prominent influences of the
Shakespeare play Hamlet, the Bible stories of Joseph and Moses, and
the 1942 Disney animated feature Bambi.
previous Disney animated films which featured only a select few
famous voice actors alongside lesser-known performers, nearly all of
the voice acting work for this film was done by well-known actors,
including Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan
Taylor Thomas, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Moira
Kelly, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim
Cummings. 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 and Zimmer's score also drew substantial praise.
many, The Lion King represents the peak of the late 1980s to
mid-1990s "Disney Renaissance" in animation. This
Renaissance featured a return to traditional Disney standard
storytelling modes and motifs, a reliance on ever-expanding
filmmaking technology, and a strong influence of musical theater.
The Lion King was
originally called King of the Jungle during early stages of
production. It was once considered a secondary project to Pocahontas,
both of which were in production at the same time. Most of the Disney
Feature Animation staff preferred to work on Pocahontas, thinking it
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 1994 worldwide and
the most successful animated feature film ever at the time.
Lion King, though a very humanistic story, remains the only Disney
film to lack any trace of human existence. Robin Hood featured only
anthropomorphic 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. In Bambi, someone
close to the hero was shot off-screen and was not seen afterwards;
whereas in The Lion King, the hero's father is killed on-screen and
his dead body is later shown.
film's significant use of computers helped the filmmakers to present
their vision in new, visually impressive ways. The most notable use
of computer animation is in the famous "wildebeest stampede"
sequence. Several distinct wildebeest characters were built in a 3D
computer program, multiplied into the hundreds, cel shaded to look
like drawn animation, and given randomized paths down a mountainside
to simulate the real, unpredictable movement of a herd. Similar
multiplication occurs in the "Be Prepared" musical number
with identical marching hyenas. Computers also aided in the
implementation of a classic Disney animation technique called
"multiplaning" that was prominently featured in Bambi.
Elton John and Tim Rice wrote five original songs for this film. John
performs "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" during the end
credits. However, the major musical praise focused on Hans Zimmer's
score which was supplemented with traditional African music and choir
elements arranged by Lebo M. Many critics felt this played a crucial
role in establishing the grand mythic tone of the African story.
six major musical numbers (including a repeated "Circle of
Life" at film's beginning and end), The Lion King is heavily
influenced by American musical theater. The film's look changes
drastically from the "realistic" world of the drama to the
stylized world of the musical numbers. For instance, the "I Just
Can't Wait to Be King" number transitions from a background of
natural savanna to abstract blue and pink African tribal patterns the
instant the singing begins - but the scene transitions just as
quickly back out of it when the music ends. Also, in the "Hakuna
Matata" number, the characters sing in a jungle surrounding lit
by spotlights that follow them from the sky.
The film is also perhaps
one of the most violent and mature Disney animated films, with themes
such as responsibility, betrayal, treason and regicide. There are a
couple of deaths which may frighten younger viewers, although no
blood is shown. Nevertheless, the film was rated worldwide as
suitable for all ages.
and spin-offs were inevitable after The Lion King's huge success.
The first of these was a 70mm spin-off film called Circle of Life: An
Environmental Fable, which promoted environmental friendliness and
shown in the Harvest Theater in The Land Pavilion at Epcot in Walt
Disney World in 1995. Also debuted in 1995 was a spin-off television
series called Timon and Pumbaa which focused on the titular meerkat
and warthog duo. The TV series implied that the story took place
during the mid-20th century through the appearance of humans and
technology. Next, a direct-to-video sequel called The Lion King II:
Simba's Pride was released in 1998, focusing on Simba's daughter
Kiara. Finally, a direct-to-video prequel/midquel, The Lion King
1½ (also known as The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata), was released
in 2004 and takes place in a parallel timeline that interweaves with
the original Lion King, but from Timon and Pumbaa's perspective.
movie was also adapted into an award-winning Broadway stage musical
with the same title, directed by Julie Taymor, and featured actors in
animal costumes as well as giant, hollow puppets. After the stage
show first opened on July 31, 1997 in Minneapolis at the Orpheum
Theatre, it was an instant and tremendous success. It moved
permanently to the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway in New York City
that October. A version later opened in London and another in
Toronto, playing there until January 2004.
Due to the film's
popularity, especially during its initial release, a wide variety of
merchandise has been manufactured. Items have ranged from more common
items such as t-shirts and plush toys, to the more bizarre, such as a
play shaving kit. In general, there are two packaging styles, helping
to differentiate between old and new. Older merchandise usually
features a green leaf pattern in the background, with The Lion King
in black on an orange and red sunrise logo. The artwork of the
characters, usually cub Simba, tends to be in flat colours featuring
no shading. Newer merchandise usually adopts a red, sunrise-esque
gradient background, similar to the 2005 IMAX poster. The logo is now
white with silhouettes of some of the characters walking to the side
of the word The and on top of Lion King. The artwork, usually
featuring cub Simba as before, is now more detailed with shading.