20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Lion King’

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The Lion King is a film which needs no introduction. Anyone who lived through the 90’s, either as a child or adult, saw the impact this movie had on pop culture and, specifically, on the Disney company. The animation division of the Walt Disney Studios was releasing hit after hit in those days, and The Lion King followed in this line of successful films. However, like any successful venture, this movie came with a lot of hard work. In fact, there were days where the filmmakers wondered if it would be any good at all.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Aladdin’

Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney chairman at the time, anticipated their upcoming Pocahontas to be a movie that would be incredibly successful. He considered The Lion King to be more of an experimental project and was essentially banking on Pocahontas to match or top the success of the earlier films of the Disney renaissance. Looking back, it somewhat ironic how The Lion King was the bigger hit at the time and has since been ingrained in the culture in a way that Pocahontas never was.

The Lion King was one of the first, if not the first, Disney animated features to have a major music icon writing the songs for the film. At the request of lyricist Tim Rice, Disney was able to get Elton John to write the songs for The Lion King. Together, this duo wrote now classic songs such as “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

Despite being a children’s film, The Lion King is one that many adults can connect to as well. It is poetic in nature and reminiscent of old fables. The film itself is inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, after all. With top notch voice work from actors such as James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons and soaring songs from Elton John, this film is a delight to the eyes and to the ears.

For those interested more in the making of The Lion King, I highly suggest checking out the documentary special feature entitled Don Hahn:  A Memoir.

Live-action remake: The “live-action” remake of The Lion King was released in the summer of 2019. Jon Favreau directed this film, using a similar technique to his remake of The Jungle Book in 2016. It features a star studded cast, including the return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa. For my detailed thoughts on the film, check out my review here. A prequel to The Lion King is in development, with Barry Jenkins taking the helm as director.

The Lion King in the theme parks: Though The Lion King can be seen in some fashion in all of Disney’s theme parks, there is no ride centered around The Lion King. However, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, there is an exhibit called Rafiki’s Planet Watch. There is also stage show called Festival of the Lion King which is a live production of the film using puppets. There are also parades and fireworks shows that have featured The Lion King, including Fantasmic!

Sequels/Spin-offs: The first sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride is often considered one of the best of the direct-to-video Disney sequels. Despite lacking the production values found in theatrical Disney features, this film has a lot going for it with new music, an engaging story, and a talented voice cast. Like the first Lion King film, this too is inspired by a Shakespeare play, specifically Romeo and Juliet.

The second sequel, The Lion King 1 1/2, goes in a completely different direction from its predecessors. Rather than being a traditional third entry in The Lion King franchise, the movie is essentially a retread of the original film. In fact, it almost plays like a highlight reel of favorite moments from that film. The big difference, though, is that it is told from the point of view of sidekicks, Timon and Pumbaa.

For more detailed discussions regarding both of these films, check out my 25 Weeks of DisneyToon Sequels.

From 1995 to 1999, Timon & Pumbaa, a spin-off of The Lion King, aired on television. Following the events of the film, this animated series followed the titular characters as they went on adventures in the jungle.

Another animated show, The Lion Guard, aired on Disney Junior from 2016 to 2019. This show follows the character of Kion, the youngest son of Simba and Nala. The Lion Guard acts as a midquel to The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride.

For a more detailed discussed on both of these films, check out my 25 Weeks of DisneyToon Sequels.

The Lion King on the stage: Following the success of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, The Walt Disney Theatrical Productions decided upon The Lion King for their second stage production for Broadway. The musical featured the original songs along with new songs written by Lebo M. It has gone on to become one of the best selling stage musicals of all time, with over 9,000 performances on Broadway alone.

The Lion King is available to stream on Disney+.

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