Disney's live-action remake of The Lion King hasn't been a hit with critics, but the Mouse House actually changed its animated classic back in 2002 - and no one really noticed. Although Jon Favreau's The Lion King is a much bigger change to the original, the film was given an IMAX re-release in 2002, followed up by a Platinum Edition being made available in 2003, wherein there were a number of differences.
The Lion King has had a variety of editions over the years, including a successful 3D release back in 2011, but it was the 2002 IMAX version that made the biggest changes. Despite being just eight years after The Lion King's initial release, the movie was re-released in order to introduce the film to a new generation (and, of course, to make Disney more money after its Renaissance period had come to an end).
Given that the live-action The Lion King is now rated Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, and has come under heavy criticism from Disney fans over whether it even needs to exist, along with how it might potentially change the beloved original, it's interesting to look back upon the 2002 re-release of The Lion King and see what changes were made, since no one really seemed to mind or even notice all that much.
The New Pre-Title Card
Frank Wells served as President of The Walt Disney Company from 1984-1994, when he was in a fatal helicopter crash. The Lion King was released just a couple of months after Wells' death, and the film contained an 'In Remembrance' card at the beginning, just prior to the Walt Disney logo appearing. For the 2002 re-release, the tribute to Wells was moved to the end of the movie, with a new 'Special Edition' title card being used instead.
The New Walt Disney Logo
The Walt Disney Pictures logo that appears before The Lion King (1994) is the classic blue-and-white variant, which had first been introduced in 1985's The Black Cauldron. For the re-release, this was changed to the orange-and-black 'Flashlight' edition, which was used throughout the early-00s. This sees the words 'Walt Disney Pictures' appear first, before the firework lights up the castle.
Simba And Rafiki Were Redrawn
Rafiki presenting Simba to the animals gathered from all over the Pride Lands is one of The Lion King's most iconic sequences, not least because it's the culmination of "The Circle of Life." Unsurprisingly, then, Disney didn't alter the scene too much for the re-release in 2002. The only real change to The Lion King here is that Simba and Rafiki have been re-drawn in the image above (right), which comes just before the camera pans back out. The new version simply updates the original, making it look brighter and sharper but without removing any of the magic.
The Morning Report Replaced The Pouncing Lesson
The relationship between Simba and his father, Mufasa, forms the emotional backbone of the young lion's journey in The Lion King, and before Mufasa's death at the hands of his brother, Scar, we get to see the two bonding in the form of a pouncing lesson. Coming at the expense of Zazu, Mufasa teaches his son how to attack his prey. Despite being a fun sequence, it was mostly switched out for the re-release, being replaced by "The Morning Report". The song, which finds Zazu giving Mufasa an update on the goings-on in the Pride Lands, originated in the stage musical version of The Lion King, before being added for the 2002 version of the movie. The pouncing lesson instead occurs in the background here, with Simba then mocking Zazu after attacking him, but for subsequent re-releases "The Morning Report" was dropped.
The Crocodiles In "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" Were Changed
"I Just Can't Wait To Be King" is another of The Lion King's most memorable sequences, establishing Simba's playful nature and just how unprepared he actually is to be King. As Simba moves through the Pride Lands singing, a variety of animals are included, such as elephants, giraffes and, most pertinently to the re-release, crocodiles. In the original version, the crocs are quite crudely drawn. This was because the animation, in the rush to get the film done, had "fell through the cracks," as per The Lion King's co-direction Roger Allers, and that they "wound up just doing the designs from the story panel." So when the film was re-released in IMAX, Allers took the opportunity to have the crocodiles redesigned, and the difference is pretty telling.
The Lion King remake has come under some particularly heavy criticism for its rendition of "Be Prepared", and the Platinum Edition re-release had its own change to Scar - although thankfully a much, much more minor one. In the original, Scar casts a shadow at the end of the elephant graveyard scene that doesn't quite match up with the position of his head, and so this was re-animated for the re-release.
The SFX/SEX Letters Were Reanimated
One of the greatest urban legends about any Disney movie is that The Lion King's animators slyly snuck the word 'SEX' into the film. When Simba flops down on the rock, dust is kicked up into the sky, forming three letters. The 'S' and the 'X' are both obvious, but there's long been a debate as to whether the middle letter is an 'E' or a 'F'. According to animator Tim Sito, the letters are indeed supposed to spell out 'SFX', as a nod to the movie's special effects department, and isn't a subliminal message about sex. To avoid any further controversy around this, the letters were removed for The Lion King's IMAX re-release, being replaced by a more simple swirling pattern.
The Waterfall In "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" Was Enhanced
Yet another change to one of The Lion King's biggest and best sequences, this comes during "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" as Simba and Nala pass through a waterfall. It's another relatively minor and understandable alteration, with the animation simply being enhanced to make it look a lot cleaner. This was, according to The Lion King producer Dan Hahn, "because we ran out of time and money ten years ago", with the new version being included on the Platinum Edition DVD.
The End Credits
As already mentioned, the IMAX release of The Lion King moved the tribute to Frank Wells from the beginning of the film to the end, which was part of a broader redesign of the end credits, which were subtly tweaked from the scrolling version seen in the original, which again just made them look a lot tidier. That fits with most of the changes Disney made to The Lion King in 2002, the majority of which no one even noticed.
- The Lion King (2019) release date: Jul 19, 2019
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019
- Mulan (2020) release date: Mar 27, 2020