In the history of the Walt Disney Company, the 1990s is seen as the Disney Renaissance, a time when the company experienced a creative rebirth and produced some of its greatest works to date. Whether you were a child or adult when the animated films were released, you enjoyed them.
This era started in 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released and continued in 1991 with the Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin in 1992. Then, in 1994, The Lion King hit the big screen. There are countless names who deserve a credit for this Disney masterpiece but probably none more than its directors, Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, Don Hahn who worked as the producer, and the three screenwriters, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton.
The Lion King transports us to the fantastic world of Simba, the young lion who is destined to succeed his father, Mufasa, as the King of the Pride Lands. The entire story heats up as Simba’s Uncle Scar kills Mufasa, and Simba is forced to escape into exile. Being surrounded by the lovable and funny Timon and Pumba while obtaining invaluable perspectives from his childhood friend Nala and Rafiki, his shaman, Simba returns to destroy Scar’s tyranny and oppression and take his rightful place as King.
It’s one of the all time favorite Disney stories, and when The Lion King was released on June 15, 1994, it instantly garnered positive reactions from critics. They praised the film for its plot and animation, but they also acknowledged the music, which turned out to be a success in its own right. The music was indeed a masterpiece, having original songs prepared by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice.
Tim Rice became involved with The Lion King project in early 1991 while he was still doing work for Aladdin. Reportedly, it was at this point when he was asked to make recommendations for who should join as a composer for The Lion King.
Rice came to the team as a lyricist, and he first attempted to get the Swedish pop group ABBA on board. He had previously worked with Benny and Bjorn on the music for Chess, a political Cold War era story that revolved around two grandmasters, one from the U.S. and one from the Soviet Union, and their fight over the same woman. Unfortunately, nothing came out of this invitation, as ABBA’s Benny Andersson was engaged and very busy with the musical Kristina från Duvemåla, based on a Swedish novel series on migration.
When this idea came to nothing, Rice proposed Elton John, who gladly accepted the invitation as soon as it was extended. Composer Hans Zimmer also joined the team and took on the task of reworking the songs that Elton John and Tim Rice developed.
For Zimmer, the work on The Lion King was highly emotional and personal throughout, as he mentions in the behind-the-scene documentary of the making of the Disney film, as his father had died when he was very young, which is one of the major plot lines revolving around the character of Simba.
The aim of The Lion King‘s music was to satisfy the tastes of not only children but also adults who could continue to enjoy it long after having watched the movie, which, in the end, proved the right strategy. Songs featured in the film became classics that many of us know and can sing from beginning to end.
Elton John and Tim Rice authored five of the original film’s songs, including “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the last one being played over the end credits.
Once the original soundtrack of The Lion King was released by Walt Disney Records a month after the film’s premiere, the album went on to become the fourth-best-selling album of 1994 on the American Billboard top 200. It is also the only soundtrack of an animated film that received Diamond (10x platinum) certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The film itself also broke records, becoming the highest-grossing release of 1994, and the second highest film of all time. Two Academy Awards for achievements in music were rewarded to The Lion King team, as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
You may be wondering now how would the music have sounded had the ABBA band members said yes to the invitation in the first place. Of course, we can never know…