Cast * Interesting Facts * The Sex in The Lion King! * The Broadway Show * The IMAX Re-release

Directed by: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Written by: Jim Capobianco & Irene Mecchi
Zazu!Music by: Hans Zimmer, Elton John & Tim Rice

Released on: June 24, 1994
Running Time: 84 minutes

Budget: $40 million
Box-Office: $313 million in the U.S. (plus $15.68 million from its Imax re-release in December 2002), $783.4 million worldwide
Rentals: $173,057,000 in the U.S., $531,722,000 worldwide
Note: The movie was released twice in the US, once on June 24, 1994, and again on November 18, 1994. From those two running times it reached the fifth sport on the list of high-earning films of all time (after E.T., Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, and Star Wars).  Since then, it has been bumped off the top 7 by Titanic and The Phantome Menace.

Matthew Broderick (1962) as adult Simba
Jeremy Irons (1948) as Scar
James Earl Jones (1931) as Mufasa
Moira Kelly (1968) as Nala
Nathan Lane (1956) as Timon
Rowan Atkinson (1955) as Zazu
Whoopi Goldberg (1955) as Shenzi
Jonathan Taylor Thomas (1981) as young Simba

Young Simba... Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Adult Simba... Matthew Broderick
Mufasa... James Earl Jones
Scar... Jeremy Irons
Timon... Nathan Lane
Pumbaa... Ernie Sabella
Young Nala... Niketa Calame
Adult Nala... Moira Kelly
Rafiki... Robert Guillaume
Zazu... Rowan Atkinson
Shenzi... Whoopi Goldberg
Banzai... Cheech Marin
Ed... Jim Cummings

"I think the character of Simba is a lot like me," said Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba). "He's real energetic and always looking around for a new adventure. I think I have a lot of that in me."

"It's a real honor to be in a Disney animated film," says Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba). "I grew up with them and have loved them ever since I saw Snow White when I was a kid. I though The Lion King was a great story and it was fascinating to collaborate with the directors and animators and to see it evolve. Instead of sending you a script, they take you into a big room and show you pictures as they talk you through the story with a pointer. Doing a voice for Disney is incredibly precise and, from my point of view, it seemed to be much more about making it perfect. With live-action movies, you're always compromising and never seem to have enough time. On this film, they were able to re-do things until they got it just the way they wanted it. As an actor, I took my part very seriously and gave it everything I had. The only real difference was I didn't have to worry about how I looked."

"It's very liberating to play an animated character," observes Jeremy Irons (Scar). "It doesn't matter what messages my face sends during the recording since it's not being done to camera. This allows me to really go to extremes and play wildly with the glee and Machiavelian quality and deceit of the character. I try to put as much color as I can into just one thing--my voice. Hopefully this gives the animators the inspiration they need to draw the character. Scar is the first out-and-out villain that I've ever played. He's the baddie and a very hammy one at that. I think we all like a good villain who's sort of witty and slimy and seductive. He has many layers and lots of tricks. He's not unlike Iago in Othello in that he's a very charming villain, although structurally he's much more like Claudius in Hamlet. When I first saw what Andrews [Deja] had done with the animation of Scar, I was very, very thrilled. I felt that he had caught all the wickedness and humor and I was amazed how well he had understood and enlarged upon the sounds that I made when I recorded it. He really created the most extraordinary character and it helped me to feel the character better than I had before."

"James Earl Jones was perfect for the part [of Mufasa]," says supervising animator Tony Fucile. "I can't even imagine anyone else doing the voice. He adds the regal quality that we needed and, on top of that, he's got this fatherly warmth that comes across. It was up to us to visually come up to that standard that he set with his voice. Watching his performance in the film Matewan was really helpful because he used a lot of facial expressions and eye movements to communicate. Mufasa's animation is very subtle and there are times where he doesn't move but says a lot with just a stare. Each drawing has to say a lot and have a strong attitude." Co-director Roger Allers adds that James Earl Jones "has this incredibly huge and masterful voice that just resonated throughout the recording studio. Even without a microphone, it just filled the entire room." Co-director Rob Minkoff concludes, "He really sounds like a lion. During the recording sessions, we used sixz microphones strategically placed all around his head so that the voice would surround you and sound like it was coming from everywhere."
Concept drawing for Timon
Artwork from the THE LION KING - A GIANT LEAP book.
Early concept for Scar


  During The Lion King's first phase of development, the project (which was then called King of the Jungle with Meryl Streep attached to voice one of the main characters) showed such little promise that Disney had trouble convincing its top animators to work on the production. Most of Disney's top toon talent opted instead to work on Pocahontas, which -at the time- appeared to be the stronger of the two films.  Director Roger Allers spent months straightening out The Lion King's problematic script. Characters were tossed out. Whole scenes and storylines fell by the wayside, as Roger did whatever he had to to pull a compelling plot out of the movie's muddled storyline.

  Simba's eye color changed to white during the nighttime scenes, since the yellow eyes combined with the dark blue night colors "made Simba look jaundiced" and that the directors "didn't think anyone would notice" the changing eye color.

  Producer Don Hahn recalled in a June 2001 interview that "at the studio, nobody wanted to work on The Lion King--everybody wanted to work on other movies because it was this little African story about a guy who gets framed for the murder of his father, Elton John is writing songs, what the hell is this!" He reinforced in March 2003 that "Lion King was a movie no one wanted to work on. Everyone wanted to work on Pocahontas or other movies coming out because the early development was like a nature documentary. It seemed sort of dry--Bambi in Africa everybody used to call it. We used to wander around trying to find people who wanted to work on it. That was a combination of trying to step out in a new direction musically with Elton and Tim, and also a new director. I feel like Rob Minkoff is a very strong director, as is Roger Allers, and I feel like again, their approach to that movie plus the topic of Africa plus the story that was very mythological, very 'Hero’s Journey', very Moses and Joseph--we used to call it 'Moses Meets Joseph and Elton John in Africa'. All those things put together made for something the audience responded to." Asked why the movie took off so strongly, Don Hahn responds: "I have no idea! (laughs) Here are all the arguments, and you can decide what the answer is. On one hand, the craft was great--the music was great, the animation was great. But also it was in a summer when it was the only animated movie that whole summer. Now you look at a typical summer and there may be four or five animated movies plus live-action movies like Harry Potter that vie for a family audience. That summer was Forrest Gump and Lion King, so the movie could run and run and run and run. And it was a good movie. I feel like the story, the idea of a person who’s lost their father and tries to live on with his spirit without taking responsibility for all those things strikes a chord in people that’s very emotional."

  Jeffrey Katzenberg was terribly sure that Lion King was going to fail. So sure he was required to get down on his knees in front of the crew and apologize after the movie's opening!

  Don Hahn further recalled in August 2003 that "no one could have imagined that this coming-of-age story would amount to much. In the early days of production, I had trouble getting people to work on the film. At times when The Lion King was at full throttle, we started to wonder what we had done or if anyone would see it. I remember calling my sister and telling her I was working on a film--'sort of Moses and Joseph meet Elton John and Hamlet in Africa.' There was a very long pause on the other end of the line. Then she said, 'Well, I hope it works out.' And it did."

  Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella originally auditioned individually for the parts of the hyenas.  The directors quickly dismissed both of them saying they weren't right for the parts.  Afterwards, Nathan & Ernie (who were already good friends) found out that each other had auditioned and both been turned down.  They decided to try again, but as a pair, and read a scene for the directors together.  The reluctant directors finally agreed to hear these two again for the parts of the hyenas.  But during the reading, the directors realized that these two guys had great comedic timing together and decided that they still weren't right for the hyenas, but would be perfect for Timon & Pumbaa.

  Two scenes got past the brainstorming, and storyboards, but didn't arrive in the film: the Warthog Rhapsody scene and song, and the scene after Simba has gone home and Timon argues whether he should bother going to help him. This was cut out to keep Timon's character as lovable as possible.

  In the movie's early stage of development, baby Simba was scared when he first saw Rafiki, and hissed at him.  But the directors decided to take out the scare/hiss because they wanted the opening to be completely free of character dialogue/sounds.

  The "Big Boom" that occurs after the title is shown was not added until late in the production. The directors said during a school presentation that the original version of "Circle of Life" that Elton John wrote for the film was extremely twangy and sounded "like a hoedown" and they had him rewrite it entirely.

  Some tiny birds in the movie were used directly from Bambi's animation.

  Producer Don Hahn explains that "it was about the third movie in a string of movies that was produced digitally with hand drawn drawings, then the drawings were scanned into a scanner, a big massive, expensive scanner. The backgrounds, the same way, they're painted by hand with a paintbrush, scanned in and then they're composited with the characters and other levels of clouds, effects and details. The only area of the movie that was digitally animated was, of course, the wildebeest stampede."

Composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice  Out of the 5 songs nominated for an Academy Awards at the 1994 ceremony, three were from The Lion King: "Hakuna Matata", "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" and "Circle of Life"!

  The Academy-Award winning "Can you feel the love tonight" was initially rejected by producers who thought it unnecessarily slowed down the movie.  Elton John insisted that it be included in the final version of The Lion King, since he could not conceive the movie without what he thought was its best melody -and only love song.  A scene was therefore developed to fit it in!

  "I create these fantastic scores in my head, but it goes downhill from there," German composer Hans Zimmer admits, explaining that the perfectionist in him is never quite satisfied with the finished product.  "Ultimately I just want to sit down and write a good tune. I try to create something that comes from the heart and moves people — something emotional, not sentimental."

  Early promos for the movie promised seven original John/Rice songs, not five. One which was cut, "Warthog Rhapsody," has been released on the sequel "Rhythm of the Pride Lands" CD. As to the other: Mufasa was to sing a song entitled "To Be King," which was supposed to be geared toward teaching Simba what it means to have the responsibility of kingship. It was cut, presumably because they just couldn't think of a way for James Earl Jones to SING without sounding ridiculous...

  Test previews went extremely well, and producer Don Hahn recalls that "you'd come out and the audience was buzzing about it and feels like they had seen something special and were really involved in the characters."

  On its first weekend, The Lion King grossed US $41 million, a record for an animated film. The movie then went on to earn $340 million from video sales, selling more than 20 million copies in its first week of release in February 1995, breaking all industry records.

  This would be the last animated feature to be released during Jeffrey Katzenberg's extremely successful tenure as chairman of Walt Disney Studios.  Shortly after the film passed the $250 million mark in domestic rentals--and 10 years after he joined the Disney team--Katzenberg left the Studio, apparently unhappy at no being appointed president of The Walt Disney Company in the wake of Frank Wells' tragic death in a helicopter accident earlier in 1994.

  Animation legend Don Bluth commented in a 2003 online post that "Lion King's success maybe goes to the storyboard artists. We have heard that the script was worked to death and that the story department at Disney convinced Mr. Katzenberg to give them a shot at working out the story. He did and the movie is the result. Discoveries are made in the storyboarding process, especially about which characters are the strongest and whether or not to include them more than they might be in the script."

Simba, Pumbaa and Timon  Scar says "You have no idea" to Young Simba. This line comes from "Reversal of Fortune" and was spoken by the Claus von Bulow character in that movie. CvB was played by Jeremy Irons, who also voice Scar in TLK. (Irons won an Oscar for his CvB role, BTW).

  "Hakuna Matata", the motto of Timon and Pumbaa, means nearly what they claim it to mean: literally translated, it is "There are no concerns here." The words have an implication of location as well as of the concerns involved. However, the stresses should be on the first syllable of each word rather than the second.

  Elton John revealed that his song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was to be originally sung by Timon and Pumbaa, but it was so horrible, he offered other suggestions, which led to the song being performed by Simba.

  Many of the characters' names are in Swahili:

Tezuka's 'The Jungle King'
  A Japanese animated series, first aired in 1966, Tezuka's Jungle King, has been touted by its creators and many anime fans as the unrecognized (by Disney) source of the story and much of the rest of The Lion King. They do have a few unsettling similarities:

Pumbaa and Timon  Disney makes no secret of the fact that TLK is very similar to Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in a large number of instances. Some parallels include:

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (October 27, 1998)  A direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride -in which majestic jungle king Simba prepares his daughter, now of age, for the throne- was released in October 1998.  Featuring the voice talents of returning stars Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones and Nathan Lane, as well as newcomers Neve Campbell, Lacey Chabert and Moira Kelly, it went on to become the biggest video opening ever with 3.5 million copies sold in its first three days, and receveid an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Home Video Production. It went on to sell more than 15 million copies. Consumers spent about $300 million on The Lion King II, more than the box office receipts from any animated theatrical release in history except one, the $313 million of the original The Lion King in 1994.

  In April 2000, Walt Disney picked scribes Jeff Ahlholm and Colin Goldman to write the script for Lion King 3, a direct-to-video production. According to Variety, Tom Rogers will also be contributing to the film's script. Plans were to complete production on the pic in time to hit video stores sometime in 2001, but had to be delayed by at least 2 years. Tentatively titled Hakuna Matata then The Lion King One and a Half, this direct-to-video release will tell the story of how Timon and Pumbaa got together. Ernie Sabella (the voice of Pumbaa) revealed in June 2002 that that the writers were now the same as those from the first film [Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton] and that the original cast would be providing the voices once again.  Jim Hill further hinted in March 2003 that contrary to rumors, the mid-quel would would hit store shelves--not theaters--later in the Fall of that same year, adding that "I have been hearing that [Walt Disney Television Animation Australia] did a really nice job with Lion King III."

  The Hollywood Reporter officially announced in May 2003 that the The Lion King 1 1/2, due in early spring 2004, would offer an "irreverent, edgy, humorous back story" to the original told from the perspectives of characters Timon and Pumba, who are again voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, respectively. Matthew Broderick reprises his role as Simba, while Elton John and Tim Rice return with the new song "Meerkat Rhapsody." Disney has high hopes for Lion King 1 1/2, which will not carry a subtitle in the fashion of The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. The original Lion King will be out in a first-ever Disney DVD two-disc set October 7, 2003 followedby Lion King 1 1/2 and then a special-edition DVD version of Simba's Pride in fall 2004. Slipping the video premiere of Lion King 1 1/2 between the Lion King and Simba's Pride rerelease "reflects a philosophy that the property is bigger than any one channel" of release, said Robert Chapek, president of Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment unit. Lion King 1 1/2 will be marketed to the broadest possible audience, from "anyone who bought the original Lion King plus anyone who's come into the marketplace since then," Chapek said.

  An IMAX version of The Lion King was released on December 25, 2002. The original announcement came after a private screening of the Imax version of Beauty and the Beast at the Regal Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL in November 2001. Touch-ups for this special edition consist mostly of filling in details that otherwise wouldn't have been visible--characters who were originally too small to have faces drawn in, for instance. Producer Don Hahn explained that "we debated [adding new scenes]. Essentially, we decided to leave it alone. We said, let's just do the restoration."  Co-director Rob Minkoff added that The Lion King has been "enhanced visually and in the sound, too... it really surrounds you and almost puts you on the African plain with the lions." The original movie remains the highest grossing animated film of all time, with $771 million in global ticket sales, the video has sold over 30 million copies in the U.S. The stage show has generated over $900 million in global ticket sales. Rob Minkoff said he never dreamed the movie would become so successful and believes its messages of hope and taking responsibility appeal to people of all ages. "There is a whole new group of kids who never saw the movie in the theater, and people who saw it as teens have had kids," Minkoff added. "To see it on Imax is an entirely new way."

  Eager to capitalize on the film's success, Disney has produced a wealth of tie-in products for the film, shooting documentary footage in Africa and an interview with soundtrack composer Elton John for inclusion in a DVD release on October 7, 2003. "The list [of DVD extras] is a mile long," producer Don Hahn revealed in December 2002, before confirming that the next Disney animated hit to get the Imax then DVD Platinum Edition treatment would be Aladdin.


Look for SEX in the sky!A 4-year-old American boy, viewing the video with his head tilted to the left, supposedly noticed the appearance of the letters S-E-X in a scene where Simba, Pumbaa and Timon are lying on their backs, looking up at the stars. He told his mother about it -how a mere 4-year-old could both spell and understand the significance of the word "sex" remains unexplained! She in turn notified a religious organization called the American Life League, who claimed this was yet another occurrence of Disney's deliberately inserting hidden images into their animated films. The American Life League, which had already been boycotting Disney films since the previous April, made this rumor the highlight of their September 1995 publicity campaign against several Disney videos allegedly containing "sexual messages."

Insiders argue that the sign in the sky actually spells out 'SFX'  and was put in there intentionally by the Special FX team.


Julie Taymor, a director known primarily for her work in the avant-garde theatre, was the mastermind behind the Broadway production. She not only directed the show, but also designed the costumes, collaborated with Michael Curry on the design of the masks and puppets, and contributed additional music and lyrics to the original score by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Julie Taymor working on Scar's costumeTaymor's first challenge was to determine how she should approach a story that is all about animals, but is in essence a human story. She eventually decided to accentuate this duality between the human and the animal by combining masks and puppetry with live actors. She created giant masks that would represent characters such as Scar and Mufasa, but left the human face revealed below the mask so that the actors' facial expressions would not be lost.

Taymor's next hurdle was finding a way to convey the atmosphere of The Lion King in a live theatre. Determined not to tone down the scale of the film, she wanted to bring to the stage such vast and sweeping elements as the rolling African Savannah and the famous wildebeest stampede in which Mufasa is killed by his brother Scar. She succeeded in reproducing these grand effects through the use of ingenious impressionistic staging techniques. For the wildebeest scene, she created a false perspective of great distance by placing five earth-colored portals one behind the other. She then used a canvas scroll and a series of large rollers to create the illusion of thousands of racing animals. The effect in the theatre is electrifying as thousands of wildebeests seem to be rushing straight at Simba--and at the audience!

Zebras in the jungle!The animated film on which the musical is based on five songs by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice including such hits as "The Circle of Life," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and "Hakuna Matata." In addition, the duo wrote three new songs for the musical: Zazu's "The Morning Report," the hyenas' "Chow Down," and "The Madness of King Scar" in which the musical style mutates along with the escalating schizophrenia of Scar. However, the stage version still needed more songs to fully explore Simba's journey, so the creative team turned to The Rhythm of the Pride Lands, a recording inspired by the film featuring songs by South African songwriter Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer.

The Lion King at the Amsterdam Theatre in NYC!The Lion King premiered at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN on July 31, 1997 and received rave reviews for its dazzling special effects and inspired staging. After an eight week run, it moved to the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway. The show went on to win numerous awards including a Tony Award and a New York Drama Critics Award for "Best Musical," and a Grammy Award for "Best Show Album." Taymor was rewarded for her efforts with a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama League Award--all for "Best Director of a Musical." She also received a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for "Best Costume Design" and a Drama Desk Award for "Best Puppet Design."

The show subsequently opened in London in October 1999, Japan in December 1999, Toronto in April 2000 and Los Angeles in October 2000.

A few puppet facts:

  • There are more than 232 puppets in the show, including rod puppets, shadow puppets and full-sized puppets, representing 25 kinds of wild animals, birds, fish and insects.
  • It took 37,000 hours to build the original puppets and masks.
  • The tallest animals are the 18-foot (5.4-meter) giraffes, which require the performers to walk on stiltlike legs.
  • The tiniest animal is a 5-inch-long (12.7-centimeter-long) mouse.
  • The longest animal is the elephant at 13 feet (3.9 meters). She stands 11-feet, 3-inches-high (3.43 meters-high) and 9 feet (2.7 meters) wide, but collapses to 34 inches (86 centimeters) wide to go down the aisle.



    Please email me your updates, comments or suggestions!

    Join the Animation Mailing List!
    Please enter your name and email address:

    Back to the Animation News page!