The Lion King is an animated, musical/drama feature film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation as the 32nd film in the Disney Animated Canon.
The story, which was influenced by the Bible stories of Joseph and Moses, and the William Shakespeare play Hamlet, takes place in a kingdom of anthropomorphic animals in Africa.
The story also has elements of the Osirian family myths of Ancient Egyptian mythology. In the Osirian myths, the king (Mufasa/Osiris) is killed by his jealous brother (Scar/Seth) and the rightful heir (Simba/Horus) is sent into exile as a boy. The murdered king visits and mentors his son in ghostly visits and when the heir comes of age, he returns to exact revenge on his father’s murderer.
Several character names are based on Swahili words: Simba – lion, Nala – gift, Sarabi – mirage, Rafiki – friend, Pumbaa – simpleton/weak-minded, Shenzi – barbarous/uncouth/uncivilized/savage. Despite the fact that Zawadi is the Swahili word for gift, Nala’s name also means gift.
The team working on the film was supposedly Disney’s “team B,” who were “kept busy” while “team A” worked on Pocahontas (1995), on which the production had much higher hopes. As it turned out, “The Lion King” became a huge critical and commercial success, whereas “Pocahontas” met with mixed reviews and a much lower box office.
The film was the highest-grossing animated film of all time until the release of Finding Nemo (a Disney/Pixar computer-animated film). The Lion King still holds the record as the highest-grossing traditionally animated film in history and belongs to an era known as the Disney Renaissance.
The film focuses on a lion cub in Africa named Simba, who learns to find his place in the great Circle of Life while struggling to become the rightful king of Pride Rock.
The Lion King received universal acclaim from critics, who praised the film for its music, animation, story, and the performances of the voice cast. During its release in 1994, the film grossed more than $763 million worldwide, making it the most successful film released that year, beating Forrest Gump, True Lies, The Mask, and Speed. Today, The Lion King holds the record as the highest-grossing traditionally animated film in history. Its success solidified what was regarded as the Disney Renaissance. It also became the second highest-grossing animated film after Aladdin.
For The Lion King’s first film trailer, Disney opted to feature a single scene, the entire opening sequence with the song “Circle of Life”. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook said the decision was made for such an approach because “we were all so taken by the beauty and majesty of this piece that we felt like it was probably one of the best four minutes of film that we’ve seen”, and Don Hahn added that “Circle of Life” worked as a trailer as it “came off so strong, and so good, and ended with such a bang”. The trailer was released in November 1993, accompanying The Three Musketeers (1993) and Sister Act 2:
Back in the Habit (1993) in theaters; by then, only a third of The Lion King had been completed. Audience reaction was enthusiastic, causing Hahn to have some initial concerns as he became afraid of not living up to the expectations raised by the preview. Prior to the film’s release, Disney did 11 test screenings.
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, accounting 186 licensed products. In 1994, Disney earned approximately $1 billion with products based on the film, with $214 million for Lion King toys during Christmas 1994 alone.
The Lion King is similar to Bambi because of one of the parents’ death, and Bambi and Faline have known each other since childhood, and, Later they are mates like Simba and Nala. Interestingly, screenwriter Irene Mecchi called The Lion King “Bambi in Africa”.
The Lion King is interestingly similar to the anime cartoon show known as Kimba The White Lion. The story of The Lion King follows Kimba so closely that the writers have been accused of ripping off the story of Kimba The White Lion which first aired in 1965.
In the film Hotel Transylvania, the character Johnny refers to his and another character called Mavis’ love as being the same as “Simba and Nala in The Lion King” during the final song.
Hans Zimmer originally hesitated at the idea of composing music for a children’s animated film, but eventually joined production after warming up the story, which reminded him of his respective relationships with his father and daughter. His attitude towards animated films eventually changed throughout the course of his involvement in the film’s production. He later called his experience on working on The Lion King (1994) as one of the greatest in his professional career.
In the Disney TV show Gargoyles, the character Hudson is shown flicking through TV channels during the episode “Awakening, Part 4” and flicks past The Lion King as well as other well-known films and shows.
Matthew Broderick (Simba) and Nathan Lane (Timon) only saw each other once during production and that was in a hall. They did their voice work separately.
The Lion King is one of the few films in the Disney Animated Canon to not feature any onscreen appearances by humans. While humans do appear in the spin-off television series Timon & Pumbaa, there are no humans in the context of the original film’s self-contained story.
Originally the film was going to be about a conflict between lions and baboons, and Scar was going to be the baboon leader. Rafiki, the mandrill in the film, was instead going to be a cheetah.