The Lion King is not just one of my favourite Disney films, it’s one of my favourite films, full stop. It was the first film I ever saw in the cinema, when I was four, and has been re-watched multiple times throughout my life. It’s one of the reasons I love animation to this day, so it was only ever going to get a glowing, positive review from me. Fuelled by nostalgia, every time I sit down to watch this film it’s a joy, although the fact that it is also an incredible piece of animation, technically amazing and full of heart, means that it is more than just happy memories that keeps me returning to it. I’ve not done many lists on this blog, so I thought that for The Lion King I could try something a bit different and list my favourite moments in the film. It may turn out to be longer than I anticipated, but it should also be a new way for me to explore what makes it so great and hopefully will prove interesting to you. It ranges from the big obvious things to the smaller details and jokes that you only come to love on the twentieth time of watching it. So, here goes the top 30 moments in The Lion King:
The Worst: The Morning Report
This is something only inflicted on those with certain editions of the DVD. It’s an atrocious song, has no place in the film and has rightfully been excised from the latest versions on home entertainment. Still, whoever initially thought of putting it in should be fired.
30. The ‘dolly zoom’ on Simba’s face before the Stampede.
29. ‘Ixnay on the Upidstay’
28. Timon and Pumbaa’s Entrance
Loud, funny and committing acts of violence against buzzards, this is a great introduction to Disney’s two greatest comic sidekicks. Unlike many in the canon, these two are actually, y’know, funny.
27. This Shot
26. The Roar-Off
Simba has won and he makes his way to the top of Pride Rock where he roars for all he is worth. The lionesses roar back. The rain is pouring, the good guys have won and the audiences hearts are swelling with pride and relief.
25. ‘The Monkey’s His Uncle?’
24. ‘If it weren’t for you, he’d still be alive…’
Following on from Mufasa’s death – one of the most emotional moments in any animated film – Scar placing the blame on Simba is the tragic icing on the melancholic cake. It gives the poor young lion a serious guilt complex for the rest of the film and the worst thing is, Scar didn’t even need to do this anyway as he planned on killing him shortly after, so this is a moment of pure malice. This demonstrates the emotional and thematic complexity of a film that is ostensibly directed at children; it’s all quite a lot to take in for younger audiences.
23. The Title Screen
22. This Moment
21. This Exchange Between Mufasa and Scar:
Zazu: As the King’s brother you should have been first in line.
Scar: Well I was first in line… until the little hairball came along.
Mufasa: That ‘hairball’ is my son and your future king.
Scar: [turning] Ooh, I shall practice my curtsey.
Mufasa: Don’t turn your back on me Scar…
Scar: Oh no, Mufasa, perhaps you shouldn’t turn your back on me.
20. Scar’s Voice When He Says ‘Your Majesty…’ And Hits Embers At Simba.
19. ‘You knew my father?’ ‘CORRECTION. I know your father.’
18. ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’
Many of Disney’s musicals feature a sequence where the animation becomes a bit more abstract, dating back to Fantasia and ‘Pink Elephants on Parade.’ This song is a riot of colour and shapes, capturing the spirit of the music perfectly; it’s barmy, cartoonish and loads of fun. The song itself is one of Disney’s best to sing along to and the final shot of a rhino sitting on Zazu is great.
17. The Moment Where Simba Steps in his Father’s Pawprint
16. ‘I just hear that name and I shudder.’ ‘MUFASA.’ ‘Oooh, say it again!’ ‘Mufasa. MufasaMufasaMufasa.’
15. The Stampede
The integration of CG and traditional animation in this scene is mind-blowing for the time it was made – it’s pretty much seamless, especially compared to the Cave of Wonders sequence in Aladdin. As ever, Zimmer’s score is working in overdrive, making it about as dramatic as you can get in a film. The confusion of thousands of hooves kicking up dust into the air and one tiny cub trying to survive in it makes the heart race; Scar’s ultimate betrayal makes the heart stop.
14. Be Prepared
Scar has to rank as one of Disney’s best villains. Sure, his motivation is just the old power-grab, but he is prepared to kill his brother and nephew in order to become king. That’s pretty low. Jeremy Irons makes his voice ooze with disdain, and ‘Be Prepared’ is his big moment as you see him manipulating the stupid hyenas into following him unquestioningly. It’s a great song, full of dramatic images like exploding geysers and Nazi rallies. It has everything you could want from a villain song: it’s sinister, funny and catchy, while the villain himself is equally memorable.
13. ‘Things were better under Mufasa.’ ‘What did you say?’ ‘I said, er, que pasa?’
12. ‘Hakuna Matata’
The most sing-along-able of any Disney song ever, perhaps my favourite thing about this song is that Hakuna Matata does actually mean ‘no worries’ in Swahili. The song is witty, poppy, silly and a whole load of fun, showcasing two great vocal performances from Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. There’s also some stunning animation when they reveal their home to Simba – who wouldn’t want to live there? Even though this is the one of the lighter, more fun moments of the film, the songwriters still pack in themes and character development between the cheery lyrics. ‘Hakuna Matata’ sets up the second act where Simba is running from who he really is; it’s almost a bad lesson for him to learn.
11. The Bit in ‘Hakuna Matata’ Where Pumbaa Sings ‘When I Was A Young WartHOOOOOOG’
10. ‘WHAT WAS DAT? The weather, pfft. Very peculiar, don’t you think?’
I love Rafiki, he plays a small part but makes a massive impact and he is there at the crucial scene of self actualisation when Mufasa appears in the clouds. This iconic and much parodied sequence is a key point in the film where Simba learns responsibility and comes to accept his fate; it’s the most ‘Hamlet-y’ moment and is full of awe. Rafiki’s throwaway line after this is perfectly timed – leavening the seriousness with a sly bit of humour that doesn’t detract from the lessons learned. He then hits Simba on the head to teach him a lesson.
9. The Final Fight
The battle that closes the film is so effective because it mixes character moments in with dramatic, tense action. The slo-mo pawing each other in the face perhaps looks a little naff now, but I’m still invested in it anyway largely thanks to Zimmer’s score making it as dramatic as possible. The brawl between the lionesses and hyenas; Simba realising his true place as the king; being freed from the guilt of killing Mufasa; Rafiki revealing a knowledge of karate: everything comes together in this final act. The whole sequence is breathtaking – if I’m overusing that word, it’s because that is my genuine reaction to the film.
8. The Score
Hans Zimmer’s score for The Lion King may just be the best thing he’s ever done – although I also love his work on Gladiator. It uses its East African setting to great effect but without resorting to full on cliché (though he treads the line very closely at times). Like the best of Zimmer’s work, he latches on to one or two motifs that have become inseparably associated with the film and accompanying images; its impossible to hear Zimmer’s music without your mind being taken straight to the film. Here, his fusion of orchestra with choral music in Zulu and Swahili creates something majestic and instantly iconic. It’s impossible to imagine the film without it.
7. ‘Asante Sana Squashed Banana’
This is the nonsense song that Rafiki sings to himself translates as ‘Thank you very much, squashed banana.’ This gets such a high spot on the list because Robert Guillaume himself once sang it to me over the phone.
6. ‘They call me MISTER Pig!’
5. ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’
This is where I reveal that I’m a total sop for certain cheesy romances and this one, about as cheesy as you can get, is probably my favourite of all the cheesiest romances. I don’t even have any excuses. Yeah, it’s beautifully animated, yeah, it’s a well produced song, but that’s not the reason I love it. Sometimes you just have to admit that some things make you feel a certain way and this one makes me feel pretty much all the emotions. It’s inexplicable to an extent, but isn’t that what the best entertainment is about? That however well made something is, often you cannot account for how it makes you feel. I’ll shut up now before I embarrass myself.
4. ‘Whaddaya want me to do, dress up in drag and do the hula?’
3. When Mufasa Disciplines His Son Then Befriends Him
Mufasa is, hands down my favourite character in The Lion King, and that’s perhaps because of this moment. He has just rescued Simba from the hyenas like a total badass, but on their way home Mufasa takes some time out to have a heart to heart with his son. It’s a beautiful character moment, with Zimmer’s score at its best in the background and, with the animation casting everything in the purples and dark blues of dusk, it looks stunning, too. Their interaction goes from stern disappointment to a display of paternal love that makes his subsequent death even harder to take. That’s part of what makes The Lion King so effective: its big dramatic moments are backed up by investment in characters, so we actually care about what happens to them. This is the best example of that, with Mufasa – voiced perfectly by James Earl Jones – proving to be pretty much the best dad on the savannah.
2. ‘The King Has Returned’
Two layers of animation. One journey home. An incredible score accompanying. Fist-punch-in-the-air moment.
1. The Circle of Life
So here it is, my number one favourite thing about The Lion King, and it comes right at the beginning of the film. That’s not to say it peaks too early, it’s more that this opening sequence encapsulates everything I love about the film. That opening, piercing call of ‘nants ingonyama bakithi baba’ (Zulu loosely translated as ‘here comes the lions, folks’) as the sun rises over the plains of the Serengeti sends a chill down the spine, then as the choir continues to chant, various animals look up and respond to this call. Flamingoes fly over glistening deltas, majestic elephants march in front of Kilimanjaro and antelopes spring through the mists. Immediately, The Lion King establishes its setting in a more powerful way than most films ever manage. Sure, it’s a fantasised view of Kenya or Tanzania (the Serengeti crosses both), but it’s a beautiful, captivating vision of it, too. Some films show you a window to a world, this opens the door and invites you in.
All these animals are going to see the new prince (echoing Bambi, which opens similiarly), who is quickly lifted into the air for everyone to see. That moment, parodied so often and a part of pop culture now, still retains tremendous power; it’s regal, breathtaking and beautiful. Like the entire film, this opening sequence is iconic, it tells a story, is set to incredible music and is beautifully animated. ‘The Circle of Life’ and The Lion King as a whole, uses every tool at its disposal to create a sense of awe and wonder and that, I think, is why I love it so much.