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5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Lion King


More than 15 years after its 1994 release, The Lion King remains the most profitable traditionally-animated film ever released by Disney – with the film’s 3-D re-release in 2011 ensuring that it will be discovered by a whole new generation. And even if you’ve seen it dozens of times, there are still a few things about The Lion King that you might not know:

1. The Animators Studied Real Lions for Reference

© Walt Disney Pictures

Back in 1942, Walt Disney had a pair of real-life fawns shipped to his studio for his animators to study while working on the classic Bambi. (In fact, the two animals were named Faline and Bambi.) When it came time for The Lion King to go into production, Disney wanted to achieve a level of realism in its portrayal of the various lions on screen – which led to the hiring of renowned animal expert Jim Fowler. In bringing actual lions to the studio for the animators to inspect and study, Fowler was able to demonstrate just how the majestic animals interact with one another in the wild – with Fowler’s lessons and demonstrations eventually working their way into the final product.

2. All of the Surviving Monty Python Members Were Considered for Zazu

Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) in 'The Lion King'
© Walt Disney Pictures

Though many of the movie’s roles were easily cast – Matthew Broderick was always set to voice Simba, for example – the filmmakers had a tough time finding just the right actor for Mufasa’s right-hand man, Zazu. Zazu was conceived as a sarcastic, witty character with a British accent, and the filmmakers considered a number of English actors to fill the role. But it became clear that the character required a performer with a comedic background, which led to the surviving members of Monty Python being considered for the role – including John Cleese, Eric Idle, and even Terry Gilliam. Rowan Atkinson eventually won the part due mostly to his hilarious work as Mr. Bean, and the animators even worked Atkinson's features into the character.

3. The Movie Was Originally Titled 'King of the Jungle'

'The Lion King'
© Walt Disney Pictures

Though The Lion King wasn’t released until 1994, Walt Disney’s animators had actually been working on the film since the late 1980s. Unlike the studio’s various successes from that time period, including 1989’s The Little Mermaid and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King was a wholly original piece of work that was not based on a previously-existing story or fairy tale. (In fact, the film marked the first time that Disney had come out with an original piece of work since 1970’s The Aristocats.) When originally conceived, The Lion King was called King of the Jungle and revolved around lions living in the African jungle. A little research proved that lions don’t actually live in the jungle, however, and The Lion King was born.

4. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” Was Originally Sung by Timon and Pumbaa

Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) in 'The Lion King'
© Walt Disney Pictures

Arriving about halfway through The Lion King, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is a tender duet between Simba (Matthew Broderick) and Nala (Moira Kelly) in which the two characters express their love and friendship towards one another. The song was, however, originally designed for Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and would have featured the duo comedically commenting on Simba and Nala’s potential pairing. This version of the Oscar-winning song was even recorded and storyboarded, though it was dropped long before any real animation could be completed. The finished version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was almost not included in the film’s final cut, as Elton John himself had to campaign for the song to be kept in.

5. The Directors of 'Beauty and the Beast' Helped with the Story

'Beauty and the Beast'
© Walt Disney Pictures

Back when it was still called King of the Jungle, The Lion King was suffering from a lot of issues relating to its storyline and its characters. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, the filmmakers behind Disney’s monstrously successful 1991 release Beauty and the Beast, were invited to participate in a brainstorming session to retool the narrative, with the meeting eventually going for two days and also including the participation of producer Don Hahn and head of story Brenda Chapman (who would eventually go on to co-direct Pixar’s 2012 release Brave). The gathering marked a clear turning point for The Lion King, as the entire second half of the film was radically altered and Simba was transformed into the character we now know and love.

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