Conceived by Jeffrey Katzenberg and drawn from his own coming of age experience (Wiki).  I heard it said in 2010 that this was the largest-selling animated film of all time.  There was dissension among the Disney staffers on the decision to turn this project into a musical.  Songs were added to the movie, and the Broadway show opened in 1997. Katzenberg would soon depart from Walt Disney Studios to lead the animation blitz for DreamWorks.

It opens with a Kenya sunrise in the area of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Animals are teeming on the savanna and African voices are singing “The Circle of Life.”  This is the scene that was later brought to life with such impact on the Broadway stage by Julie Taymor’s life-size puppets. A simian shaman presents the newborn cub, Simba, to the gods while the proud King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and his lioness wife look on.  In a nearby cave, Scar (Jeremy Irons), brother to the King, is nursing his resentment of the small heir who has pushed him out of line for the throne. Simba grows to young manhood and acquires a female friend named Nala.  Scar engineers a wildebeest stampede in which Mufasa is killed.  Simba is blamed for the death and goes off into exile.  Scar enlists the hyenas in his abuse of power.  Comic relief is provided by two almost obscene characters named Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane).  They give Simba lessons in life, “Hakuna Matata.”  Simba, now matured (Matthew Broderick), returns to his father’s decimated kingdom and is recognized by Nala.  He learns what has happened under his uncle’s reign but still feels unworthy.  His father’s spirit appears in the sky and persuades Simba to accept his destiny.  Scar is forced to reveal his responsibility for the death of Mufasa.  There is a fierce battle between Simba and Scar resulting in Scar’s death.  The story ends with a reprise of “The Circle of Life” as Simba and Nala introduce a new cub to the kingdom.  This is the nearest thing that popular culture has to offer on the folklore of the Serengeti Plain.


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