The Lion King Turns 25: Everything You Need to Know About Disney's Original Trip to Pride Rock

It's been two and a half decades since we first met Simba and watched him grow into king.

By Billy Nilles Jun 15, 2019 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Beyonce & Blue Ivy Go Full "Lion King" at 2019 Wearable Art Gala

It's almost time to return to Pride Rock.

We're just a little over a month away from Disney's photo-realistic "live-action" adaptation of The Lion King roars its way into theaters, revealing with stars like Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner and a little up-and-comer named Beyoncé will do as they step into the paws of such iconic characters as Simba, Pumba, Timon, and Nala, respectively. But before we sob our eyes out at Childish Gambino and Queen Bey giving their all on "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," we've got a special milestone to celebrate. And that's the 25th anniversary of the original Lion King's debut.

That's right—it's been two-and-a-half freaking decades since Disney first introduced the world to the circle of life, hakuna matata, and the most dysfunctional sibling rivalry the savanna's ever seen. The film went on to become recognized as, without question, the crown jewel of the Mouse House's animated library, becoming one of 1994's highest-grossing films of the year, second in the U.S. only to Forrest Gump.

In honor of the film's big birthday, we gathered the 25 most surprising secrets and fascinating facts from the making of The Lion King that'll have you feeling the love tonight. Enjoy!

1. The film was originally called The King of the Jungle until everyone involved realized that lions don't, you know, live in the jungle.

2. In production at the same time as Pocahontas, many at Disney believed that film would be the more prestigious and successful of the two, leading to many of the studio's top animators choosing to work on it over The Lion King

3. Pumba the warthog, voiced by Ernie Sabella, holds the esteemed distinction of being the first Disney character to fart on screen.

4. While there are certainly influences from William Shakespeare's Hamlet in The Lion King, the film marked the first Disney animated feature to not be based on a book or fairy tale.

5. Sean Connery was the first choice to provide the voice of Mufasa, which eventually went to James Earl Jones instead.

6. Playing Mufasa and Sarabi was a reunion for Jones and Madge Sinclair, who previously played King Jaffe Joffer and Queen Aoleon in Coming to America.

7. A song called "To Be King" was originally written for Mufasa to sing until everyone realized that Jones couldn't perform it and it was ultimately scrapped from the film's soundtrack.

8. There isn't a single recording of an actual lion roar used in the film. Because the producers wanted specific roars for each lion, actor Frank Welker provided them all.

9. When young Simba and Nala sing "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," anteaters can be seen in the number. The only problem? Anteaters are native to South America, not Africa.

10. While it's hard to imagine The Lion King without Elton John's musical fingerprints all over it, lyricist Tim Rice actually first reached out to ABBA to compose the film's music first when his Aladdin collaborator Alan Menken proved unavailable. It was ABBA member Benny Andersson's involvement with the musical Kristina fran Duvemala that allowed for John to get the invite to collaborate.

11. The song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was originally going to be sung comedically by Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba until John and Rice learned of the producers' plans for their love song and interfered.

12. The role of Zazu was originally offered to Patrick Stewart and nearly every member of the Monty Python troupe before producers stumbled upon episodes of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean and decided he'd be the right man for the job. 

13. In the original script, Scar was not related to Mufasa. It was only later the producers decided that the family element would make the story more powerful and made the change, but by that point, the look of the character had already been developed, meaning the two brothers would have little by way of family resemblance. 

14. The original script also hinged on a face-off between the lions and a group of baboons, with Scar leading the primates.

15. During "Be Prepared," as Scar watches his hyena army assemble and march, if it feels a little fascist, well, that's the point. The scene was inspired by an image of Adolf Hitler watching a Nazi procession.

16. While Jeremy Irons provided nearly all of the voice work as Scar, a strained voice while recording "Be Prepared" meant that he couldn't finish. So iconic Winnie the Pooh performer Jim Cumming, who recorded the voice for Ed the hyena in The Lion King, finished the vocals, doing his best Irons impression.

17. Before anyone had written "Hakuna Matata" for Timon and Pumba, the scene-stealing meerkat and warthog were originally intended to sing a song called "Warthog Rhapsody" that was apparently about the duo convincing Simba to eat bugs. It was only after the film's creative team took a trip to Africa that they decided the moment called for a different sort of song. The song was released later on the Rhythm of the Pridelands album.

18. For the voices of the two speaking hyenas, the filmmakers originally wanted the comedy team of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. The only problem? The two weren't working together at the time, so Chong wouldn't take the role. His role was changed to a female hyena, Shenzi, who was ultimately voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.

19. The film's representation of hyenas actually angered some biologists who objected to seeing the animals characterized as villains. One researcher actually sued Disney for defamation of character, while another encouraged boycotting the film as means of helping preserve hyenas in the wild.

20. In the original script, adult Nala was banished from Pride Rock for refusing Scar's sexual advances. Naturally, it was decided that the plot point was a bit too adult for the family fare and was appropriately adjusted.

21. While you may have heard through the grapevine as a child that, in a scene where Simba falls to the ground and the dust kicking up around him forms the letters "SEX" in the clouds, it's just not true. Producers would later admit that there were letters in the dust cloud, but they spelled out "SFX," a small tribute to the special effects team that worked on the film.

22. The infamous wildebeest stampede scene required the painstaking use of a 3D computer program to create several distinct characters, later 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. It took five specially trained animators and technicians more than two years to create the two-and-a-half minute sequence.

23. When The Lion King was released, it faced some controversy over the uncanny similarities to a 1906s Japanese animated series Kimba the White Lion. Disney, naturally, denied any funny business, stating all similarities were purely coincidental, however director Roger Allers had lived in Tokyo and worked in animation during the '80s, when a remake of Kimba was airing on primetime television. Not helping matters? Star Matthew Broderick's early admission that he believed the film to be an adaptation of Kimba when he first read the script.

24. Despite the controversy—and Disney's initial internal belief that this was the "B movie" compared to PocahontasThe Lion King went on the become the highest-grossing film of 1994 worldwide and the second-highest-grossing of all-time at the time. 25 years later, it still manages to rank as the 42nd highest-grossing of all-time.

25. The Lion King was the second Disney animated feature to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy, following Beauty and the Beast. Toy Story 2 would become the third and final, as a rule change in 2006 would relegate animated films to the Best Motion Picture—Animated category.

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