A theatrical poster for the movie version of The Lion King.

Everyone knows the songs. Everyone knows the characters. Everyone knows the story. However, not everyone knows just how The Lion King first came about. One of the longest-running shows at Broadway and a permanent fixture at London’s West End for over 11 years, The Lion King is based on the 1994 Disney animated movie of the same name which went on to become the highest-grossing hand drawn animation in history, breaking box office records. Using songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice and using the vocal talents of actors such as James Earl Jones, Rowan Atkinson and Whoopi Goldberg, The Lion King was an instant smash amongst adults and children alike, and saw further success in 2011 with the re-release of the film in 3D in cinemas. So how did the idea for the story begin?

In 1988, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, president of ‘Walt Disney Feature Animation’ Peter Schneider and nephew to the great man himself, Roy E. Disney discussed the idea of a new film that was to be set in Africa. A few months later, a provisional title of ‘King of the Jungle’ was set up with a drafted script, with a story that was to be very different from the final film. As this was to be the very first original story from a Disney-animated feature, lots of work and months of development went into the plot. Lions were always going to be a feature of the animation, but originally, the plot involved a battle between lions and baboons, with Rafiki as a cheetah, Scar as leader of the baboons and Simba being overthrown as next in line to the throne due to his laziness. The story soon changed after lots of development with a team of six people that included animators, producers, directors and screenwriters, who rewrote the story and changed the title to ‘The Lion King’.

A poster for the West End musical version of The Lion King

Once the main storyline had been created, two screenwriters, Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts, were brought in to take charge of getting the script written and adding comedy to the story in the form of Timon and Pumbaa. Lyricist Tim Rice also worked with the writing team as his lyrics needed to fit in with the plot. Soon after, the casting was done for the film and animation began, and two years later The Lion King was released with some of the greatest success that any movie has ever seen.

The Lion King was released to cinemas in 1994. It quickly became the highest-grossing animated feature film of all time, a record which it kept until 2003 when Finding Nemo surpassed it, and due to this success, it wasn’t long before the film was brought onto the stage and turned into a musical, with the show opening on Broadway in 1997. It unsurprisingly met with phenomenal success, with a West End production opening at the Lyceum Theatre in 1999, where it remains today.

The Lion King started out as a rough idea about the majestic beasts on the African savannah, and turned out to become one of the biggest successes that Disney has ever seen. It continues to play in theatres throughout the world, in areas as far as Asia and Africa itself.