No matter how fans of the original 25-year-old Disney smash hit The Lion King felt upon hearing the news for a 2019 CGI remake, there is no denying that the anticipation, as well as the expectations, has been building up ever since. However, there was not nearly as much hype when the hand-drawn film came to theaters in the summer of ’94 and became a game-changer for the movies that came out of Walt Disney Studios, as well as Hollywood, forever.
While fans can look back fondly and comb through the memories of the first time watching the 1994 film, another item to put on the list of what makes The Lion King so special that is not so apparent is how much was at the stake both leading up to its theatrical release and immediately afterward…
Need For Composers
With Howard Ashman’s passing during his time working on Aladdin and Alan Menken’s preoccupation with his work on Pocahontas, the Lion King team at Disney was scrambling to find a musical master to compose the background score of the film. So, in came newcomers Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, who both got their start in their careers with this project!
Going back to Ashman, when he fell ill during Aladdin, lyricist Tim Rice stepped in and proved himself to be the right man to later be drafted to work on the original catchy songs, alongside music legend Elton John as per Rice’s request, for the film’s soundtrack, which went on to be a 10-times platinum bestseller.
Another potential setback was the fact that this featured film had all animals in it, while all the animated movies by Disney in the past had at least some traces of human interaction. And yes, even the forest animals in Bambi were not solely separated from the humans in their world.
Also, speaking of Bambi, unlike that movie, the death of the protagonist’s parent in The Lion King will instead be taking place onscreen, so… there’s that.
No Pre-Existing Material (Aside From Inspirations)
Not only was the very first animated movie of the Disney franchise to have all animals and no humans, but it was also the first to not be based on an already established story, though it is obvious to detect the pretty strong “Hamlet” vibes in the narrative. And with the drought that Mufasa’s death brought onto the Pridelands, it would not be too far of a stretch to make the comparison to the plagues God sent down to Ramses and all of Egypt in the story of Moses.
This may seem ridiculous upon first glance because movie releases in the summertime today usually do wonders in box office sales, that is if they were the right movies. However, that was not the case around the time of The Lion King, as it had to compete against the seasonal ticket fares for teens and adults, as well as other movies coming out that summer, such as True Lies, Speed, and Forest Gump.
The previous three Disney hits that kicked off the Disney Renaissance, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, and Aladdin, were all released at the end of their respective years, as the holidays were the perfect window for kids to come with their parents into the theaters, whereas The Lion King did not seem to have that advantage.
Controversy (On Various Accounts)
While these obstacles that the team had to face within the few years before the official release were not to be ignored, Disney took on these seemingly impossible chances and struck gold. While the success of that opening weekend was an immediate sign to designate The Lion King as an instant classic and store it in the Disney vault, the film’s team was not out of the woods yet.
After Simba and company made their official debut to the big screen, the ramifications of the release included controversial claims, ranging from valid to ridiculous, such as: stereotyping Scar and the hyenas as gay and urban blacks, respectively; miscasting white actors in African roles; including violence (e.g., the aforementioned onscreen death of Mufasa); bearing similarities to the 1960s Japanese-animated American cartoon Kimba, the White Lion; and supposedly having a certain subliminal message within dust clouds that Simba raises.
However, despite these threats to dethrone “The Lion King,” the team’s efforts and determination to lay it all on the line – lion – and stick it out through the thick and thin that came upon release have paid off. As history has shown us, the movie not only is one of those go-to Disney movies to pop in now and then, more for the young adults who had grown up at around the peak of its popularity, but also happens to be one of the most iconic movies of all time that is referenced everywhere you look!
So, put all of these risks into perspective when you go see the upcoming CGI remake of the 1994 Disney classic because a potentially near-exact recreation of a beloved Disney film that almost never would have made it to the big screen would only pale in comparison in terms of the number of risks put into it.