The Lion King was a defining moment in my childhood, and if you were a kid in the ’90s, it probably was in yours as well. I think people who were parents of young children in the ’90s also have a very special place in their hearts for this film.
I am so excited for the new live-action remake, but that doesn’t come out for a while. So while you’re waiting, why not get caught up on a bunch of wild facts about the original animated motion picture?
Remember when Mufasa asks Zazu what he should do with Scar? Zazu replies, “He’d make a very handsome throw rug.” Disney didn’t forget about the line either. Just a few years later Scar returned in all his former glory.
In 1997’s Hercules, Scar makes a not-so-subtle cameo in the form of a throw rug. It’s not a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment like most Disney easter eggs. Instead, it’s easily noticeable and a wonderful treat for Disney fans everywhere.
The First Banishment
When the creators of The Lion King were first developing the script, they were going to have Scar banish Nala from Pride Rock for ignoring his romantic advance. Obviously, that isn’t what happened, because the next part didn’t either.
She was going to leave Pride Rock and discover Simba, Timon, and Pumba. Disney abandoned this storyline to make the movie more kid-friendly. Let’s face it, Scar was scary enough for kids after his scaring Simba away!
When casting directors were first thinking about who would voice the hyenas, they wanted to hire Cheech & Chong. Cheech accepted the role, but Tommy Chong was unavailable. What would Disney do?
Tommy’s role was changed into a female hyena, Shenzi, who was voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. We think she did a pretty good job. The actress was in high demand at the time, but couldn’t say no for the chance to be a part of a Disney classic.
Not Quite Prepared
Voice actor Jim Cummings replaced Jeremy Irons for the finale of “Be Prepared.” Irons messed up his voice while performing the line, “You won’t get a sniff without me!” Cummings made a name for himself as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, a role he has played for decades.
Without that crescendo, the rest of his recording just didn’t sound powerful enough, so Jim stepped in to save the day. We’re sure Irons came him a nice thank you gift.
Simba Came To Life In 2019
In 2016, Disney announced that Jon Favreau had been hired to direct a live-action remake of The Lion King. The new movie used photo-realistic CGI to bring all the beloved characters to life for the first time ever.
The highly anticipated movie featured a brand new voice cast with one exception; James Earl James was still Mufasa. For as much as could be changed in this new re-imaging, giving Simba’s father a new voice was off-limits.
The Lone African Accent
Even though the whole movie takes place in the Africa savannah, Rafiki is the only character in the film who has an African accent and speaks Swahili from time to time. We don’t know why this choice was made, but it sticks out for one reason.
All of the other characters are either American or British. Actually, only Scar is British, because evil characters are always British. Unless they’re named James Bond. He’s the exception.
During the scene where Simba gets pinned down by Nala, The voice actor who played young Simba, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, was actually smacked on the back to make it sound like he had the wind knocked out of him.
Sometimes directors will go to extreme lengths to get the perfect performance out of their actors. In this case, it worked wonders. And don’t worry, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was fine and was able to return to Home Improvement without any outstanding injuries.
In the scene where Mufasa tells Simba about the Great Kings of the Past, you can see Mickey Mouse if you look at the stars in the wide shot. Do you see it?
The Disney animation team loves to hide little easter eggs like that in their films. Stay on the lookout for more of them. Do the same in Pixar films while you’re at it. The company that is now a part of Disney has a long history easter eggs and hidden cameos!
A Little Improv
Nathan Lane, the iconic Broadway actor who voiced Timon in The Lion King, ad-libbed the line, “What do you want me to do, dress in drag and do the hula?” Yes, Nathan. That is precisely what we want you to do.
This might be my favorite scene in the whole movie. How can you not laugh? Let’s all just hope some version of this incredible scene makes it into the 2019 remake that is going to change our lives.
James Earl Jones Almost Didn’t Play Mufasa
Liam Neeson was considered for the role of Mufasa before James Earl Jones accepted the part. I honestly cannot imagine anybody but James Earl Jones voicing Mufasa, and I’m so glad that they brought him back for the live action remake.
The Lion King just wouldn’t be The Lion King without him. Can you imagine it? We don’t want to. If you’re going to recast Mufasa’s voice, you might as well recast Darth Vader’s voice (also Jones), too!
Claws Out, Scar!
All of the lions in the original cartoon movie have their claws retracted for most of the film. Scar is the only character who has his claws out all the time. It’s almost like he’s incapable of retracting them.
This lets audiences know that he’s always ready for a fight. It also helps clearly define him as the bad lion of the film. You know, if the giant scar on his face and sharply pointed eyebrows weren’t enough.
The Opening Scene
Disney thought that the opening scene of The Lion King was so powerful that they decided to use it as the film’s trailer. This was the first time Disney ever chose to use an entire scene as a film trailer.
The new live-action remake seems to be following suit, although the reaction by fans wasn’t as enthusiastic. Of course, that won’t stop them from filling theaters to the brim when it finally comes out.
A Three Year Stampede
It took Disney’s CG department a whopping three years to animate the wildebeest scene in the film. They even had to create a whole new program to ensure the animals could run without bumping into each other.
It is the first major moment in the movie that tugged at our heartstrings, so they had to make sure that it looked perfect. Can you imagine how hard that scene must have been to work on for three years? We’re crying just thinking about it for one second!
King Of Inaccuracy
One of the original titles for the film was King of the Jungle until the good people at Disney figured out that lions don’t live in the jungle. Life must have been so difficult before Wikipedia.
If lions aren’t the king of the jungle, who is the king of the jungle? Do tigers live in the jungle? Some sort of large wild cat must, and now we want to see that movie, too. Are you getting this, Disney?
Unique As A Snowflake
The Lion King was the first Disney venture to feature an original plot – as in not an adaptation. It had inspirations, as all stories do, but it was not directly linked to any other story.
Previous Disney films like Snow White and Cinderella were direct retellings of classic fairy tales. Of course, there are people who believe The Lion King is an adaption of Hamlet, one of the greatest plays ever written by Shakespeare.
The Backup Plan
Disney actually used their “B team” to make The Lion King, because their “A team” was busy making Pocahontas. Disney thought that Pocahontas was going to be a more successful movie.
As it turned out, the latter received very mixed reviews and it wasn’t nearly as profitable as The Lion King. The songs from Pocahontas have lived on just as long as the ones from The Lion King, though. You know you sing the “The Colors of the Wind” on long road trips with friends.
No Hakunah Matata
Before Hakuna Matata was written for the film, The Lion King featured a song about eating bugs called “He’s Got It All Worked Out.” Let’s all be thankful this song never made it past the development phase!
A song about bugs was a tough sell to the rest of the team, so they went with “Hakuna Matata” – which was based on a phrase Disney’s research team brought back from Africa.
If there is one thing that The Lion King is actually based on, it’s Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In Hamlet, a young prince finds out that his uncle murdered his father so that he could become king.
He’s banished from his home, but then returns to avenge his father’s death. There’s way more death in Hamlet than in The Lion King. That doesn’t mean The Lion King lacks death and violence. It’s easily one of the more violent movies the mouse house has ever made.
Rafiki Is Not A Real Animal
The character Rafiki is a bit of a cross between a mandrill and a baboon. He’s more mandril than baboon except mandrills don’t have tails – this was a trait borrowed from the baboons by the Disney animators.
The tail makes him look a bit lankier and more lively. Good luck creating this hybrid for the remake! Disney is making all the animals look photo-realistic. When fans saw what Pumbaa looked like they realized that warthogs aren’t as cute as Disney made them think!
A yellow insect Timon finds under a log has Mickey ears on its back. I don’t think it’s the yellow insect pictured here, because this one looks more like a trident. We promise Mickey makes a cameo, though!
I can still hear the sound of Timon slurping up that thick orange grub. For the record, that’s at least two Mickey Mouse cameos we’ve been able to find in The Lion King. We wonder how many there actually are.
Jeremy Irons Blew The Animators Away
The Disney animators were so impressed with Jeremy Irons’ performance as Scar that they incorporated his facial features into the character’s design.
Can you see the resemblance? I think Jeremy Irons doesn’t look quite as evil as Scar. He’d never kill to end up on the throne. Then again, Jeremy Irons has made a pretty nice career for himself playing the bad guy. He just looks like such a nice guy you never see it coming!
A Multilingual Production
The Lion King is the first Disney film to be dubbed into Zulu for its release in Africa. It’s only appropriate since the film is set in Africa and the language is used in the opening song.
I would love to hear “Hakuna Matata” sung entirely in Zulu. I’d learn all new words just I could sing along. It would be a pretty big hit for sure! I think it would be a major jam.
The Original Tragic Ending
The ending of the movie was originally going to be much, much darker. Remember, there’s a good chance The Lion King was based on Hamlet, and if there is one thing Shakespeare loved doing it was killing all his characters at the end.
Simba was going to lose to Scar in the final battle, but then scar was going to die in the fire. That ending is definitely more Shakespearean, but I don’t think it’s very family-friendly.
Brothers Or Not Brothers?
Scar and Mufasa weren’t always going to be brothers. Originally, Disney planned on Scar’s character just being some outsider lion who came to stir things up. That’s why Scar and Mufasa don’t really look alike.
They decided to make Scar Mufasa’s brother to follow the Hamlet story more closely. The relationship also creates more motivation for Scar to carry out his plan and take over the pride. He would be much less scary without a grudge to hold.
Show Me The Money
Disney reportedly made over $1 billion off The Lion King merchandise in 1994. Not too shabby! Can you imagine how much money this film would have made if it were released today?
Well, we don’t have to wait much longer to find out, because the live-action remake of the movie is hitting theaters soon, and it’s predicted to open at over $200 million! Add in merchandise and Disney might get to one billion dollars in one weekend!
A WWII Reference
The scene with the hyenas marching past Scar on a rock during the “Be Prepared” song was inspired by footage of Nazis marching past Adolf Hitler. That’s pretty terrifying imagery to put in a children’s movie!
Scar might be evil, but he’s not Adolf Hitler evil. It’s a neat comparison though. It’s cool that the Disney animators are looking to history for inspiration. It’s also instantly recognizable imagery that helps to characterize Scar without dialogue.
This is the only Disney film to show a villain (Scar, of course) committing murder. Usually, characters are killed or die off-screen. It can be pretty traumatizing for kids to see!
Is this scene triggering you in any way? Better grab your tissues for the live-action remake, because that movie is going to be a cry fest. We’re not sure we can sit through that scene again. Perhaps a bathroom break will be in order when we know it’s coming.
Real Life Experience
Disney sent a team of animators to Africa to study lions and lion behavior before they really got to work drawing and animating. The story might have been made up, but that doesn’t mean the laws of animal physics didn’t still need to apply!
They even brought a lion cub to the studio so that animators could study it and draw it. It’s safe to say that Disney is super committed to accuracy. How adorable!
No Return Of The King
Originally, Mufasa was not supposed to return after his death, but Simba needed a reason to return to Pride Rock – hence the “apparition” of his father. Here come the waterworks again!
Also, there’s a ghost of the king in Hamlet, so it’s only fitting that there would be a ghostly image of the king in The Lion King. Yeah, this is definitely an adaptation of Hamlet. We’re convinced at this point.
Strangers In The Hall
Even though Simba and Timon were in a whole bunch of scenes together, Matthew Broderick (the voice of Simba) and Nathan Lane (the voice of Timon) only saw each other once during the entire production of the film.
It was in the hall of the studio. The actors recorded their voices separately. This practice of separating actors in pretty common with animated films. Very rarely do actors record their lines together and feed off each other’s performances.
Too Sad For Children
Mufasa’s death is obviously a very intense scene to watch as a child. It’s probably the most traumatic moment in the entire Disney canon. Sorry, not sorry Bambi.
Believe it or not, the death scene was originally even sadder. Editors had to tone it down after a test audience of kids cried uncontrollably at the original version. Honestly, it’s surprising they didn’t take it out entirely. Do you think Mufasa’s death would have had the same impact if it took place offscreen?