The Lion King (1994)
Set in a kingdom of lions in Africa, The Lion King tells the story of Simba (Swahili for “lion” and voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick), a lion cub who is to succeed his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), as King of the Pride Lands; however, after his paternal uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) kills Mufasa to seize the throne, Simba is tricked into believing he was responsible for his father’s death and flees into exile. Growing up in the company of the carefree outcasts Timon and Pumbaa, Simba one day receives valuable perspective from his childhood friend, Nala, and his shaman, Rafiki before returning to challenge Scar and take his place in the Circle of Life as the rightful king. The soundtrack produced the Oscar-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” (which won over over fellow nominees “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”), and the stellar voice cast also included Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson and Nathan Lane.
But the behind-the-scenes production story of The Lion King is one of the vaguest and least agreed-upon in the Disney canon. According to Charlie Fink (then-Walt Disney Feature Animation’s vice president for creative affairs), he approached Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, and Peter Schneider with the idea of Bambi in Africa with lions. Katzenberg balked at the idea at first, but nevertheless encouraged Fink and his writers to develop a mythos to explain how lions helped lead other animals by eating them. Another anecdote states that during a conversation between Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, and Schneider on a flight to Europe, the topic of a story set in Africa came up, and Katzenberg immediately jumped at the idea, adding elements of coming-of-age and death, and ideas from personal life experiences. Scripts were turned in by Thomas Disch (the author of The Brave Little Toaster) and at least four other Disney staff writers. It pulls significantly from the story of Hamlet. And, of course, there are the undeniable connections to ‘60s Japanese anime series Kimba the White Lion. But whatever its origin, The Lion King has stood the test of time as one of Disney’s most beloved properties.
The Summer Classics Movie Series has been presented by Bank of America since 2015. Promotional support for the series is provided by WEDU-PBS.