Disclosure: This post is part of my all expense paid trip to Walt Disney World. However, all opinions are 100% mine.
Disney’s The Lion King is one of the studio’s most beloved animated films. It’s a classic that is beloved by both young and old alike, and as part of my trip to the D23 Expo, I had the opportunity to sit down with Disney’s The Lion King director, Rob Minkoff, and producer, Don Hahn, to talk about one of the most iconic Disney films ever made. It was such an incredible honor to be able to pick their brains about this incredible film.
Talking Disney’s The Lion King
Sitting down with two of the major minds behind The Lion King was absolutely amazing. I mean, these guys were the driving force behind the classic. Without them, The Lion King might have been very different, indeed, so being able to get their take on the film was an absolute treat.
Don and Rob on Why People Keep Coming Back to Disney’s The Lion King
“We had this line in Beauty and the Beast,” Don said, “‘tale as old as time’. And it’s kind of that with the Lion King. It’s a hero’s journey story – a little bit the way Bambi was. It deals with those themes of growing up, and so it’s endlessly relatable that way.”
“The relationship with his father and the death of his father – even more so than Bambi – we dealt with kind of grieving after that process, and Simba going into the wilderness, which is very biblical. And I think that kind of taps into something pretty deep in people.”
Rob added, “There was a very healthy conversation/argument about could we… show Mufasa’s death? And how are we gonna deal with the moment when Simba finds him? Some people said we can’t. It should be in shadow. It should be as far away from the camera as possible. So that you don’t really bring up… that level of stuff. And we’re like, ‘No! Come on! It’s a modern movie! We have to deal with this important moment.'”
On Their Favorite Part of Making Disney’s The Lion King
“My favorite part is always when you first have the idea of anything,” Rob said. “It could be an idea for a joke, an idea for a moment, an idea for a scene or something. Then the next biggest part is usually the struggle. The stress. The work. The frustration.”
“Going back, having to redo it or make it better or trying to figure it out. That moment of inspiration is always fun. And then for me, it’s always when you’re recording the music at the end. Because you’re done with the movie. It’s like, ‘I’m finished. There’s nothing more I can do.'”
On if They Thought that Disney’s The Lion King Would Become Such a Phenomenon
“Not a chance,” said Don.
“When we started the movie,” Rob said, “it was sort of considered a B movie within the studio. Only because the movie wasn’t based on a well known fairy tale, you know? Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. When it came to Lion King, which, by the way, wasn’t even called Lion King at the beginning. It was called King of the Jungle. It has a big question mark around what it was. What was this movie?”
Don went on to say, “It was hard to get people to work on it. You would take people out to lunch and try to coax them to work on your movie. You’d say, ‘This is kind of the Joseph story from the Bible meets Hamlet meets Elton John in Africa.’ And it was just a head scratcher for most people. But the people we did get were just enthusiastic about working with four legged animals – about working with the colors and pallet of Africa.”
On What It Means to be Part of Ushering in That World
“We were talking about this earlier,” Don said. “You couldn’t imagine an animated movie making a hundred million dollars. That was ‘Are you kidding?’ Disney made a movie every four years. There were no other studios really making this animation. Now there’s 25 animated movies a year in a category at the Oscars. You would never dream that! You would never dream an animated movie would get a best picture nomination.”
“And it’s so incredible that we’re sitting her 23 years later talking about the very same thing! Talking about owning it and taking it home and having it as part of your collection. But when people love a movie and love a story, you want to take it home.”
On Disney’s The Lion King Returning as Live Action Film
“I mean, part of it’s surprising that people want to see it,” Don said. “Not surprising ’cause people really embraced this movie. But when you’re making it, you just never think that… 23 years from now, will you be sitting around talking about it?”
On Favorite Reactions to Disney’s The Lion King Over the Past 23 Years
Don recounted a moment at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles the previous week. He’d been there doing a sing along.
“I introduced the film,” he said, “and then when it started to play Circle of Life, I went back to the back of the audience… just a couple of thousand people there. And he came to the last big shout chorus of Circle of Life and there were a couple (of) moms in the audience that stood up and held their babies up in the air.”
Rob’s favorite reaction is just hearing someone say that The Lion King is their favorite movie, saying that it’s a humbling thing.
An Incredible Interview with the Incredible Talent of Disney’s The Lion King
I had such an amazing time getting to be a part of interviewing Don and Rob. These men are incredibly talented and down to earth. Sitting with these men and talking about their experiences with Disney’s The Lion King and bringing it to all of the people who love it so much was an experience that I won’t soon forget!