5 things you never knew about the original 1994 ‘Lion King’

When it arrived in theaters 25 years ago, Disney’s The Lion King became a Cinderella story … minus the studio’s version of Cinderella. Dismissed within the Mouse House as a B-movie during its production, the movie unleashed a mighty roar at the box office, grossing more than $300 million domestically during its initial theatrical run. (It’s since brought that total up to over $400 million through several successful re-releases.) With a new Lion Kingpoised to conquer multiplexes this weekend, we revisited the Yahoo Entertainment archives and unearthed five secrets about the ancestor to Disney’s newest box-office king.

The songs you know and love originally sounded very different

If you grew up watching The Lion King, it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know the words to “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by heart. But those tunes — written by Elton John and Tim Rice — required a lot of refinement before arriving at the versions playing in your head right now. Take the soaring opening credits anthem “Circle of Life,” which sounded far less majestic in John’s original demo. “[It was] totally different than the one we wound up with,” Lion King co-director, Rob Minkoff, said in 2017. “It went, ‘And we’ll all join in in the circle of life.’ And we thought, ‘It’s terrible.’” But that story has a happy ending, as Rice worked directly with John to craft the number that opens both the 1994 film and the 2019 remake.

In the case of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” it was John who persuaded the filmmakers they were on the wrong path. Executive producer Don Hahn revealed in 2017 that Minkoff and his fellow director, Roger Allers, had the bright idea of handing the movie’s love ballad to comic relief sidekicks Timon and Puumba (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella). To say that John was displeased is an understatement. “What have you done? You’ve destroyed my song,” Hahn remembers the singer protesting. “This is the reason I did the movie, I always wanted to write a great Disney love ballad, and you’ve just destroyed it.” Allers and Minkoff quickly reversed course and let Simba and Nala take center stage as John intended. (While Matthew Broderick and Moira Kelly provide the speaking voices for the adult lion lovers, Joseph Williams and Sally Dworsky crooned their lyrics.)

Speaking of the warthog-and-meerkat comedy team, an early version of “Hakuna Matata” dedicated an entire verse to Timon’s days as a “young meerkat.” “We had this very long verse before the song started,”Minkhoff explained in a behind the scenes featurette included on a new Blu-ray edition of The Lion King in 2017 . “We thought it took too long to get going. So we figured out a way to begin the song with the chorus.”

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