21 Things You Didn’t Know About The Lion King

The Lion King first appeared in 1994 and quickly became one of the highest-grossing movies in film history. Audiences around the world fell in love with the heart-wrenching story of Simba, a young lion who is orphaned after his evil uncle Scar betrays Mufasa, the king of Pride Rock (and Simba’s father). The movie became the most successful film of 1994 and ended up grossing a whopping $763.5 million.

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Now that a live-action sequel is going to be appearing this summer, we’ve decided to take a look back at The Lion King and see if there’s any fascinating facts lurking under the surface of this classic animated movie. Scroll down the article below to read 21 amazing bits of trivia about The Lion King. Enjoy!


21. The infamous wildebeest stampede took three years(!) to animate

The wildebeest stampede is one of the most dramatic moments in The Lion King.

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Every 90s kid out there remembers the first time they watched the heart-wrenching action unfold – poor Simba and Mufasa get caught between the thundering hooves of hundreds of wildebeest.

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The stampede itself lasts about two and a half minutes – but did you know that this short scene actually took animators over three years to complete?

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The detailing on each of the wildebeest alone meant that a crack team of Disney artists had to spend three years ensuring that the appearance and movement of each animal looked 100% realistic.

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That’s not the only incredible fact about the team behind the Lion King‘s animation. In total, a team of 600 artists and technicians worked together to produce over 1 million drawings for the movie.

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We hope they all got a bonus after The Lion King stormed the box office!

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20. Disney’s best animators were sent to work on Pocahontas because executives thought that would be the bigger hit

Have you ever noticed any big differences between Pocahontas and The Lion King?

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The Lion King was made at exactly the same time as Pocahontas, and executives had very different ideas about which film would be more successful.

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The Lion King was released in 1994 and broke box office records everywhere, while Pocahontas hit cinema screens the following year and was well-received but certainly not as popular.

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Funnily enough, studio executives sent all of the most talented animators to work on Pocahontas because they were convinced that it would be a bigger hit than The Lion King.

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They couldn’t have known how wrong they would turn out to be! Disney made approximately $1 billion from Lion King merchandise in 1994 alone.

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Meanwhile, Pocahontas has never managed to capture people’s imagination in quite the same way.

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19. An actual lion and cub were brought into the studio so animators could study their movements

Working as an artist on The Lion King sounds like the ultimate dream job.

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Why? The team were treated to some amazing safari experiences by executives in order to ensure that the film’s animation accurately represented the beauty and wonder of the African savannah.

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Animators wanted to get the movements and personalities of their lion characters just right, meaning that they were given a trip to Africa in order to watch the animals in their natural habitat.

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Furthermore, a real lion and cub were also brought into the Disney studio so that animators could study their anatomy. Amazing! Wildlife expert Jim Fowler brought the animals into the studio to act as real-life figure models. And they weren’t the only creatures that Fowler brought in…

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Apparently he also brought plenty of specimens in, including a hornbill bird and other creatures. Fowler was the presenter of Wild Kingdom at the time and definitely knew his way round a number of African species.

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Thanks to Fowler, we’d have to say that the animators did an excellent job of portraying the animals in the end!

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18. The ‘Be Prepared’ scene was actually inspired by real-life footage from Nazi Germany

Scar is the evil brother of Mufasa who ruthlessly plots to steal power from his sibling.

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And if you thought that the film’s animators managed to perfectly capture Scar’s hateful nature, then you might be interested to learn that one of their source materials for the character was none other than the leader of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler.

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In particular, the dramatic ‘Be Prepared’ scene was directly inspired by footage from Nazi Germany, in which Hitler would regularly survey his goose-stepping soldiers.

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The movie depicts Scar observing his hyena ‘troops’ in exactly the same way that Hitler would stand on a podium and watch his armies walk by. The hyenas even turn to face Scar as they pass in exactly the same manner as Nazi troops from the 1930s. And those uplifted paws definitely look like Nazi salutes…yikes.

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Scar was famously brought to life by British actor Jeremy Irons, who accidentally threw out his voice halfway through recording the vocals for ‘Be Prepared’. He was unable to continue and instead one of his co-stars was brought in to finish off the song…

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It turns out that Jim Cummings (who voiced Ed the goofy hyena) had to fill in for the final verses!

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17. The voice actors behind Timon and Pumbaa originally auditioned to play the hyenas

Timon and Pumbaa were the break out stars of The Lion King.

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The jolly warthog and the hilarious meerkat provided some much-needed comic relief in the film. But things could have turned out very differently for this iconic animated duo…

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Actors Nathan Lane (Timon) and Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) originally auditioned play the part of the hyenas. Director Rob Minkoff explained the twist of fate that led to them being cast as Timon and Pumbaa instead.

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“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. 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.

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“That’s when we thought, ‘What if we use them as Timon and Pumbaa?’ It was the perfect fit.”

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We’ll say! Some things are just meant to be.

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16. Cheech and Chong were supposed to voice the hyenas

Disney wanted to get Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong onboard to play the hyenas Banzai and Shenzi.

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However, Chong was unavailable so Whoopi Goldberg was added to the cast instead. Goldberg voiced Shenzi, while Marin played Banzai. Meanwhile, Jim Cummings was cast as goofy hyena Ed.

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The Lion King wasn’t the end of Goldberg’s association with the movie either. She appeared onstage in full costume during a performance of the stage show inspired by the Disney movie.

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Back in January 2010, Goldberg joined the Broadway production of the The Lion King for one night only, making a number of different cameos throughout the performance.

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The upcoming cast list for the 2019 remake has revealed that Eric André, Florence Kasumba and Keegan-Michael Key will be voicing the new hyenas.

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Key will play the role of Kamari, whose name has changed from the 1994 original ‘Ed’ character.

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15. Most of the main characters have names taken from Swahili words

The names of some of the main characters from The Lion King will not have gone unnoticed by certain African audiences.

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That’s because many of the most prominent animals in the movie have Swahili words as names. Simba, Sarabi, Pumbaa and Rafiki are all Swahili words, and they mean (in order) lion, mirage, foolish and friend.

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Of course, ‘hakuna matata’ is another famous example of the Swahili language in action. ‘Hakuna’ means ‘no’ while ‘matata’ means ‘problems’, and in the wake of the movie, African tourist spots made sure to include the phrase on signs and menus etc.

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However, not everybody is pleased that ‘hakuna matata’ made its way into the film. Disney successfully trademarked the phrase when the movie was first released, a move which has attracted a lot of controversy in recent years.

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In fact, a Zimbabwean activist named Shelton Mpala has accused the entertainment giant of stealing African culture with its trademarking of the Swahili language.

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Mpala even launched an online petition to try and overturn the legal decision, but it doesn’t look as though Disney will be letting go of the phrase any time soon.

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14. James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclaire already played the king and queen in Coming To America

Most people would probably agree that Mufasa and Sarabi are one of the cutest couples in The Lion King.

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James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclaire were perfectly cast as Mufasa and Sarabi – also known as the king and queen of Pride Rock (at the start of the movie at least).

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The chemistry between the two actors might have been so good because Jones and Sinclaire have previously appeared as an African king and queen together before!

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Anyone who’s ever seen Coming to America will know that Jones and Sinclaire played King Jaffe Joffer and Queen Aoleon in the popular 1988 comedy film starring Eddie Murphy.

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The pair have also starred in Broadway plays together. So once Jones was cast as Mufasa, Sinclaire must have seemed like the natural choice!

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Maybe Eddie Murphy should have played Simba?!

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13. ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ was originally cut from the movie

The Lion King is known and loved for its amazing soundtrack.

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One particular fan favourite is the love song between Simba and Nala entitled ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ – the two lions start to realise that they have feelings for one another and Elton John does the rest.

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However, the track nearly didn’t feature at all in the final cut of the movie – it was only included when Elton John saw the film a few weeks before its general release and insisted on the Oscar-winning song being added in again.

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Phew! Quite the near miss for one of our favourite Disney songs. And it seems as though the Oscars judging panel felt the same way, because the Lion King soundtrack scooped a lot of wins.

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The movie won two Golden Globes, one for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and the other for Best Original Score, as well as two Academy Awards.

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Hans Zimmer picked up a golden statuette for Best Original Score and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” ended up winning Best Original Song for Elton John and Tim Rice.

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12. Several characters were completely written out of the final script

There are plenty of animal characters that never made the final cut of the movie.

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In one version of the script, Nala had a goofy younger brother named Mheetu, whom Simba was actually supposed to save from the terrifying wildebeest stampede.

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Nala also had another friend named Bhati, who was imagined as a hilarious bat-eared fox. Other characters included Tesma, a mopey meerkat and relative of Timon, as well as a lizard called Iggy.

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The hyenas were also supposed to be very different animals. Animators first imagined them as a cape hunting dogs (pictured below) rather than hyenas.

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We would have loved to have seen what Timon’s grumpy relative was like!

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The Lion King really did go through a lot of revisions before making it to the big screen.

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11. The film was supposed to end with Simba being thrown off a cliff

What?! Who thought this would be a good idea?!

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Animators originally had a very dramatic ending in store for Simba, who was supposed to be thrown off a cliff towards the end of the film. This would have been a traumatic call back to Mufasa’s death at the hands of his brother Scar.

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Thankfully Simba was meant to survive the fall but still – after what happened to Mufasa that would surely have been too many WTF moments in one kids movie!

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Although The Lion King is a completely original story, it definitely has some inspirations…and many of them come from Shakespeare’s greatest plays, including Hamlet and King Lear.

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Screenwriter Irene Mecchi once revealed 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.”

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Imagine going to the cinema to see Bamblet?! Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

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10. Scar was supposed to follow a very different storyline indeed

It’s fair to say that Scar was a nasty piece of work.

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He couldn’t have been more different to his brother Mufasa, and those piercing green eyes proved to be the stuff of nightmares for most young children growing up in the 90s.

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So you might be interested to learn that in the original script, Scar was supposed to be a lone wandering lion who was in charge of a pack of vicious baboons (not hyenas).

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In the same version, Rafiki was originally written as a cheetah while Timon and Pumbaa were always friends with Simba from the start of the movie.

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The name of the film itself changed several times. Originally it was called King of Beasts before being renamed King of the Jungle.

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It was only changed when executives realised that lions don’t live in the jungle at all!

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9. The opening scene of the film was originally produced with a voiceover dialogue

The opening scene of The Lion King is one of the most iconic openings in film history.

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Everyone remembers seeing that African sun rise over the savannah for the first time while the music kicks in. But this classic moment could have turned out very differently indeed.

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According to interviews from The Making of The Lion King, the scene was supposed to feature a voiceover dialogue that introduced each of the main characters to the audience.

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Directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff decided to get rid of the script when they heard the final version of “Circle of Life” in action.

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The opening was so powerful that executives decided to use the scene as a trailer for the movie, leaving it completely untouched.

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This was the first time Disney made a trailer using a complete scene from the final cut of a film.

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8. ‘Hakuna Matata’ wasn’t in the first draft of the script

This is a shocking fact for any Lion King fan!

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In a film with so many great songs, “Hakuna Matata” is yet another groovy number that kids everywhere probably drove their parents up the wall with throughout most of the 90s.

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But the song was never supposed to feature in the original script. Instead the writers had come up with a song about the joys of eating bugs entitled “He’s Got it All Worked Out.”

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Director Minkoff explained: “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’.

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“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!”

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Film history in the making…

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7. An earthquake nearly endangered production of The Lion King

An earthquake hit California in 1994 which nearly ruined production of The Lion King.

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Disney Studios in Burbank, California was forced to shut down after the earthquake wreaked havoc in the surrounding area. This just so happened to be at the same time that animators were trying to finish The Lion King.

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Unfortunately the disruption from the Northridge earthquake meant that animators were forced to keep drawing the final scenes from their homes instead.

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It seems as though when they were at home, the artists decided to have a bit of fun with some of the scenes we see in the final Lion King.

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It’s now Disney tradition for the animation department to include Disney easter eggs in whatever film they’re working on. If you look closely at Timon when he lifts up the log to reveal all of the bugs…

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…you might spot a small yellow beetle in the background that just so happens to be wearing Mickey Mouse ears!

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6. It’s the biggest-selling home video of all time

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but The Lion King is the biggest-selling home video of all time.

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On the first day of the video’s release it sold 4.5 million tapes, and in total it’s estimated that over 55 million copies were purchased before the video era ended.

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The Lion King was also easily the highest-grossing animated movie with a box office gross of $763.5 million until 2013, when Frozen took over that record.

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Every 90s kid remembers having one of these in their video cupboard:

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The Lion King is still the third-highest grossing animated film of all time and looks set to make Disney even more money with its 2019 remake.

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With big names like Donald Glover and Beyoncé set to star, it looks set to be another huge hit at the box office!

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5. Matthew Broderick thought he was signing on to the remake of a Japanese anime show

Matthew Broderick was the voice of adult Simba.

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Once we hear the last notes of “Hakuna Matata”, Simba suddenly sounds a lot more commanding, and it’s all thanks to Broderick’s excellent performance as the future lion king.

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However, Broderick wasn’t entirely sure what he was signing on for when he accepted the role of Simba in the early 90s. In fact, he thought he was participating in a remake of a Japanese show.

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The Ferris Bueller star believed he was working on a remake of a Japanese anime from the 1960s entitled Kimba the White Lion.

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To avoid any awkward legal disputes, Disney has always denied that the two projects are related in any way.

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Still, Broderick must have got a bit of a shock when he turned up for filming!

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4. Tim Rice went through 15 different versions of the lyrics for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”

Tim Rice really did have his hands full with The Lion King.

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He went through several different versions of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, and once revealed that he composed 15 different sets of lyrics for the track.

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The composer revealed in the film’s press notes that it took 15 iterations of lyrics for Rice to decide to go with…the first version of the song he came up with!

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All of that hard work paid off in the end for Rice though – he earned plenty of awards for his part in the making of The Lion King‘s iconic score.

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Since the release of the 1994 film, Elton John and Tim Rice’s much-loved songs have been performed week in and week out thanks to the success of The Lion King musical.

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It’s safe to say that Rice is a very rich man indeed…

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3. Most of the film’s landscapes are directly based on a national park in Kenya

We’ve already seen that the animation team got to go on research trips to Africa.

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One of the most beautiful places that they visited was the Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya, which has often been described as one of the most stunning locations on planet Earth.

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The park made such an impression on the animators during their November 1991 visit that they decided to base the entire film around its landscape.

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Only one important aspect of the African savannah is not based on Hell’s Gate – and that is Pride Rock itself, aka the home of the lion king.

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Pride Rock was actually created by a Disney animator back in Burbank, California, who hadn’t been to visit the national park.

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Still, it looks pretty convincing to us!

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2. That ‘rude word’ written into the movie was all a big misunderstanding

In one scene that comes midway through the film, a melancholy Simba gazes up at the night sky.

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As he lays down with a thud, Simba kicks up a cloud of dust, which appears to spell out ‘SEX’. Or does it? Not according to ex-Disney animator Tom Sito, who says the cloud is much more innocent than that.

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“It doesn’t say SEX. It says special effects. It’s SFX,” Sito claims. You’ll just have to take his word on that one though. So there you go!

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It was just a simple call out to the animation team all along. But that’s not the only example of Disney supposedly having a bit of fun behind the scenes.

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Some people have claimed that the poster for The Lion King actually contains the outline of a woman wearing a thong.

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Check out the picture below. Is it just Mufasa’s nose or something more X-rated?

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1. The Lion King is one of the few animated films to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture

We’ve already seen that The Lion King has won plenty of accolades.

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And it’s one of the few animated films to ever win the honour of a Golden Globe for Best Picture (Toy Story 2 is another example). Eventually the Golden Globes committee decided to change the rules on which types of films could win the Best Picture Award.

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Now only live action films can win the award, and a new category was created for animated features. So despite all of the comparisons, Frozen will never be able to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture!

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We’re sure the Lion King team are feeling pretty smug about that one…

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Are you a fan of The Lion King? Let us know in the comments section!

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