As far as Disney films go, The Lion King is my favorite, all hands down. And, apparently, I’m not alone in liking this film. In 1994, it was the top grossing film of the year, earning more than $173 million dollars; Forrest Gump came in second. It’s been recorded as the highest-grossing animated film up until that year.
What made this film such a sensation?
Perhaps it was the universal themes of betrayal, legacy, and coming-of-age that resonated with its audience. Or that it appealed to lovers of Shakespeare (think Hamlet). Or that it had an all-star cast lending their voice to the cartoons (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Mathew Broderic, James Earl Jones, and Whoopi Goldberg) and its music created by the inimitable Sir Elton John.
Now that I think of it. . . there was something else that made this film exciting, new, and different. It wasn’t set in the deserts of Arabia where we meet Aladdin or an enchanted fortress where we meet Snow White. Rather, it was set in Africa, a place where Disney or any pop culture medium hadn’t gone until then.
It was really something. For the duration of the film at least, I forgot all of the negative hype about Africa. It was no longer a “Dark Continent” where nightmares swirled like a Van Gough painting. I would imagine myself there—dancing, singing hakuna matata, growing up to join the nobility. And how I loved to say "Mufasa, ooo say it again" that memorable line from one of the hyena’s that Whoopi Goldberg voiced for. To think my world could be shook by one little Disney film about Africa. And that was almost sixteen years ago.