A childhood classic and all-time favorite! Way before Jon Favreau’s live-action edition of The Lion King, we’re looking back at the 1994 Disney film that started it all. The animated masterpiece that had you in tears 25 years ago. It captivated audiences with its sensational soundtrack, distinctive characters, and its timeless themes about responsibility, greed, and the circle of life. So to reminisce this amazing film, here are 10 crazy facts about The Lion King you might not have known of:
1) “Hakuna Matata” wasn’t included in the original script
“Hakuna Matata” wasn’t originally in the script, instead there was a song about eating bugs called “He’s Got it All Worked Out.” “We couldn’t convince everybody that making the entire song about eating bugs was a good idea,” Minkoff quoted. “Soon after, the research team came back from their trip to Africa with the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata.’ We talked about it in a meeting with Tim Rice and that’s when the idea struck. I remember Tim saying, ‘Hmmm…Hakuna Matata. It’s a bit like Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.’ A song was born!”
2) The movie was originally called “King of the Jungle”
The Lion King went through a few different titles, including The King of the Kalahari and King of the Jungle. “When I first started work on The Lion King, the movie was called King Of The Jungle,” producer Don Hahn quoted. “King Of The Jungle was a metaphor for this allegorical story about human behavior,” Hahn continued. “We were thinking about the idea of how it’s a jungle out there and Simba has to exist in this jungle. However, there was no jungle in our story; they were out in a savannah. But then we threw that out because we wanted to focus on a simple story about a lion king. At that stage, we thought ‘Why not call it The Lion King?'”
3) Real animals were brought into the studio for research and accuracy
Wildlife expert Jim Fowler brought in real and live African animals like hornbills and lions at different stages of life, into the Disney studio to serve as figure models for the team of animators working on the film. According to the film’s press notes, “He taught them how lions greet one another by gently butting heads and show affection by placing one’s head under the other’s chin. He talked about how they protect themselves by lying on their backs and using their claws to ward off attackers and how they fight rivals by raising on their hind legs like a clash of the titans.”
4) Production was temporarily halted due to an Earthquake
An earthquake in 1994 forced the Disney Studios to close down temporarily and much of the film was finished in the artists’ own homes. “In the early phases, when the basic decisions were being made, Roger and I worked together a great deal,” Minkoff said. “As the movie went into production, we began to concentrate on our own sequences. Then, when the movie began to come together as a whole, we found ourselves operating in tandem again.”
5) The Lion King is the highest-grossing animated feature film of all time
The Lion King is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time with a total box office collection of over $986 million. It is also the eighth highest-grossing animated feature in general, the 42nd highest-grossing film of all time, and the best-selling videotape of all time. These are some insanely huge numbers for an animated film that too way back in the early 1990s.
6) The animators went to Kenya for research and inspiration
In November 1991, Disney sent a team of animators to Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya to do research for the film. Most of the landscapes in the finished movie are based on this park but not Pride Rock itself, which was created by a Disney artist in Burbank. “Only a few people went to Kenya, but they brought back plenty of research material for everyone to study,” Minkoff quoted. “It was great to get a feel for the landscape, the animals and the plants of the country through their photos and drawings.”
7) Years of effort went into the stampede scene
Animation is a tedious process. Literally, every single multi-second needs to be created. It takes hours-upon-days-upon-weeks just to create a few seconds of film. Some scenes are more intensive than others, taking longer to complete. In The Lion King, several scenes were complicated for several reasons. Some of them required more retooling, while some required more work and attention. The memorable wildebeest stampede scene is an incredible sequence to behold and it didn’t reach the screen easily. Producer Don Hahn in an interview said this thrilling scene reportedly took upwards of three years to complete, due to the high volume of animals on-screen and the use of early CG animation in the frame.
8) Darker original ending
A film takes many forums in its journey from start to completion. Shots are remade, key moments will be cut, and scenes are rewritten. When it comes to The Lion King, the original ending was reportedly darker than what we got in the final product. The original storyboards for The Lion King saw Scar winning his fight against Simba by throwing him off Pride Rock, uttering “Goodnight, sweet prince” before leading our main character to his death. While it’s later revealed that Simba survived the fall, Scar still died violently in front of our eyes as the fire takes his life. While Scar’s death in the film, which involved hyenas eating him, is pretty dark too, there’s something notably creepy about this particular ending too.
9) Characters were written out of the script
A number of characters developed for the film were written out of the script, including a tagalong little brother for Nala named Mheetu (who Simba was originally supposed to save from the stampede) and another friend of Nala’s named Bhati, a wise-cracking bat-eared fox. There was also, at one point, a lizard named Iggy and another meerkat named Tesma, who was supposed to be related to Timon.
10) Disney’s Pocahontas was given preference over The Lion King
The Lion King was actually made by a secondary team of Disney animators. The best and primary animators chose to focus on Pocahontas, the movie that they thought would be more successful. Little did they know that they were missing out on creating cult classics for generations to come.