What is the Lion King?

The Lion King is a coming-of-age story about a lion cub set in an imaginary African setting that was made into a Disney animated feature film in 1994 as well as a Broadway and West End stage musical. The Lion King was the first Disney animated feature to be based on a story created specifically for the film, rather than based on an existing story or an adaptation of one. It was consciously modeled on the biblical stories of Joseph and Moses and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The Lion King’s Adventures

The Lion King begins with the presentation of the newly born heir to the current king of the beasts, Mustafa, the lion, who reigns over the Pride Lands of Africa with his Queen, Sarabi. Simba, the new cub, succeeds Mufasa’s younger brother Scar as heir to the throne, and Scar, working with the lions’ enemies, the hyenas, plots the death of his brother and nephew to secure the throne.

As Simba grows older, his father introduces him to the kingdom and teaches him about the “Circle of Life,” the ecological balance between creatures and the Earth. When threatening hyenas are discovered during a tour of their domain, Simba is sent home. Scar convinces Simba to go to the elephant graveyard, which Mufasa had made off limits to his son after sending the hyenas ahead to trap and kill the cub, because he is home without his father. Simba travels with his best friend, a female cub named Nala, who is saved from the hyenas Mufasa. Scar is enraged and disappointed his failure, and he attempts to gain the hyenas’ cooperation and loyalty promising them that they will never go hungry if he becomes king.

Scar’s next plan is to lure Simba into a secluded location, where the hyenas will cause a wildebeest stampede in his direction. Scar summons Mufasa to save Simba, which he does, but the king is too frail to pull himself to safety, and Scar ensures that he dies. Simba, seeing the fall but not Scar’s role in it, blames himself for his father’s death, a viewpoint that Scar supports suggesting he go into self-imposed exile. Scar sends the hyenas after Simba to kill him, but they only pretend to carry out their mission, allowing Simba to flee while reporting success to Scar, who claims the throne and proceeds to destroy the lions’ domain.

Simba is persuaded to return home after growing up with a meerkat and a warthog, Timon and Pumbaa. He confronts Scar, who claims that Mufasa’s death was due to Simba’s fault. Simba’s apparent imminent death leads Scar to confess to murdering Mufasa while trapped on the edge of a cliff in a similar situation to Mufasa. Simba’s rage gives him the strength to leap over the cliff and attack Scar, setting off a battle between lions and hyenas. Scar begs for mercy blaming the hyenas, who overhear him, and Simba exiles him. Scar, ostensibly obeying, turns around and attacks Simba, who manages to knock him off a cliff, where the hyenas track him down and kill him.

Simba reclaims his title of “Lion King,” with Nala as his queen, and the two reconcile. The film concludes with the presentation of their first cub, Simba’s heir, bringing the story full circle and bringing the story back to the beginning.

The Musical and the Film

The Lion King was the highest-grossing animated film of all time at the time. Finding Nemo came close to eclipsing it nearly ten years later. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Original Song, with lyrics Tim Rice, songs composed Elton John, and a score Hans Zimmer with Lebo M and his African Choir. It was nominated for — but did not win — three Grammy Awards and won the same awards at the Golden Globes, as well as Best Motion Picture, Comedy/Musical.

The Lion King stage musical, based on the Disney film, premiered in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1997 and has since been produced in Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan. The musical The Lion King won six Tony Awards, including Best Music, and eight Drama Desk Awards.