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Don Hahn & Rob Minkoff: Bringing The Lion King to Life

I visited as a guest of Disney

While I was in Florida earlier this month at Walt Disney World, I was given the honor of lifetime by getting to sit down with two animation genius’ who created The Lion King, Don Hahn and Rob Minkoff. Don Hahn is known for producing Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King, and more. And Rob Minkoff is a highly acclaimed director who is known for his work on Stuart Little and the beloved classic, The Lion King.

I had trouble sleeping the night before the interview because I was so excited about meeting the two of them. With The Lion King being one of my favorite Disney movies, I had so many questions that I was wanted to ask them that were spinning around in my head as I dozed off to sleep.

The next morning, I boarded a bus that took me to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I entered the beautiful restaurant, Tiffins, where a delicious breakfast buffet was awaiting us. While I ate breakfast with the group I was traveling with; the anticipation started to build. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe that I was going to meet the two people who created The Lion King.

Once the two men sat down at the table, everyone in the group was eager to start asking them questions. When Hahn was asked what it feels like to have made the movie, he said, “when we were making it, you’re just trying to get it done. Trying to make it satisfying, emotional and funny, and you just never think that 23 years from now, will you be sitting around talking about it?”

As we were talking about what makes this movie resonate so strongly with so many people, Hahn said, “We had this line in Beauty and the Beast, tale as old as time. It’s kind of that with The Lion King. It’s a hero’s journey story.” He continued to say, “And then, even more so than Bambi, we dealt with kind of grieving after that process, and Simba going on to the wilderness, which is very biblical the way it is. So I think people relate to those big, mythological thematic moments. But simply on an emotional level, just the idea that we’re not alone in the world, and we’re part of a lineage that we are our father’s sons, that we have our own children, and pass on our aesthetic, and ethics to them. And I think that’s kind of taps into something pretty deep in people.”

One fun fact I learned about the movie while talking with the director and producer was that Mufasa was originally going to be played by Sean Connery. “It just didn’t make sense,” said Minkoff and they cast James Earl Jones who will also be in the upcoming live action version of The Lion King.

Speaking of the new live action version of the film, many are curious whether or not the two are playing a role in the making of the new film. Minkoff shared with us that he had lunch with John Favreau where they talked about the making of the original movie. Minkoff then got to visit the studio where they are making the film, got the wear the VR headset and fly around Pride Rock. When it comes to whether the movie is going to be similar to the original, Minkoff said, “They’re basically building the whole world in 3D. So I think it’s gonna be kind of essentially the same, but it’s gonna be very different at the same time.”

I was surprised to learn from Minkoff and Hahn that the studio didn’t have a strong focus on making The Lion King, and the two had a lot of trouble finding people to work on the film. At the time the Lion King was being made, Pocahontas was the lead film. It was a time when there was a strong focus on making fairy tales and “it was considered a B movie in the studio,” said Minkoff.

The Lion King originally started out with the title “King of the Jungle,” but everyone in the studio had a big question of what the movie was going to be about?

“It was hard to get people to work on it. We would take people out to lunch, and try to coax them to work on the movie.” Don Hahn

They would describe the movie as a Joseph story from the Bible meets Hamlet or Elton John in Africa, and it left everyone scratching their heads. “We got this loyal, hungry group of people working on the movie, and that is what really made it happen,” said Hahn.

We are all so lucky that Hahn and Minkoff never gave up, and pushed hard to convince people that The Lion King needed to come to life. The movie is one of the best films to be ever created and has so many great messages. The Lion King has recently been released on Blu-ray for a limited time. Don’t miss downloading it with Disney Movies Anywhere or purchasing it to add to your home movie collection.

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