Sure, you’ve seen “The Lion King” dozens of times. You own the soundtrack and you’ve caught the Broadway show. Maybe you even had “Lion King” sheets and went to bed singing “Hakuna Matata.”
And what “Lion King” fan doesn’t know about the scene where stars supposedly spell out “SEX”? We bet there are still some things you didn’t know about the beloved Disney classic, which turns 20 on June 15.
1. When writer Irene Mecchi was hired, she was told that the story pitch was “‘Bambi in Africa’ meets ‘Hamlet,’” so she started calling it “Bamlet.”
2. Disney believed that “Pocahontas” (which came out in 1995) would be the bigger, more prestigious film and put all its key animators on it instead. Story artist Brenda Chapman (who went on to direct “Brave” and “The Prince of Egypt”) thought the story “wasn’t very good” and writer Burny Mattinson declared, “I don’t know who is going to want to watch that one.”
3. Pumbaa has the dubious distinction of being the first Disney character to fart.
4. Adult Simba’s mane was supposedly inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s ’80s hair.
5. Tim Curry and Malcolm McDowell were both considered to voice Scar, the role that went (so perfectly) to Jeremy Irons.
6. Before James Earl Jones was hired to voice Mufasa, animators worked with Sean Connery in mind.
7. Patrick Stewart as Zazu? Disney didn’t make it so. The actor — along with Monty Python stars John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam — were all considered for the role of Zazu, until animators caught some episodes of “Mr. Bean” and settled on Rowan Atkinson.
8. “The Lion King” was going to be a Cheech & Chong reunion, with both comedians as hyenas, but Tommy Chong was unavailable. One of the hyenas became a female and the role went to Whoopi Goldberg.
9. In the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” sequence, we see a pyramid of animals, including giant anteaters. Fine, except they’re native to South America, not Africa.
10. While the name of Nala’s mother (Sarafina) is never mentioned in the film, it is in the credits and was used in the trading cards given out at Burger King.
11. This was the first Disney cartoon to be dubbed into Zulu.
12. The film was titled “King of the Jungle,” until someone realized that lions don’t live in the jungle. The phrase still showed up on some Disney merchandise.
13. To further underscore Scar’s villainy, Disney put in subtle (and not-so-subtle) Nazi references, including having Scar’s army goosestep and having Scar address his troops from a high ledge, as Hitler would from a balcony. There is also supposedly a Swastika pattern on the rocks nearby.
(Speaking of… check out this nifty essay that compares “The Lion King” to “Thor.” (Namely, Loki = Scar and Thor = Simba)
14. At one point, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Oscar-winning love song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was a comical duet between Timon and Pumbaa! The composers smartly convinced the producers to have it sung between Simba and Nala instead.
15. Disney loves to pay homage to Disney: Notice the Mickey Mouse ears on a bug Timon grabs during the “Hakuna Matata” song and a speeded-up version of the Aloha Chant (from Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room) when Timon does his hula for the hyenas.
16. The Northridge earthquake struck just weeks before the film was set to be released. With the studio shut down, animators had to finish their work from home.
17. Although the similarities to the Japanese TV series “Kimba the White Lion” have been pointed out by many, Tezuka Productions opted not to sue. As an executive said, “we’re a small, weak company. It wouldn’t be worth it anyway … Disney’s lawyers are among the top twenty in the world!” According to another source, the head of the studio believed that the creator of “Kimba,” the late cartoonist Osamu Tezuka, would not have wanted to sue because he admired Disney. “They are not litigious people,” said Fred Ladd who produced the American version of “Kimba.” “They just let it go.”
18. Who knew hyenas were so controversial? One hyena researcher sued Disney studios for defamation of character, and another who had helped animators observe captive hyenas urged a boycott of the film. Some people also interpreted the hyenas as unflatteringly standing in for minorities (a la the crows in “Dumbo.”)
19. The two-and-a-half minute wildebeest stampede, one of the only computer-animated segments in the film, took more than two years to create.
20. The family of the South African guy who composed the 1939 song used in “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sued Disney in 2004 for $ 1.6 million in royalties. Disney settled two years later for an undisclosed amount.
Photo courtesy Disney
Gallery | Top Disney Villains of All Time
- 30. Yzma (‘The Emperor’s New Groove’)
The ancient Peruvian witch may not be the scariest Disney villain, but she’s one of the funniest, thanks to a sly performance by Eartha Kitt.
- 29. The Horned King (‘The Black Cauldron’)
The film is one of the more unfortunately overlooked in the Disney canon, and so is this John Hurt-voiced baddie, who’s not afraid to take fashion tips from Maleficent — or to steamroll a kingdom to possess the magical title object.
- 28. Governor Ratcliffe (‘Pocahontas’)
He’s kind of your garden-variety ugly imperialist, as voiced by David Ogden Stiers in his imperious Major Winchester mode. Also, the pig-tail coif really isn’t working for him.
- 27. Kaa (‘The Jungle Book’)
The python can not only squeeze his victims to death and swallow them whole, he can hypnotize them as well. Loses points, though, for having the same voice as Winnie the Pooh (Sterling Holloway).
- 26. Mother Gothel (‘Tangled’)
Kidnaps infant princess and locks her in a tower for so long that Rapunzel gets a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. Has the lovely singing voice of Broadway vet Donna Murphy.
- 25. Gaston (‘Beauty and the Beast’)
At first, he’s just an arrogant yahoo. But he does have the power to foment an angry, torch-bearing mob.
- 24. King Candy (‘Wreck-It Ralph’)
He’s modeled after the Mad Hatter in Disney’s animated “Alice in Wonderland,” but the throne usurper and code re-writer is on a serious power trip.
- 23. Hans (‘Frozen’)
This handsome prince is certainly charming, but it becomes clear that he’s just trying to marry for power. His biggest crime: coming between sisters Elsa and Anna.
- 22. Professor Ratigan (‘The Great Mouse Detective’)
Any rat who has a pet cat is pretty badass. Plus, the rodent crimelord is voiced by Vincent Price.
- 21. Clayton (‘Tarzan’)
Ugly imperialism (a la Gov. Ratcliffe), poaching (a la McLeach from “The Rescuers Down Under”), and Gaston’s chin.
- 20. Sid Phillips (‘Toy Story’)
Sid’s just a kid, but his sadistic, diabolically creative experiments with recombined toy parts make him a suburban Frankenstein.
- 19. Madame Medusa (‘The Rescuers’)
Played by the great Geraldine Page, Medusa hints at untapped reserves of evil. After all, suppose she’d succeeded in her plot — grab an orphan girl no one will miss and use her to find a hidden gem in a cave too small for a grown-up. What would she have done with little Penny then? Feed her to the pet crocodiles?
- 18. Shan-Yu (‘Mulan’)
He’s just a man, but he’s strong enough to withstand an avalanche — not to mention, leading a marauding, bloodthirsty army.
- 17. Chernabog (‘Fantasia’)
He’s a silent demon, but he makes up for it with the most horrifying theme music ever (Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”). He’s also pure evil, using his powers to raise the dead and wreak havoc. His only weaknesses: daylight and the strains of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”
- 16. Madame Mim (‘The Sword in the Stone’)
She’s included on general craziness points alone. Can turn herself into various creatures, including a scary dragon. Fights a memorable wizards’ duel with Merlin.
- Hades (‘Hercules’)
Played by the always sinister James Woods (he even looks like Woods), but with more camp and flamboyance than Woods usually musters. He gets way too much enjoyment from making Hercules’ life miserable. Oh, and he rules hell, which is named in his honor.
- 14. Judge Claude Frollo (‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’)
A typical Victor Hugo villain, he’s all the scarier for believing himself to be motivated by righteousness. Willing to burn down Paris out of his obsession with a girl he can’t have.
- 13. Shere Khan (‘The Jungle Book’)
The urbane menace George Sanders, whose voice underlies so many suave and sophisticated villains (“Rebecca,” “All About Eve”), translates surprisingly well to the jungle, where his jungle-ruling tiger is all the scarier for never raising his voice above a sneer.
- 12. Queen of Hearts (‘Alice in Wonderland’)
Lewis Carroll’s fantasy-world monarch has a hair-trigger temper and a capricious will, so she’s ready to lop heads for no reason at all. Props to Helena Bonham Carter in the live-action version, but she can’t hold a candle to the sheer psychotic rage of Verna Felton in the cartoon version.
- Honest John (‘Pinocchio’)
The poor puppet encounters fearsome villains at nearly every turn in the story, from exploitative impresario Stromboli to ravenous whale Monstro. But the worst of all is the misleadingly-named fox who lures Pinocchio into a world of candy-coated sin in the first place.
- 10. Si and Am (‘Lady and the Tramp’)
Grown-up viewers will cringe at the ethnic stereotyping of the singing Siamese cats, but kids may notice only their unfettered malice and mischief, as well as their ability to make it all look like poor Lady’s fault.
- 9. Lotso (‘Toy Story 3′)
The Pixar movies have the opposite issue from the rest of Disney’s animated features; their heroes are colorful and interesting, while their villains are often perfunctory and pedestrian. A notable exception is this huggable, strawberry-scented demagogue, a teddy bear who turns a daycare center into a fascist dictatorship and nearly gets our heroes incinerated in a furnace. Plus, he’s voiced by Ned Beatty, in the same menacing manner of his you-are-tampering-with-the-forces-of-nature heavy from “Network.”
- 8. Lady Tremaine (‘Cinderella’)
As voiced by Disney regular Eleanor Audley, the scheming, imperious, vain, power-hungry taskmaster is the kind of woman who gives wicked stepmothers a bad name.
- 7. Ursula (‘The Little Mermaid’)
The undersea witch with the slimy tentacles, whose seeming helpfulness toward Princess Ariel is actually a ploy to oust King Triton from his ocean throne, is one of the scariest Disney villains ever, thanks to the frightening performance of Pat Carroll.
- 6. Scar (‘The Lion King’)
How do you follow up an Oscar for playing the chilly and sinister Claus von Bulow? If you’re Jeremy Irons, you play a fratricidal lion, and you play him like you were playing Claudius in “Hamlet.” (Though Scar also has a touch of Claus, as delivered in the line “You have no idea.”) Here’s a guy who kills his regal brother, then ruins the kingdom out of sheer spite. That’s evil.
- 5. Jafar (‘Aladdin’)
The whole character is pretty much a swipe from Conrad Veidt’s villain in the 1940 live-action fantasy “The Thief of Baghdad,” but he’s still delightfully wicked, plotting to marry Jasmine, kill her father, and steal her kingdom. Also, he has the deliciously grouchy Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) for a sidekick, maybe the only Disney-villain henchman who isn’t a brainless buffoon.
- 4. Captain Hook (‘Peter Pan’)
Stylish and debonair, Hook is even more dangerous after Pan symbolically castrates him (feeding his hand to the crocodile), now that he has a vicious hook for an appendage. As in all productions of this story, he’s voiced by the same actor (Hans Conreid) who plays the Darling children’s father; Freudians, make of that what you will.
- 3. Cruella de Vil (’101 Dalmatians’)
She has the best name of any Disney villain — maybe any villain ever. And you can’t fault her fashion sense, even if that’s what drives her to dognap and try to skin 101 puppies.
- 2. Maleficent (‘Sleeping Beauty’)
Here’s a woman willing to destroy an entire kingdom just because she wasn’t invited to a party. Plus, she has the transformational powers of Madame Mim, the voice of Cinderella’s stepmom (Eleanor Audley), and those iconic horns. As villains go, Maleficent is pretty magnificent.
- 1. Wicked Queen (‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’)
She was the first Disney villain, and she set the bar for all the rest. She has the same magical gift for transformation as some of the other witchy villainesses, but get this: Even though she wants to kill Snow White out of vanity, she’s actually willing to destroy her own beauty just for a final chance to poison her stepdaughter. That’s how full of hate she is. More than anyone else on this list, she’s the one still likely to haunt your nightmares well into your adulthood.
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