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Rediscovering a Love for THE LION KING 23 Years Later…

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This Special Feature is presented in collaboration between The Rock Father™ and The Walt Disney Company

I don’t recall what I was doing on Friday, June 24, 1994, but chances are I was probably working my job as Assistant Dairy Manager of the local Hy-Vee grocery store in my then-home of Davenport, Iowa. I was a month or so past my high school graduation, and one of the summer’s big movies was Walt Disney Animation Studios’ THE LION KING. Aside from the buzz, I don’t even remember what initially drew my attention to the film at the time, but I do remember taking a girl to see a matinee screening – not really a “date,” but an afternoon adventure. It became one of my favorite films of that year, along with PULP FICTION, AIRHEADS, SPEED, NATURAL BORN KILLERS – and from the absolute opposite end of the cinematic spectrum, a tiny film called PCU, directed by the guy who played Ellis in DIE HARD. Now, with “The Circle of Life Edition” of THE LION KING being issued on Digital HD (out now for the first time) and Blu-ray Combo Pack (out 8/29) as part of The Walt Disney Signature Collection, my appreciation and love of the film burns brighter than ever after attending this summer’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, where I was in the room for a special panel in celebration of this classic slice of Disney perfection.

510P4piV5mLA Celebration of THE LION KING was presented by producer Don Hahn, joined on-stage by co-director Rob Minkoff, animator Mark Henn, Tony Bancroft, supervising animator for Pumbaa, Jim Cummings, the voice of Ed, Ernie Sabella, voice of Pumbaa, and Disney Legend Whoopi Goldberg, voice of Shenz.

Through stories and song, the crew delighted the D23 Expo Arena with tales of how the film came to be, starting with the fact that THE LION KING was almost pegged internally as a potential flop. In fact, insiders were betting that it wouldn’t make $50 million, and much of the animation staff preferred to take jobs on POCAHONTAS instead – a film with a more exciting pitch (DANCES WITH WOLVES meets WEST SIDE STORY) than the film thought of as either “BAMBI in Africa” or an animal-based tale inspired by Moses with music by Elton John. Everyone was wrong.

As the film took shape, accidents made their way into the film, like the famous hula dance for the Hyenas…

It always tends to seem like some of the greatest epics and most timeless films are those created against the odds, and THE LION KING fits the bill. All of the ingredients fell into place, and the end result will be loved by generations.  The new Blu-ray release (which just hit my desk) delves deep into that, with bonus features that take viewers inside the story room and the recording booth to witness the evolution of the film through archival materials – but that’s simply scratching the surface. I’m looking forward to screening it with my girls later this week, particularly with the all-new sing-along version. While I’m sure our sing-alongs will be great, they certainly won’t top the show-stopping conclusion to the celebration at D23, in which Carmen Twillie performed alongside a roaming choir…

Now, remember when I mentioned that THE LION KING and PCU were at opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum back in ’94? 23 years later, those films are linked thanks to filmmaker Jon Favreau – who was simply a young actor appearing in PCU when THE LION KING was crushing the box office. Now he’s behind the lens, helming the live-action/CGI version of THE LION KING for a 2019 release through Walt Disney Studios. Having seen the test footage for “The Circle of Life,” audiences are in for an incredible treat. 

Look for more about THE LION KING here on THE ROCK FATHER Magazine in the weeks ahead. 

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