Starting with The Lion King for its 20th anniversary, Walt Disney Records’ Disney Music Emporium recently debuted its incredibly well received series of soundtracks revisited with its Legacy Collection. To celebrate the revitalized success of one of the most highly regarded animated films in cinematic history, Disney Music invited The Lion King‘s filmmakers to gather together to reminisce about a project that could never have anticipated its ultimate legacy in its contributions to both worlds of cinema and music.
Walt Disney Records has graciously shared with us the result of this roundtable which features composer Hans Zimmer, music arranger Mark Mancina, co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, producer Don Hahn and Walt Disney Music president — and music producer — Chris Montan, who assume the role of moderator.
According to Minkoff, Zimmer was considered for the composer role because the filmmakers were looking for someone who could complement Elton John’s songs, while being able to infuse the feel of Africa into the music. While Minkoff says it was Zimmer’s work on The Power of One that convinced them, Zimmer didn’t seem as sure. ‘For me, the whole experience was that I came to it with some doubt,’ he says during the roundtable. ‘It really was “could I serve this movie,” because I had no idea.’
Meanwhile the fate of the entire project — which started out as a film titled King of the Jungle — seemed in doubt. According to Hahn, ‘nobody wanted to work on it, everybody was migrating towards other movies — Pocahontas and things. We were definitely the B movie — if not the C movie — and people were fleeing Lion King like crazy.’ The upside of the panic, he goes on to add, is that those who stayed with The Lion King were fully committed to it.
When Montan asks about the story behind how the film’s anthem ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ almost didn’t make it into the film, Allers explains: ‘It was written before the story was really there to support it.’
‘I guess we hadn’t really earned it in terms of the storytelling at that point,’ Minkoff adds. ‘We didn’t cut it — we just had it performed by Timon and Pumbaa — that was the idea. We enjoyed it, but Elton did not.’ According to the filmmakers, Elton John was adamant that the song be given its ‘due diligence’ as an integral part to the film’s ‘circle of life’ theme.
Meanwhile, for Zimmer, the project became extremely personal as he began to relate Simba’s experiences to his own. ‘Here I am thinking it’s all fun and games and it’s a cartoon, fuzzy animals, and suddenly I’m dealing with the Mufasa death scene and it’s a child dealing with his father’s death — my father died when I was very young and suddenly I had to deal with this — I’ve never dealt with it — so that moment, that was me — writing a requiem for my father.’ Zimmer also talks about the pride he took in not only being able to bring his daughter to the film’s premiere in 1994, but that the re-release in 3D allowed him to introduce new generations to the film on the big screen.