Did you know that Simba was originally supposed to save Nala’s little brother from the wildebeest stampede? Or that the voices of Timon and Pumbaa were almost cast as hyenas? Here are a few things you may not have heard about the animated masterpiece that had you in tears two decades ago.
1. According to “The Making of The Lion King,” the original opening scene featured a dialog introducing most of the main characters, but directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff scrapped it when they heard the final version of “Circle of Life.”
2. The result of this decision was so powerful that the opening scene was used as a trailer for the film, marking the first time Disney had ever made a trailer using a complete scene.
3. The first script (which was titled King of Beasts, then King of the Jungle) featured Scar as a lone lion, unrelated to Simba, who was in charge of a pack of vicious baboons. In this version, Rafiki was written as a cheetah and Timon and Pumbaa were both friends with Simba from the start.
4. The Lion King was the first Disney animated film to feature a completely original storyline—that is, one that was not an adaptation of a pre-existing story.
5. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, who played Timon and Pumbaa, originally auditioned to be hyenas. "They came to an audition in New York and they bumped into each other in the lobby, which is when they discovered they were both auditioning for the roles of hyenas," director Rob Minkoff said. "They asked the casting director if they could audition together and they were hilarious as they read their lines, but they didn’t seem right for the hyenas. That’s when we thought, ‘What if we use them as Timon and Pumbaa?’ It was the perfect fit.” Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg were cast as the hyenas instead.
6. Tommy Chong was supposed to play the third hyena opposite his former partner-in-crime, Marin, but when he couldn’t be reached, Jim Cummings was cast in his place.
7. Cummings is also the voice of the gopher who reports to Zazu in the film, and filled in for Jeremy Irons as Scar on last third of “Be Prepared” when Irons threw his voice out recording the song.
8. After Simba’s first encounter with the hyenas, the film was supposed to feature a lullaby sung by Sarabi called “The Lion in the Moon,” which was about a protective lion spirit.
9. “Hakuna Matata” wasn't originally in the script; instead, there was a song about eating bugs called "He's Got it All Worked Out." According to Minkoff, "We couldn’t convince everybody that making the entire song about eating bugs was a good idea. Soon after, the research team came back from their trip to Africa with the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’. We talked about it in a meeting with Tim Rice—and that’s when the idea struck. I remember Tim saying, ‘Hmmm… Hakuna Matata. It’s a bit like Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.’ A song was born!”
10. The Lion King is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time with a total box office of over $987 million; it is also the third highest-grossing animated feature in general, the 19th highest-grossing film of all time, and the best-selling videotape of all time.
11. According to the film's press notes, the wildebeest stampede scene took Disney CGI animators more than two years to create and involved writing a new computer program to govern the movements of the herd.
12. A hyena researcher sued Disney for “defamation of character” for its portrayal of the animals in the film. [PDF]
13. The film’s first director, George Scribner (who also directed Oliver and Company), wanted the movie to be a sort of animated National Geographic feature and left the film when the decision was made to turn it into a musical.
14. The Lion King was actually made by a “B-Team” of Disney animators since the “A-Team” had elected to focus on the picture they thought would be more successful— Pocahontas.
15. Wildlife expert Jim Fowler brought real African animals like hornbills and lions at different stages of life into the Disney studio to serve as figure models for the team of animators working on the film.
16. Rafiki is actually something of a cross between a mandrill and a baboon as true mandrills do not have tails.
17. An earthquake in 1994 forced the Disney Studios to close down temporarily and much of the film was finished in the artists’ homes.
18. A number of characters developed for the film were written completely out of the script, including a tagalong little brother for Nala named Mheetu (who Simba was originally supposed to save from the stampede) and another friend of Nala’s named Bhati—a wise-cracking bat-eared fox. There was also, at one point, a lizard named Iggy, and another meerkat named Tesma (a mopey relative of Timon); the hyenas had originally been written as cape hunting dogs.
19. One small yellow beetle that Timon finds under a log has Mickey ears on its back.
20. In November 1991, Disney sent a team of animators to Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya to do research for the film. Most of the landscapes in the finished movie are based on this park—but not Pride Rock itself, which was created by a Disney artist in Burbank.
21. Screenwriter Irene Mecchi said in “The Making of The Lion King” that the idea for the movie was first presented to her as “Hamlet in Africa with Bambi thrown in, so Bamblet.”
22. Before Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame was cast as the finicky hornbill Zazu, several former members of Monty Python were considered for the role, as was Patrick Stewart.
23. “Hakuna Matata” originally had an extra verse in which Timon explained his difficulty fitting in with other meerkats.
24. In the film's press notes, Tim Rice is said to have been through about 15 iterations of lyrics for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” The Elton John recording that plays during the credits (and won an Oscar) was the first version of the song.
25. The original final fight sequence had Simba losing to Scar, though Scar then died in a fire.
26. The American Film Institute lists The Lion King as the fourth best animated film of all time.
27. SEX in a dust cloud? Animators claimed this was supposed to say “SFX,” and was meant as an innocent nod to the art department.
28. James Earl Jones (voice of Mufasa) and Madge Sinclair (voice of Sarabi) played an African king and queen together in the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming to America.
29. According to a 1995 article in Entertainment Weekly, Disney made more than $1 billion on Lion King merchandise in 1994.
30. Matthew Broderick (voice of Adult Simba) first thought he was going to be working on a remake of a 1960s Japanese anime show called Kimba the White Lion when he read the script, though Disney has denied any connection between the two projects.