Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: The Lion King

The Lion King

Release Date: June 15th, 1994 (released June 24th wide)

Inspiration: The biblical stories of Joseph and Moses, and “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Budget: $45 million

Domestic Gross: $313 million

Worldwide Gross: $763.5 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

IMDB Score: 8.5/10

Storyline (per IMDB): A young lion prince is cast out of his pride by his cruel uncle, who claims he killed his father. While the uncle rules with an iron paw, the prince grows up beyond the Savannah, living by a philosophy: No worries for the rest of your days. But when his past comes to haunt him, the young prince must decide his fate: Will he remain an outcast or face his demons and become what he needs to be?

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1990s with what many consider the peak of the Disney Renaissance in this film, and it has quite the expectations going in especially with the last two films getting perfect scores from me. This was another film that was always one of my favorites growing up and many consider it the best film in Disney’s history, and I’m fairly certain that it will still hold up very well and we will see if it manages to achieve a perfect score to complete the trifecta.

Voice Cast: We continue the trend of featuring a new cast with every film while only a few actors return and in an interesting twist, we only have one returning voice actor for this film and we also have a big star returning as well. The returning voice actor is Jim Cummings who voices Ed the hyena while also voicing the mole and he also provides the singing voice for Scar at the end of “Be Prepared”, and the returning star is Cheech Marin who voices Banzai the hyena and it will be interesting to see if he comes back for another film. Now, we move onto the new cast and in what I believe is a first, we have two characters that are voiced by four different people, specifically two speaking actors and two singers which is crazy to think about. First, we have Matthew Broderick who voices Simba when he is an adult with Toto lead singer Joseph Williams providing the singing voice, and when Simba is a cub he is voiced by child star Jonathan Taylor Thomas in his first film role with Jason Weaver providing the singing voice. We then have Moira Kelly who voices adult Nala and Sally Dworsky provides her singing voice, and when Nala is a cub she is voiced by Niketa Calame with Laura Williams providing her singing voice. It would’ve been interesting to be in the editing room having to cut together all these voices so that they sound seamless though I’m sure many didn’t take heed to the fact that so many people voiced a specific character. Moving on from that, we have Jeremy Irons who voices Scar in what would be his most memorable voice acting role though he wouldn’t have much more after this, and then we have the legendary James Earl Jones who voices Mufasa in a role that was so memorable that he would return to voice Mufasa in the live-action remake and he would be the only one from the original that returned for the remake. We then have Nathan Lane who voices Timon the meerkat as he was about to have the biggest run of his career, and then we have Ernie Sabella who voices Pumbaa the warthog in what would be the biggest role of his career. Next, we have Robert Guillaume who voices Rafiki the monkey in what would be one of his defining roles, and then we have Rowan Atkinson who voices Zazu the bird though he would be better remembered for the character Mr. Bean. We then have Madge Sinclair who voices Sarabi the lioness in what would be her final film role before her death a year later, and then we have comic Whoopi Goldberg who voices Shenzi the hyena in a memorable role and finally we have Zoe Leader who voices Nala’s mother Sarafina in a minor role. I believe that this is probably the most star-studded film we have had to this date and we will see if any future films can either match it or top it as more big names take part in Disney films.

Hero/Prince: We continue on the trend of having a pretty good hero for the film and that is the lion Simba, the son of Mufasa and Sarabi as well as the heir to Mufasa and the future King of the Pride Lands. As a cub, Simba is excited to succeed his father as King and he is adventurous to a fault as he defies his father’s warnings and visits the elephant graveyard with Nala where they are almost killed by the hyenas until Mufasa saves them. Simba also admires his uncle Scar though he is unaware of Scar’s treachery and Scar looks to have Simba killed in a stampede, but Mufasa again saves Simba though Scar ends up killing him instead. Scar spins it that Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault and Simba goes into exile where he meets Timon and Pumbaa, and they become friends as Simba grows up and forgets about his past life. When an adult Nala finally finds him, they come to a head as Simba refuses to return as he still feels guilty about Mufasa’s death until Rafiki and the spirit of Mufasa make him realize he has to face Scar. He returns to the Pride Lands and with the help of Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa, he confronts Scar who eventually confesses to killing Mufasa and a war breaks out between the hyenas and the lions. Simba allows Scar to live though he tries to exile him much like Scar did to him though Scar refuses and they fight with Simba sending Scar off the cliffs, but Scar does survive only to be killed by the hyenas after he tried to blame them for everything. Simba takes his rightful place as King of the Pride Lands with Nala as his wife and they end up having a child that will succeed them. Simba is an interesting character in that as a cub, he is a free spirit and adventurous all the while anticipating being King though he does not fully realize the responsibility, but his world is destroyed when Mufasa is killed and Scar makes him believe that he is the cause of it. As a result, Simba abandons his home and eventually forgets about all that when he lives with Timon and Pumbaa, and he is adamant about not returning when Nala tries to convince him to as he clearly feels guilty about what happened and doesn’t want to open up those wounds. But thanks to Rafiki and seeing the spirit of Mufasa reminding him of who he really is, Simba finally accepts his destiny and returns to overthrow Scar and reclaim the throne, and he shows his humility as he is willing to let Scar live even after everything he has done though when Scar attacks him he finally fights him and tosses him off the cliff. Simba is perhaps the most complex hero to this point as he goes on a great journey to finally take his place as King, and he is probably one of the most memorable heroes in Disney history.

Princess: At first look, it didn’t seem like we had a princess in this film though upon closer look, we can make an argument for Nala even though she is not a princess when we first meet her. She is Simba’s best friend and it is revealed that they are betrothed to each other which would technically make her a princess, and she goes with Simba into the elephant graveyard where they are nearly killed by the hyenas until Mufasa saves them. We then don’t see her again until she is an adult and she unknowingly hunts Pumbaa not knowing he is Simba’s friend, and when Simba saves him they fight with Nala pinning Simba to the ground much like when they were cubs and she then realizes it is Simba. She tries to convince him to return home and he refuses at first which causes them to drift apart, but when she learns he is going to return she joins his side and helps the lionesses fight off the hyenas. After Scar is killed, Simba takes his place as King with Nala as his Queen and they have a child of their own which will become their new heir. Nala is a free spirit much like Simba and her world is turned upside down when Scar takes over, but when she finds Simba when they are older she is given new hope though she is distraught when he is reluctant to return. But when he does, she is right at his side and shows no hesitation in fighting the hyenas and she takes her place as Simba’s Queen, and while she probably won’t rank high amongst the other princesses she is a good character and a fine princess.

Villain: We have had some pretty memorable villains over these last few films and that continues here as we have Scar, the younger brother of Mufasa and the uncle of Simba whose soul desire is to be King and knows that will be impossible with the birth of Simba. He then decides to set Simba up by manipulating him to go to the elephant graveyard where the hyenas Banzai, Shenzi, and Ed are waiting though they are thwarted by Mufasa. Scar comes up with a plan that will enable him to be King while giving the hyenas what they want, and he has Simba left in a gorge where the hyenas cause a stampede. Mufasa arrives and manages to save Simba before getting overwhelmed by the stampede though he leaps to the cliff, and he begs Scar for help only for Scar to throw him back into the stampede which kills him. Scar makes Simba believe that he is responsible and he exiles Simba before having the hyenas chase him, but he manages to escape and they let him go as Scar takes his place as King and the Pride Lands fall into ruin. Eventually, they run out of food and Sarabi says they have to leave though Scar refuses and Simba returns as an adult, and Scar tries to paint Simba as Mufasa’s killer and is ready to kill him when he confesses to killing Mufasa. The lionesses rebel and along with Timon and Pumbaa, they drive the hyenas out as Simba corners Scar who tries to blame the hyenas for everything, but Simba decides to let him live though he tries to exile him from Pride Rock. Scar refuses and the two fight with Simba sending Scar off the cliff though Scar does survive, but when he tries to regroup with the hyenas they remember what he said and they turn on him as they kill him while a fire engulfs them. Scar is the typical younger brother of a monarch in that he is jealous of feeling inferior and wants power for himself, and he goes as far as to kill Mufasa and even tries to have Simba killed before taking control. He doesn’t care about anything or anyone including the hyenas that he promised to help though he clearly doesn’t even care about them, and he is stubborn and headstrong even though Pride Rock is in clear ruin and Sarabi tells him they have to leave though he refuses even if it leads to their death. When Simba confronts him, he tries to manipulate everyone by claiming Simba killed Mufasa before confessing to Simba that he did it when he comes close to killing Simba, but Simba turns it around and forces Scar to reveal the truth to everyone. He tries to flee and Simba corners him as he then blames the hyenas for everything though Simba clearly knows he’s lying, and even when Simba decides to spare him he still tries to kill him though he fails and he tries one more time to sweet talk the hyenas which fails and leads to his demise. Scar is a villain that you love to hate and there is hardly anything about him that is endearing in any way, and he is still one of the best villains in Disney history and has a strong case of being declared the best when we get there. Since I mentioned them here, I will also talk about Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed who are the unofficial leaders of the hyenas and they side with Scar in his takeover of the Pride Lands, but when Scar tries to shift the blame to them they turn on him and ultimately kill him though their own fate is left in question.

Other Characters: While it seems like there would be a lot of other characters to talk about in this film just from the opening scenes where we see a ton of animals show up to pay their respects to Simba, that is not the case at all as we only have a few other characters to talk about though most of them to play a major role in the film. We start with Mufasa who is the King of Pride Rock and the father of Simba as well as Scar’s older brother, and he is grooming his son to be his heir unaware that Scar is plotting to steal the throne for himself. Mufasa saves Simba and Nala from the hyenas as he is upset with Simba for disobeying him though they quickly reconcile, and then he again saves Simba from the stampede though he is ultimately killed by Scar who tosses him back into the stampede. Simba would be exiled as he feels responsible for Mufasa’s death only for Mufasa to appear to him in a vision as he reminds Simba of his duty and right to be King. We then have Sarabi who is Mufasa’s wife and Simba’s mother as she remains loyal to Mufasa even after Scar takes control, and when Simba returns she and Nala rally the other lionesses as they fend off the hyenas and reclaim Pride Rock. Next, we have Zazu who is Mufasa’s majordomo while also keeping an eye on Simba as he leads Mufasa to Simba and Nala when they are cornered by the hyenas, and when Scar takes control Zazu is imprisoned until he is freed by Timon and Pumbaa as he continues to serve Simba when he assumes the throne. We then have Rafiki the monkey who serves as the shaman of the Pride Lands and presenter of Simba to the animals, and when he learns Simba is still alive he finds him and manages to convince him to return to Pride Rock where he helps Simba fight off the hyenas and then he presents Simba and Nala’s new cub at the end of the film. Finally, we have the pair of Timon and Pumbaa who find Simba in the desert and they bring him to their oasis where the trio live together, and when Nala arrives and learns that Simba is alive they are worried that their friendship will end. However, they decide to join Simba and Nala in their fight to take Pride Rock back from Scar, and in the end they remain by Simba’s side as he takes his place as King. We do also have the other animals we see like the group of lionesses, the army of hyenas, and the animals we see in the beginning and the end of the film but they are fairly innocuous and don’t play as big a role. This might be one of the first films where almost all of the other characters played a pretty big role in the film and we will see if this continues to play out in future films.

Songs: As we have seen over the last few films, this film was made in the same vein as a Broadway musical which it would end up becoming in a few years much like Beauty and the Beast before it. In addition, a lot of people would probably say that the songs in this film are amongst the greatest in Disney history which to this point has covered a lot of ground with much more still to come. We start off the film immediately with the opening song “Circle of Life” which is a really good song and probably one of the best opening sequences in Disney history, and then we have the iconic “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” that Simba sings and it is still one of the most fun songs in history. Next, we have the song “Be Prepared” sung by Scar as he lays out his plan to steal control of the Pride Lands and it shows his cunning and deceitfulness, and then we have another really fun song in “Hakuna Matata” that Timon and Pumbaa sing as they show Simba that they have no worries in life and convince Simba to join them. Finally, we have the love ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” which is sung as Simba and Nala reconnect and it is a solid final song to the film, and of course I will also mention the pop version that Elton John sings and that is still one of the best songs in Disney history as well. I think it is worth mentioning that future releases of the film included an extra song called “The Morning Report” that Zazu sings though it is not included in the version on Disney+. I will also make mention of Zazu singing a few songs for Scar while imprisoned as well as Timon and Pumbaa briefly singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” along with Timon’s luau song to distract the hyenas, and it will be interesting to see going forward if any of the upcoming films can match these last few in terms of memorable songs.

Plot: In the near 60 year history of the Disney films, every one to this point has pretty much been an adaptation of either a novel or a story, but that ends here as this is essentially an original story that draws inspiration from biblical stories as well as “Hamlet”. The film takes place in the Pride Lands of Africa where Mufasa rules over the land and he starts grooming his son Simba to succeed him, but his brother Scar is jealous of both Mufasa and Simba as he plots to steal control of the Pride Lands. Scar first tricks Simba into going to an elephant graveyard which he does with his friend Nala and they are attacked by a trio of hyenas, but Mufasa saves them and reminds Simba of the dangers of being a King. Scar forms an alliance with the hyenas and plots to kill both Mufasa and Simba so he can become King, and he leads Simba to a gorge where the hyenas cause a herd of wildebeests to create a stampede in the gorge. Mufasa manages to save Simba and tries to climb to safety only for Scar to grab him by the paws and toss him back into the stampede which kills him, and then he makes Simba believe that he is responsible and Simba flees into exile while avoiding the hyenas. Scar becomes King and he begins a rule of tyranny while Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa who take him in and they live together, and several years later a now adult Nala reunites with an adult Simba and tells him what is happened though Simba refuses to return out of guilt for what happened. After meeting with Rafiki and receiving a vision of his father reminding him of his duty, Simba returns to the Pride Lands and confronts Scar who tries to kill Simba after once again implicating him in Mufasa’s murder. He then reveals that he murdered Mufasa and Simba finally fights back as Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, and the lionesses fight off the hyenas, and Simba corners Scar who shifts the blame to the hyenas and begs for his life as Simba decides to let him live though he banishes him. Scar turns around and battles Simba who ends up tossing him off the cliff to the ground with Scar surviving, and the hyenas turn on him and surround him before killing him as they are engulfed in fire. In the end, Simba takes his rightful place as King with Nala as his Queen and they give birth to a daughter who will succeed them. It was pretty cool to actually see an original story being told instead of just adapting a previous story, and it helps make this film stand out and it is still one of the best stories in Disney history.

Random Watching Thoughts: This opening sequence has to be one of the best in Disney history; I love how they have the Swahili influence throughout the film especially in the film; There was some controversy when the film was released in Japan due to its resemblance to the 1960s anime “Jungle Emperor” or as it was known in the USA “Kimba the White Lion”, and it was even referenced in an episode of “The Simpsons” though nothing ever came of it; I also love how this opening scene just has “The Circle of Life” song and no dialogue at all; What would’ve happened if Rafiki dropped Simba when he was lifting him up?; At first, I thought the mouse had changed when it was trying to escape from Scar, but then I realized it was his tail even though it looked like it was trying to pull away from the paw; Can hippos actually get hernias?; So claws on a rock is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard; It is a bit strange to think that Scar and Mufasa are brothers considering how completely different they look; That’s not very nice of Zazu to suggest turning Scar into a throw rug; Major props to the animators for making these scenes of the African lands; Mufasa passing off responsibility to Sarabi saying that Simba’s her son before sunrise; If everything the light touches is their kingdom, that is a massive kingdom; Mufasa literally says everything the light touches and Simba asks him about the place in the shadows; The circle of life is a very complex cycle; Mufasa clearly doesn’t care Zazu’s report if he is more interested in helping Simba learn to pounce properly; Scar clearly showing his manipulative ways by getting Simba interested in the elephant graveyard; Simba complains that Sarabi is messing up his mane when he has no mane; Does Zazu not like the water hole since he says that the sooner they get there, the sooner they can leave?; Simba and Nala don’t want to get married because they are friends and it would be weird not realizing that most couples start as friends; You have to love Simba’s innocence about what he thinks being King will be like; That is quite the tower of animals that they were able to form; It doesn’t make Simba look that good if Nala can keep pinning him that easily; Simba calls Zazu “banana beak” to insult him yet Zazu demands to be called Mr. Banana Beak; There was some other controversy as hyena experts felt the portrayal of the hyenas in the film was not positive though many feel these were more tongue-in-cheek than actual protests; I couldn’t imagine the actor voicing Ed having to do nothing but uncontrollable laughter; They will have whatever’s “lion” around and Shenzi wants a “cub” sandwich, once again puns for the win; How hot was that geyser that Zazu got shot out so far?; The hyenas are having fun until Simba scratches Shenzi and she gives the look like it’s on now; The hyenas make fun of Simba for his little roar but are left in shock when Mufasa roars; Shenzi and Banzai try to play dumb that they didn’t know Simba was Mufasa’s son and Ed just foolishly admits he knew; That was a fairly quick turnaround as Mufasa was furious with Simba and only a few moments later, they are playing around; Banzai says he won’t be able to sit for a week and then he is sitting perfectly fine while Ed is chomping away at his own leg; They badmouth lions before kissing up to Scar especially when he has a slab of meat for them to eat; I would have to go back, but I believe that “Be Prepared” is the first song to be sung by a villain; An interesting note is that Jeremy Irons’ voice gave out while recording the song so Jim Cummings stepped in to do the last verse; I’m surprised that I haven’t heard more complaints about the hyenas in essence goose-stepping during the song; Such an evil line by Scar saying to Simba that the surprise is to die for; I don’t know how good a wildebeest’s smell is, but you would think with as many of them there are that they would’ve noticed the hyenas off in the distance; I don’t think it is said enough as how amazing the scene of the wildebeest stampede is especially coupled with the score; Maybe Zazu should’ve just gone for help instead of just saying it and he wouldn’t have been knocked into the cliff; I think if you ask most people, they will say that Mufasa’s death is still one of the most traumatic deaths in Disney history; I can’t imagine being a parent and having to explain death to their child when they asked why Mufasa didn’t wake up; Scar is such a bastard that he would make Simba think that he was responsible for Mufasa’s death; Banzai first got attacked badly by Mufasa and now he gets thrown into the thorn bushes; They were pretty confident that Simba wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild; Bowling for buzzards; Pumbaa asks Timon if they can keep Simba like he’s a pet; Pumbaa asks Simba what’s eating him and Timon says he’s at the top of the food chain, sorry but that was a pretty lame joke; You got to put your behind in your past; When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world; So they did get this right as “Hakuna Matata” does actually mean “no worries” in Swahili; What’s a motto? Nothing, what’s the motto with you?; Was Pumbaa really that stinky that it caused everyone to run away from him?; Fourth wall break as Pumbaa nearly says “farted” and Timon tells him not to say it in front of the kids; Home is where your rump rests, some more sage advice from Pumbaa; That awkward moment where Timon basically has to turn Simba from a carnivore into an omnivore; What kind of “cream” is in that bug?; Slimy, yet satisfying; I do wonder how much time passed from when Simba went from a cub to becoming an adult, and notice he grew up while Pumbaa and Timon didn’t change at all; Zazu tries to sing “It’s a Small World” only for Scar to quickly shut him down; The early signs of cracks between Scar and the hyenas as they complain that there is no food or water meaning the paradise they were promised was a lie; Zazu says he is too tough and gamey to eat and Scar says all he needs is a little garlic; So a hyena in the middle of Africa somehow knows Spanish?; If the stars are really fireflies stuck in the sky as Timon claims, how are they still able to live?; It must’ve been hard for Simba to hear his father being called a mook; Another controversy arose when some though the flower petals flying in the air spelled the word “sex”, but the animators clarified it by saying that the letters were “SFX” to promote the special effects team that worked on the film; The dust flew a long way to be able to be caught by Rafiki who somehow by working with them learned that Simba was alive; Timon nearly swears as he screams in fear instead of saying “ass”; Simba and Nala fight each other until Nala pins Simba like when they were cubs and he immediately realizes it’s her; Pumbaa “gravels” at Simba’s feet; A funny story was after Elton John wrote “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”, he wasn’t happy to hear it being sung by Timon and Pumbaa as he felt it deserved to be a love song; Remember earlier when Simba and Nala said they thought it would be too weird to get married because they were friends, well sure enough here we are as they start falling in love; Simba was so excited to be King when he was a cub, yet now he would rather live his own life; Has Simba not seen Rafiki since when he was just born?; That is a pretty iconic shot of Mufasa appearing in the clouds to remind Simba of who he is; Rafiki could’ve made his point a lot better than just hitting Simba in the head with his stick; Was it really that hard for Timon and Pumbaa to figure out what Simba was going to do?; Obviously a few years have passed for the Pride Lands to fall into that far of ruin under Scar’s rule; An interesting animation snafu is that Timon has nothing around his neck at the beginning of his luau song, but when he turns around a lei suddenly appears out of nowhere; It does make sense that with Scar as King, the Circle of Life is totally out of balance and the Pride Lands have fallen into ruin; Again, Scar being such a bastard that he would make everyone believe that Simba was the one responsible for Mufasa’s death; Scar makes his first mistake by telling Simba that he killed Mufasa right before he tries to kill him, but he just gives Simba motivation; Bowling for buzzards became bowling for hyenas; Apparently Rafiki also knows kung fu; Pumbaa is more insulted that he wasn’t called Mr. Pig; Scar knows the jig is up so he tries to blame the hyenas and they give the look like “He did not just throw us under the bus”; Simba has every right to kill Scar yet he still takes the high road and lets him live ; This is a pretty epic fight between Simba and Scar; I know the hyenas are typically not that smart, but they were smart enough to remember what Scar said and they quickly turned on him; I love the subtle plot of the film of Simba basically proving he is worthy of being King; Great shot of the clouds breaking enough so Simba can see the stars as he hears Mufasa’s voice; The Circle of Life back in balance as now we have the next heir in Simba and Nala’s cub.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this is just a fantastic film and I could really be here all day just singing its praises which quite frankly it deserves all of them. Going into this project, there were a few films that I knew I was going to love even before watching them and this was one of them, and watching it again just reaffirmed by love of the film as there is almost nothing wrong with it. While it is not the first film to be given a perfect grade, you can argue that it those other films have some things that could’ve been improved on and I feel like you can’t say that about this film. The Disney Renaissance has been quite a profitable time for Disney as the last three films have been huge successes for them and it will be interesting to see how the next film stands up to them. As for this film, it is about as perfect of a film you can get and I believe that Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and this film is the best 3-film stretch in Disney history.

Final Grade: 10/10

Author: Steve Riddle

I have been a wrestling fan since 1993 and that is probably my biggest love, with movies being a close second due in part to being employed at a movie theater for over 9 years.