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The Lion King (1994)

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This article is about the 1994 animated film. You may be looking for the 2019 photorealistic computer-animated film of the same name.
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This film has been preserved in the National Film Registry in 2016.

The Lion King
It's the Circle of LIFE!
and I love this movie!
Genre: Animation
Directed By: Roger Allers
Rob Minkoff
Produced By: Don Hahn
Written By: Irene Mecchi
Jonathan Roberts
Linda Woolverton
Starring: Matthew Broadrick
James Earl Jones
Jeremy Irons
Rowan Atkinson
Moira Kelly
Nathan Lane
Ernie Sabella
Robert Guillaume
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Niketa Calame
Whoopi Goldberg
Cheech Marin
Jim Cummings
Madge Sinclair
Distributed By: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release Date: June 15, 1994 (limited release)
June 24, 1994 (wide release)
Runtime: 88 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $45 million
Box Office: $968.5 million
Franchise: The Lion King
Sequel: The Lion King II: Simba's Pride

The Lion King is a 1994 American animated musical drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, released by Walt Disney Pictures, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, produced by Don Hahn and written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton and very loosely based on the plot of Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The 32nd Disney animated feature film and the fifth released during the Disney Renaissance period, it had a limited release in the United States on June 15, 1994, preceeding a wide release on June 24, 1994.

The film has led to many derived works, such as a Broadway adaptation, as well as two direct-to-video follow-ups — the sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, and the midquel, The Lion King 1½, respectively, two television series — The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa and The Lion Guard, a 3D re-release in 2011; and a photorealistic remake in 2019, which also became the highest-grossing animated film at the time of its release.


The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as King of the Pride Lands; however, after Simba's paternal uncle Scar murders Mufasa, Simba is manipulated into thinking he was responsible and flees into exile. After growing up in the company of the carefree outcasts Timon and Pumbaa, Simba receives valuable perspective from his childhood friend, Nala, and his shaman, Rafiki, before returning to challenge Scar to end his tyranny and take his place in the Circle of Life as the rightful King.

Why It's Disney At Their Best

  1. It's perhaps the greatest animated Disney film ever, as well as the most iconic animated movie of all time.
  2. Spot-on animation that feels very alive, even better compared to most other traditionally-animated Disney movies:
    • The film seamlessly uses several then-rarely-used techniques when it comes to traditional animation, with the camera shifting focus from background to the foreground, and scenes such as the iconic stampede utilizing computer animation as a way of making them truly feel cinematic while also having the wildebeests be inked similarly to computer-generated characters and giving them unique, yet natural-feeling movements.
    • Colors are used in various ways to portray the mood of and add atmosphere to individual scenes, especially when it comes to how they incorporate different times of day; rather than simply being night and day in the movie, it's dusk and dawn as well:
      • To add to this point, different natural environments, in turn, create different tones and ways the characters interact with their settings, with the elephant graveyard using brown-ish and grey-ish color schemes to convey tits run-down nature, and scenes set in Timon and Pumbaa's jungle home using vibrant and natural colors to make it feel... natural; even the color schemes in "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" differentiate from every other segment to visualize Simba's simplistic and naïve view of his world.
    • The character animations stand out sufficiently as well, with the characters usually, but not always, moving and interacting naturally, similarly to animals in real life; the only characters who move similarly to regular people are Timon and Rafiki. Despite that, the film is never afraid to lean into its cartoon-y side when it comes to animation, with Timon and Zazu being notable examples of this so the film would lean heavily into their comic relief nature.
    • The backgrounds that surround the characters also play into this sense of realism as well; the Pride Lands itself is shown as large and open to present the plains of Africa, but can also have a wide vast of sectors unique in their own respective ways, from the dark and dangerous elephant graveyard to the vast oasis where Timon and Pumbaa call home. There is also this sense of wonder in the Pride Lands, as it is a place that can easily be real but remarkable how it was completely untouched by human hands.
  3. The story manages to succeed in relating to audiences and especially adults, as it deals with themes of guilt, responsibility, the importance of leadership and even the surprises one can find in life; even the morals of returning to your past, learning from it despite its flaws and confronting it head-on to truly make things right manage to be relatable.
  4. Raw usage of emotional weight, with the "Circle of Life" opening sequence setting up themes and ideas for the film and featuring an epic set piece that presents the exotic world of the film without any dialogue whatsoever, only the visuals telling the story of the birth of the new heir to the throne of the Lion King.
    • Even scenes such as Mufasa's death and Simba finding his corpse shortly afterwards succeed in being emotional and tragic, pulling no punches on just what a tragedy this is, instead allowing the movie to mourn his loss and show how devastating this is for the future of the Pride Lands and for Simba himself, shaping the rest of the movie going forward.
  5. Similarly, the tone, while it does shift at some points, manages to remain balanced and enjoyable, with the time our audience spends with Simba as a cub being a great introduction to the setting and our character, preserving the majesty of that opening while allowing it to be seen in a simpler lens.
    • Furthermore, as stated, it manages to keep the thrashing tones balanced with two scenes featuring Simba back-to-back, from the fun and upbeat tone of "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" to the urgent tone of the elephant graveyard sequence.
    • Speaking of the tone, it does give room for comedic and light-hearted moments such as scenes with Timon and Pumbaa, to allow our audience to have a good time.
    • Intense scenes such as the stampede sequence allow the audience to become more invested in the story, and elevate the tone to present the gravitas of the situation.
  6. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is incredible, blends traditional African music and a powerful orchestra very well and delivers an intense and serious tone and a sense of grandness for most of the tracks in the film, even in some of the most important moments of Simba's life.
  7. Speaking of music, the songs, consisting of "Circle of Life", "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", "Be Prepared", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", are all excellent and contrast well in tone; for example:
    • "Circle of Life" sets up not only themes and ideas for the film, as stated, but also sets up the grand scale and tone of the film.
    • "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" drives home the point of Simba's naïve and simplistic view of the world and how he thinks he could get to do whatever he wants as king.
    • "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", despite appearing as a rather typical romantic song at first, has layers that love is there, but neither Simba or Nala fully acknowledge it yet, and they certainly don't know if they're ready yet; it also allows the viewers to soak in the intimate moments between the two without needing to worry about them actually performing the song.
  8. The characters manage to be likable, charming, memorable and even relatable, each of them having their own time for development:
    • Simba, being the protagonist, has a huge amount of depth as a character, starting out as this reckless and naïve cub who is excited to become king so he could do whatever he wants, and ending off as a grown and mature lion who understands his responsibilities do what's best for not just himself, but for everyone else. He is also relatable, as the film goes its way to show him grow up from childhood to adulthood and, as such, allows the audience to get to know Simba both as a kid who's brave and yet still has a lot to learn as well as an adult who must confront his past so he could truly be brave.
      • His inner conflict is also relatable, with the film showing us Simba feeling guilty ever since Scar lied to him and trying to hide it from others, including his own childhood friend, instead trying so hard to push it away by living his solitary and peaceful lifestyle.
    • Mufasa is very respectable and the kind of character you would want to look up to easily have him put on a pedestal, as he is responsible, caring and disciplinarian but has a good sense of humor; he also perfectly balances his responsibilities to his kingdom and his family, and is also a tower of both intimidating strength and endless compassion, which adds to Simba's anxiousness to become just like him and fear of having to live up to him upon failing so badly against the hyenas.
    • Scar is very threatening and effective as a villain, mainly due to his sinister and manipulative nature as well as being capable of getting things his way, setting both Simba and Mufasa in a trap, knowing that Simba trusts Scar and that Mufasa will come and rescue him from danger; he also has a lot of depth as well, as he initially starts off as a scruffy outcast, a bitter little brother who wanted to rule the Pride Lands, and, while his motives were obvious from the start, still keeps his cards close to his chest. He also stands out from other typical Disney villains, in that he gets what he wants early on in the movie, and raises the stakes higher than they should be, as the second half of the movie illustrates the outcomes of a power-hungry dictator after he gets what he wants.
      • His childish and immature behavior in the second half also compliments the view Simba's had during his childhood by the given knowledge of leadership; he doesn't even learn the responsibilities of that, becoming abusive and irresponsible and effectively dooming the Pride Lands, and despite his own miserable attitude he remains stubborn and blinded by his own desire of running the kingdom he's wanted his whole life.
      • He is also unwilling to take responsibility for his own mistakes, willing to do whatever it takes to save himself from death... and this is what, unironically, makes his death extremely satisfying.
    • Nala is a very awesome character, managing to stand out from other female Disney characters in the 90s' in that she shares the screen with the other male character, that being Simba in this case, without ever being a wilting flower; rather than being a clone of him, she also stands out from Simba in that she is more adventurous, tougher, curious and sarcastic, and, as an adult, never takes things lying down.
    • Timon and Pumbaa are very excellent comic reliefs and never overstay their welcome, with Timon delivering hysterical reactions over things he's told or what he's doing in such a hyperbolic manner that can relate to the audience, and Pumbaa, despite his rather low IQ, also being relatable for his blissful and innocent nature.
    • Similarly, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed are very enjoyable comic reliefs, due to their energy and zaniness as well as their sarcastic and ironic dialogue shared; what adds to their irony is when even they acknowledge Scar's poor leadership in the second half, despite being too weak to call him out for that.
      • Speaking of Ed, he succeeds in stealing the show, as he lacks any lines or dialogue or even a single word, always having to laugh like a moron, even in situations when it becomes rather psychopathic.
      • Their story also ends of a high note, with all of the hyenas finally ending their starvation on the one who was such a corrupt leader and blamed them for killing Mufasa.
    • Rafiki is also very fun and endearing, especially whenever he's quiet, reserved or swinging around and singing nonsense.
  9. Each of the cast members delivers breathtaking and charming performances for their respective characters and add so much to their respective personalities; notably, Jeremy Irons pulls off a very raspy and cynical attitude to Scar's tone, and Rowan Atkinson's performance adds to Zazu's sarcastic and stern attitude. Even James Earl Jones' performance allows for Mufasa to be taken seriously by the audience as a character, father and king.

Bad Qualities

  1. The film does have its fair share of toilet humor, with Pumbaa himself being subject to a couple of scenes dedicated to this.
  2. The infamous dust scene when Simba is depressed and the dust literally says either SFX or SEX, depending on your point of view. Fortunately it was edited in re-releases.
  3. Most of the re-releases make edits to the movie for whatever reason.


The Lion King received universal acclaim by critics and audiences who praised the film for its music, story, themes, and animation and is considered to be one of the most successful full-length animated movies in the world. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 93%, based on 128 reviews, with an average rating of 8.39/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Emotionally stirring, richly drawn, and beautifully animated, The Lion King stands tall within Disney's pantheon of classic family films.". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 88 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade on an A+ to F scale.

With an initial worldwide gross of $763 million, it finished its theatrical run as the highest-grossing film of 1994 and the highest-grossing animated film. It is also the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, as well as the best-selling film on home video, having sold over 30 million VHS tapes.

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



  • The Lion King was animated by newly hired animators, and had a high belief among a majority of Disney's top animators (who opted to animate Pocahontas) that the movie would fail at the box office.
    • Ironically, the movie would be Disney's top animated hit and the biggest animated movie of all time.
  • Development of The Lion King began in 1988 during a meeting between Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, and Peter Schneider while promoting Oliver & Company in Europe. Thomas M. Disch wrote a film treatment, and Woolverton developed the first scripts, while George Scribner was signed on as director, being later joined by Allers.
  • On December 25, 2002, Disney re-released the film in IMAX, which included additions such as the animation for the crocodiles featured in "I Just Can't Wait to be King" being re-done and a new song called "The Morning Report" which replaces the pouncing lesson scene. The latter was reinstated for future home video releases.
  • This film finished its theatrical run as the highest-grossing film of 1994 and the second-highest-grossing film of all time, behind Jurassic Park (1993). The film remained as the second-highest-grossing film until the spot was taken by Independence Day (1996) just two years later. It also held the title of the highest-grossing animated film, until it was overtaken by Finding Nemo (2003). The film is still the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, as well as the best-selling film on home video, having sold over 55 million copies worldwide.
  • Computer animation was also used in several scenes, most notably in the wildebeest stampede sequence.
  • The movie garnered controversy when it was released in Japan, as many people noticed the similarities between the film and the manga Kimba the White Lion, and the film was considered a rip-off of the manga until it was debunked by YMS.
    • The movie sparked additional controversy after the infamous dust scene where Simba is depressed and the dust said "Sex". This scene was censored in the reissue prints.
  • Not counting most of the segments from Fantasia (1940), Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948); and The Rescuers Down Under (1990) (a sequel to The Rescuers (1977)), The Lion King was the first Disney animated feature to be an original story, rather than be based on pre-existing works and characters.
  • It was accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign which included tie-ins with Burger King, Mattel, Kodak, Nestlé, and Payless ShoeSource, and various merchandise, accounting 186 licensed products.
  • Because the characters were not anthropomorphized, all the animators had to learn to draw four-legged animals, and the story and character development was done through the use of longer shots following the characters.
  • It is, as of June 2021, the only Disney film to have been dubbed in Zulu, the only African language aside from Arabic to have been used for a feature-length Disney dub.
  • For The Lion King's first film trailer, Disney opted to feature a single scene, the entire opening sequence with the song "Circle of Life". Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook said the decision was made for such an approach because "we were all so taken by the beauty and majesty of this piece that we felt like it was probably one of the best four minutes of film that we've seen", and Don Hahn added that "Circle of Life" worked as a trailer as it "came off so strong, and so good, and ended with such a bang". The trailer was released in November 1993, accompanying The Three Musketeers (1993) and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) in theaters; by then, only a third of The Lion King had been completed.

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