The Lion King: Inspirations Behind the Movie

The Lion King is Disney's most famous movie, and, in 2019 the production company decided to remake it as a real-life movie. Find out what inspired them to do it.
The Lion King: Inspirations Behind the Movie
Silvia Conde

Written and verified by the biologist Silvia Conde.

Last update: 19 October, 2022

The Lion King set a precedent for animated films in the 90s. It was so successful that 25 years later the Disney production company committed to it again, this time bringing its characters to life, real life. However, recreating real animals and turning them into the famous characters we all know is no easy task. Find out what inspired the production team to make the film.

Between Orlando and Kenya

In order to recreate the expressions and movements of the animals of the Savannah , the team had to study lions in real life, as well as other characters in the film. To do so, they used footage from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando and photographs from director Jon Favreau’s six-month safari through the Hell’s Gate wildlife park in Kenya.

At the Orlando theme park, they managed to record about 75% of the animals depicted in the film, using a non-invasive camera system in their facilities. These images were later treated by the animation team to characterize each character.

For the roars and other natural sounds they also used the recordings of these animals to add real vocalizations to the film. A fascinating fact is that for Simba’s characteristic “roar” they recorded the cubs from the Magdeburg Zoo in Germany.

It wasn’t only the characters that were difficult: the landscape had to resemble that of the original film as well, and create the same impact that we had when we first saw scenes such as “The King’s Rock” or “The Elephant Graveyard”.

The Chyulu Hills mountain system brings the King’s Rock to life, while the geothermal areas of Yellowstone National Park and Lake Abbe in Ethiopia are the landscapes chosen to recreate the Elephant Graveyard. Its challenging geology makes it the perfect location.

The Sossusvlei Desert in Namibia is the place where Timon and Pumba meet young Simba and the Karuru waterfall, the highest in Kenya, is the setting for the reunion between Nala and Simba.

A musical with real animals

Working with images of real animals was a challenge when it came to reproducing the dialogues and songs that give the Lion King its name. Director Favreau’s idea was to be faithful to reality and to the ’94 classic, so it was a big technological job to transfer the human voices to real animals in a natural way and also to make them sing and dance.

Although, obviously, reality limits the fantasy of the animated film and we can’t expect real lions to reproduce the complicated choreography of the Disney classic.

The entire movie has been shot using virtual reality, based on all the digital content they obtained from real live creatures.

A lion.

Other inspirations for The Lion King

The plot of The Lion King is inspired by the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. This play begins with the murder of King Hamlet (Prince Hamlet’s father), at the hands of his brother Claudius. The king’s ghost asks his son to avenge his death by killing his murderer. We can see similarities with the rivalry between Mufasa and Scar, envious of his brother’s throne.

We can also see similarities with Shakespeare’s most famous play in the second part of the saga. Simba’s daughter, Kiara, and the new character Kovu play the role of Romeo and Juliet.

Who “plays” Simba?

Bahati is the little lion cub chosen to play the main character in the film. This cute animal lives with his mother at the Dallas Zoo in Texas, USA. Disney used his appearance and his lion-like movements as a reference.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this fascinating insight into an incredible film! If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s now no excuse, and, if you have, you can watch it again with renewed interest in how it was made!

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