Revisiting THE LION KING 25 Years Later

If you need to know one thing about me, it’s that I’m one of the biggest fans of The Lion King to ever exist; my love for The Lion King is basically a personality trait at this point. I’ve worked out that I’ve spent over a month of my life watching this film; I would watch it practically every day as a kid when my mum would nap after a night-shift, then I would pretend she was Mufasa in the Gorge – what a happy, wholesome childhood.

As a teenager, I ran a Tumblr blog dedicated to The Lion King – I would make graphics and GIFs, watching it almost every day, getting up to over 80,000 followers. Yes, I know, it bordered on obsession. Now, I watch it every so often, usually as a pick-me-up after a rough day. It’s a constant in my life, something that is so familiar that it grounds me. So I wanted to celebrate this film so close to my heart, and share some of my favorite elements of this Disney classic.

This year The Lion King celebrates its 25th anniversary, and over the years has won the hearts of so many, with it being the top rated Disney film on both IMDb and Letterboxd (it’s one of the 50 Top-Rated films on IMDb ever). It held the record as the highest-grossing animated film until Toy Story 3 overtook it in 2010 and then Frozen in 2013; it still remains the highest-grossing 2D animated film of all time. The original title “King of the Jungle” can still be found on pieces of Disneyland merchandise after the creators renamed the project, realizing that African lions do not, in fact, live in the jungle.

Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

The music is one of the most memorable aspects of the film, being iconic not only within the Disney-verse but within the history of film; Hans Zimmer now claims that his work on The Lion King as one of the greatest in his career. Zimmer worked closely with African musicians to encapsulate the spirit of Africa and fully express the wide range of emotions that this film presents. I had the amazing opportunity last year to see Hans Zimmer live, playing iconic film scores including Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Dark Knight Trilogy as well as The Lion King. Zimmer and his orchestra performed the awe-inspiring themes from the film live with incredible staging, but also inviting Lebo M to reprise his role singing the introduction to Circle of Life. The whole experience was incredibly emotional – Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague is available on Netflix if film scores are as important to you as they are to me!

The Lion King is a naturally beautiful and colorful film, where every shot is utterly breathtaking and so detailed, using the huge color palette of the savanna to bring vibrancy and life to the screen; each scene has a dominant color to set the tone and balance the film. Even in the darker scenes, the use of a variety of shades brings depth, and colored lighting of green in the Elephant Graveyard scenes creates an ominous villainy related to Scar and the Hyenas. The cinematography here is reflective of the Natural Geographic documentaries used as inspiration to present a realistic landscape, with fine detail of the native plants and animals found in the savanna to support the realistic and breathtaking visuals of the film. 

Jonathan Taylor Thomas in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

When talking about Disney films, I find a lot of people have a lot of love for The Lion King and other films from the renaissance era; a main reason being the characters. The vibrant, lovable variety of characters with a range of personalities, strengths and flaws make them feel well-rounded and genuine. And of the carnival of characters that make up the cast, let me talk about my favorite – not only from this film, but my favorite Disney character ever: Scar.

I once had a job interview for the Disney Store, and when asked my favorite character I said Scar. I think it might have cost me the job. As a kid, I loved his flamboyant attitude, and could recognize that he was different and excluded by the other characters, so naturally I fell in love with the villainous outcast. He is easily the most interesting character for me, and I’ve collected so many random facts about him as I did an intense academic character study of him for my dissertation; looking in detail into his dialect, dialogue, behavior and mannerisms. I love how the animators incorporated Jeremy Irons’ facial features and expressions into Scar, making him such an interesting and expressive character on screen. ‘Be Prepared’ is one of my favorite Disney songs – it is iconically villainous with powerful scoring, gravelly vocals and bright green lighting. I was disappointed to hear that it was under consideration for being cut from the 2019 remake but we’ll have to see what makes the final cut!

The deaths in The Lion King are by far the most prominent in Disney history, with an honorable mention to Bambi. Many viewers say that Mufasa’s death is one of the most heartbreaking and traumatizing scenes in cinema, the creators claim that the scene was meant to be a lot darker but the version we now see is toned down in comparison to what they originally had planned. Scar’s death is one of the darkest villain demises found in classic Disney films until this point (another one equally as terrifying since being Clayton’s death in Tarzan 5 years later), where Scar is attacked and devoured by hyenas off-screen and then the fire engulfs them all before the film’s climax. And this is a beloved family movie with thousands of fans, right…?

Jeremy Irons in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Favorite Under-Rated Moments

Simba and Scar’s Fight:
This scene is so beautifully choreographed, with slow-motion animation and the red and amber lighting from the flames. The animation of the lions is possibly the most life-like here compared to the rest of the film, the fighting reminds us of the animalistic features of the characters and reflects the animal comparisons that the animators studied to animate realistic lions.

‘It’s a Small World’:
This is one of the most under-rated jokes in the whole Disney-verse. Basically makes fun of themselves having a ride with one of the most annoying songs ever known to man – or lion. I also love this scene with the reference of Scar singing ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ whilst holding a skull, connecting the film back to the base story origins of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

“He’s Alive”:
The moment in the film that Rafiki discovers Simba is still alive is serious, yet exudes Rafiki’s playful energy and mannerisms. The editing between the two locations is flawless, and, again, this scene uses the amazing color palette of the savanna, combined with the incredibly powerful scoring to highlight the heightened emotions of the scene.

Trivia Tidbits

As you can probably tell by now, I’m one heck of a Lion King nerd, so I wanted to share my top three favorite pieces of trivia:

★ When writer Irene Mecchi came on board, she was told that the story pitch was “Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet”, or “Bamlet”, as she termed it.

★ The wildebeest stampede took the CG department about three years to animate. A new computer program had to be written for the CG wildebeest stampede that allowed hundreds of computer generated animals to run as a herd but without colliding into each other.

★ The team working on The Lion King was supposedly Disney’s “team B,” who were “kept busy” while “team A” worked on Pocahontas, on which the production had much higher hopes. As it turned out, The Lion King became a huge critical and commercial success, whereas Pocahontas was met with mixed reviews and a much lower box office outcome.

James Earl Jones and Jonathan Taylor Thomas in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Over the past 25 years, The Lion King has been able to bring joy and beauty to so many people while introducing key themes of love and friendship, but it also teaches children about death and loss at a young age. It’s hard to determine whether Disney decided to release the remake purposefully in the same year as the 25th anniversary, but there are mixed responses over social media for the upcoming release in July. Despite my reservations for a “live-action” version of The Lion King, I will go and see it on the release day because I’m still a die-hard fan deep down (and very excited to buy all the new merchandise in the Disney Store, oops). The Lion King has such a special place in my heart, not only because it shares my birth year, but because it has shaped me to be the person I am today and it has been my to-go film that always warms my nostalgic soul.

The 2019 remake of The Lion King comes to theaters worldwide on July 19th.

Published by Bethan

Bethan is a devoted Disney enthusiast from Liverpool, UK. She has watched The Lion King almost 500 times, and has watched every Domhnall Gleeson film, ever. Find her over on Twitter, Instagram & Letterboxd @bethanellen ✌️

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