The Lion King: The Seven Standards of Disney

In 1994 a new era had dawned... The King of that Era has been challenged!!!
In 1994 a new era had dawned… The King of that Era has been challenged!!!

In 1995, Walt Disney achieved what is to this day considered its crowning achievement. A new movie took hold of the Disney Renaissance and claimed the throne, never to meet competition again. All dissenters and competitors were quickly dashed and very few could even hold a candle before its throne. This movie was a King. Its very name was royal in every sense of the word. The Lion King. King of the Jungle, King of all Beasts and without a doubt, King of Pride Rock. Since hitting theaters, The Lion King has reigned supreme as Disney’s most loved movie, captivating the hearts of millions from the very beginning. Until recently when Frozen surpassed the money made.

There is no question that Frozen did in fact make more money than The Lion King. After all, The Lion King was released three times in cinemas. All three releases combined gave it over six hundred million dollars. Frozen was released to cinemas once and that alone made it over one billion dollars. So, no question whatsoever exists that Frozen made more money, but is it more loved? Money does not equal love. Compared to marketing in the nineties, it is much more advanced now. When Disney makes a movie, people will watch it. How they feel coming out of is another question entirely. One could watch the marketing, the movie, make the company money but in the end think it was all a waste. This is why profit should not be the endpoint when considering the success of a movie.

Nonetheless, the fact that Frozen made more money than any Disney animated movie before it begs the question: Has The Lion King been dethroned? By putting it up against the standard test alongside Frozen, this question may be answered. For now at least, The Lion King may be humbled and step off its throne to face its competition once and for all.

Please note that the following deals directly with two Disney movies. For full understanding, it is recommended but not required to have read the Frozen article first.


Hamlet... and one other...
Hamlet… and one other…

Like most Disney movies, The Lion King also has an origin in an older piece of work. The inspiration for this tale was none other than Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The Lion King is the only Disney movie to be subjected to a controversy of plagiarism though. Critics accuse it of taking from none other than the Japanese Anime called Kimba: The White Lion. It doesn’t help that the main character has practically the same name as Simba, barring the first letter. This shall be dealt with but to judge The Lion King, one needs to look at the main inspiration, not the alleged inspiration. For more information on the controversy, click here.

The Tragedy of Hamlet is a play written by William Shakespeare about a young prince whose father tragically died. Following rumors from his friends of a ghost haunting the Danish castle, Hamlet resolves to speak to the ghost. The ghost, it transpires is none other than Hamlet’s late father. The former King reveals that his Uncle Claudius killed the King in order to marry Hamlet’s mother and claim the royal throne, demanding that he is avenged. Meanwhile, a girl named Ophelia courts Hamlet for marriage against the wishes of her father but she is soundly rejected.

Hamlet decides to deduce whether the ghost was truthful or not by re-enacting his father’s murder in a play and studying his Uncle’s reaction. Claudius, of course leaves abruptly, proving to Hamlet that he is indeed guilty. Hamlet follows him to finish it but after seeing Claudius in prayer for repentance, Hamlet decides killing him would be a sin. While confronting his mother for marrying such a man, Hamlet senses an intruder and stabs through the curtains, killing who turns out to be Ophelia’s father.

Her father’s death drives Ophelia mad and her brother Laertes is convinced Hamlet is the guilty one. Claudius decides to get rid of Hamlet by staging a duel between Laertes and Hamlet following Ophelia’s suicide. Unfortunately, the champion, Hamlet, and the evil Uncle die in the struggle, leaving Hamlet’s best friend Horatio to speak of what had happened in the royal room while the leader of the invading army takes up the throne instead. The tale ends as none other than a tragedy with almost all the main characters dead.

The Lion King takes a different turn. It follows the life of a young lion cub named Simba with ambitions of being King, learning from his father the meaning of life, the land they rule, the respect they must show to all animals, even those they eat. Then, of course, he meets his reclusive Uncle Scar. Scar hatches plot after plot until ultimately, he instigates a stampede over the gorge where Simba stands practicing his roar. Scar reports to Mufasa a stampede endangering Simba’s life, luring the King down there too. Mufasa leaps in to save his son and is caught by the stampede in the process. Simba is saved but Mufasa attempts to recover from his fall. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Simba, Scar pushes Mufasa back down into the gorge, thus killing him and leaving Simba alone. Scar convinces Simba that his roar is what caused the stampede and Simba flees with Hyenas giving chase. They fail to catch him but lie to Scar they did to avoid trouble.

Alone, Simba is found by a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa. The two teach him a system of belief revolving around putting the past behind and starting a new life. Simba has a good attempt at leaving the past behind until he matures and meets his childhood betrothed who left to find help for the Pride lands, which have fallen under control of hyenas and Scar. After a chance meeting with a baboon named Rafiki and the ghost of his father, (both elements are common on Kimba) he returns to the Pride lands. Simba leaves Timon and Pumbaa to create a distraction while he challenges his Uncle. At the climax, Scar admits he killed the King, provoking a war between the hyenas and lionesses whilst Simba fights for the throne. Unlike Hamlet, he refuses to kill his Uncle, claiming he is better than that. Scar is left for food by the hyenas who retreat and the Pride lands are safe once more.

Like Hamlet, Simba is a prince who battles his uncle for the throne, Simba also has a love interest, and he also meets the ghost of his father intended to set him straight. The similarities end there, however, with Simba actually succeeding in usurping control of the throne, actually getting the love interest, Nala, and there is much more to the Lion King than a power struggle. First, Simba must go through an internal struggle of maturation and development against childhood trauma with the danger of forgetting all he was taught in the process. This idea of maturation is present in Kimba: The White Lion as is the presence of animal sidekicks, but again that is where the similarities end.

Frozen is based off the Snow Queen in a very loose way. The similarities are extremely vague beyond the concept of Snow Queen with ice powers. Hans represents the evil mirror, Anna is a lot like Gerda chasing after her friend/sister, and Elsa plays the part of both Kai and Snow Queen. The concept of trolls are largely present in the movie and unlike with The Lion King, an existing controversy that it took its storyline and basic elements from another source (besides its claimed fairy tale) does not exist. The elements it uses from Snow Queen are vaguer, more like gems, and artistically placed in the movie.

To be fair, The Lion King taking from Kimba is not established. Some directors have admitted to having watched the Anime, both feature a young lion cub growing up, both feature three hyenas and even the ghost of a dead father but beyond that, the story is its own (beyond what Hamlet did.) Nonetheless, the controversy exists. It is up to the audience to decide whether or not The Lion King fails this standard based on Kimba. In the end, all Disney movies take from already existing works and spin it their own way and The Lion King was never any different. It is because of this that in the Origin/storyline standard, nobody usually wins. They are not meant to. It is merely an adaptation standard. Still, that said, for the sake of argument, let’s give it to Frozen just because Kimba exists.

Disney Protagonist

Lion King's protagonist has a surprising if not interesting backstory.
Lion King’s protagonist has a surprising if not interesting backstory.

Why replace the typical Princess standard with a protagonist standard? Simple. The Disney Princess is more often than not the protagonist and the only two movies where the princess was not the protagonist failed in the box office (Sleeping Beauty and Black Cauldron.) Like Disney Princesses, protagonists have obstacles to overcome and they are often one party in the movie’s main relationship, whether it is romantic, familial, or otherwise. The only difference is that where Disney princesses are always girls, the broader aspect of protagonists are usually males.

Like Princesses, each and every Disney protagonist has a unique characteristic that sets him apart from others: Pinocchio is the wooden puppet turned flesh and blood; the Neverland trio Wendy, John and Michael are those that refused to grow up and dealt primarily with the coming of age; Quasimodo is the hunchback with a heart of gold; Lewis is the boy inventor who went back in time; Lilo is the Hawaiian girl who adopts an alien and so on and so forth. Without fail, Disney introduces not only compelling princesses with unique traits that set them apart from the rest, they produce something broader that can be used for every one of their Disney movies: a lovable protagonist who can never be forgotten.

The Lion King introduces the lion cub, Simba. The immediate unique trait about Simba is the fact that he’s a lion cub. A young Prince of the Pride Lands which, according to his father, expands to everything the light touches. He is also a very impressionable cub with dreams and ambitions. As a young cub, he is easy to fool which ultimately leads him to suffer trauma at a young age, one of the few Disney protagonists to do so. However, Simba is the only Disney protagonist to age on screen. Aurora and Rapunzel both aged but it took a time-skip to do so. Simba aged gradually on screen during the song sequence “Hakuna Matata.”

This aging factor is very important to who the protagonist is because with the maturation aspect come new beliefs. From believing in the Kings of the past looking down at him from the stars, he is taught to forget the past and put it behind him and thus simply believing that the stars are simply fireflies. Simba, as a cub was taught a significant lesson about his place in the circle of life before putting that behind him, thus forgetting his very heritage as Mufasa sought to remind him. He went from pride to humility. After his father died in what is perhaps the most tragic Disney death ever, Simba was adopted by a warthog and a meerkat and taught something very different than what he was used to. This is shown when he shared his beliefs with Timon and Pumbaa and they laughed at it, and having grown up with them, Simba laughed too and called it ‘pretty dumb,’ which immediately made him feel guilty.

Going from pride to humility is just another aspect of Simba that is unique to him. Most other protagonists, especially those in the Princess category, do not go through such changes. Some start from humility and work their way up, (think Belle.) Some stay in humble backgrounds, (think Esmerelda). Yet, some remain the Princesses they always were (think just about every Disney Princess with the exception of Aurora.) Simba is the only one to know pride, lose it, and fight to regain it. He is the only one to go from predator to prey, from young Prince to a roommate with those who would usually be his dessert, is the only one to have his beliefs molded and changed so fundamentally, and is the only one to go in such a full circle to regain what he lost and in a sense, reclaim the past and his place in the Great Circle of Life.

Frozen features two protagonists, one of which is similar to Simba in some respects. Simba and Elsa both happened to have lost their parents, both ran away from home, both are Heirs to their respective Kingdoms, and both come back to face an evil Prince who is trying to take over. All three are unique in their own ways and each has a certain characteristic that the other two lack. Anna is the one protagonist who actually rejected her first love interest, Elsa is the Ice Princess and Simba gave up his pride and dignity only to regain it, not to mention having aged on screen. The immediate difference between Simba and Elsa is that while Simba lost his pride while living in the savannahs, Elsa kept hers by building an Ice Castle (hence the Snow Queen).

What makes Frozen a strong contender for this standard is the fact that it has two very strong protagonists. Having a strong start in the origin/storyline standard is one thing. For The Lion King to even meet a possible match on a significant standard of protagonists is something else. There may be no clear victor here. One can argue that Elsa having ice powers does not constitute as a major difference. Simba went through far more than simply running away. He lost his pride, he changed his belief system, he aged on screen (similar to Anna in the “Do you Wanna Build a Snowman” sequence). The maturation aspect that Anna and Simba share is only solidified when once includes the character Olaf, the symbol of their lost childhood. The battle remains even.

Disney Relationship

Can you feel the love tonight?
Can you feel the love tonight?

The many dimensions of Simba compliment what we know about his love interest, Nala. This is a very different relationship than what we are used to. For one thing, most Disney relationships tend to involve humans. Aside from that obvious difference though, Simba and Nala started out as friends. Belle and the Beast started out bitter, Snow White/Cinderella and Prince Charming started in love, Ariel fell in love with her desire for humanity, Mulan and Shang started out in a professional relationship before evolving and so on and so forth. Simba and Nala were friends.

It is made clear at the beginning of the movie that Simba and Nala are betrothed to be married one day. This of course, sickens them both, insisting such a thing would be so weird when they are friends. Clearly, the two had no interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with each other. To start out as friends and refuse such a relationship suggests more of a brotherly-sisterly type of love. This is how the love starts out, of course. Once the two grow older, not to mention having spent an extended amount of time away from each other, this relationship evolves into romantic love.

The two meet after time apart and immediately fall in love upon realizing who the other is. The relationship is not built from there because it immediately faces obstacles. Being apart for years only to meet again and discover that they hold very different beliefs can do that. Simba rejects her upon being asked to return to Pride Rock, refusing to face the trauma he went through. As a cub who learned to put his past behind him and forget about it, Simba needs a talk with his father’s ghost before he comes to terms with who he is and what his place is. Upon returning to Pride Rock, Simba does mate with Nala and behold, the new Heir is born (and depending on whether people count the books or the sequels as the legitimate canon, that heir is a male or a female.)

Frozen lost with this standard and they did not care. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Frozen did not do a focus on romantic storylines like other Disney movies did. It is to be expected that in a movie of 60-90 minutes, they’re going to focus more on the relationship between Anna and Elsa. Anna and Kristoff come together at the end and despite hints of their compatibility, it happened suddenly. They are not as strong a couple as Aladdin and Jasmine or Simba and Nala for that matter. Frozen is not a romantic movie like the others. It does not mean to do such a subplot justice. We know from Tangled that if they wanted to, they could. They did not want to, therefore they did not.

Focusing strictly on romance, The Lion King wins. In this sense, it is best to consider a broader aspect of relationships and not stop solely on romance. If we do this, Frozen receives a boost but so does The Lion King. The relationship between Simba and Mufasa for example is second to none. This is why Mufasa’s death was so heartbreaking. The snarky, sarcastic attitudes from Timon and Pumbaa also speak more wonders in terms of teachers and later friends, especially when compared to their counterparts Olaf and Sven, (very meager relationship.) Frozen focuses solely on the sibling relationship. The Lion King focuses not only on romantic relationship, but the familial father-son relationship between SImba and Mufasa and in a sense, Timon and Pumbaa, not to mention strong friendships.

It is also worthy to challenge Frozen in the aspect of romantic relationships. If The Lion King can manage a romantic relationship as a subplot and do it well, why is it that Frozen cannot, particularly when Frozen is a longer movie? If romance is so unimportant in Frozen, especially compared to the more powerful relationship between Anna and Elsa, why put it at all? The movie could very well have cut the last kiss between Anna and Kristoff at the end and nothing, absolutely nothing would have changed. This reduces its additional relationship to insignificance. The one other relationship worthy to mention is the one between Anna and Hans, and this is what makes the treachery so much bigger thus falling under the villain heading. The Lion King has that between Simba and his Uncle Scar. If The Lion King has what Frozen has and more, then The Lion King claims victory in this standard.

Disney Villain

He- he actually did. He took over!
He- he actually did. He took over!

Lately, Scar has gotten a lot of love and respect and it’s not hard to see why. Scar, like King Claudius in Hamlet, is the King’s brother who aspires to the throne. Unlike Claudius, the audience is introduced from the beginning to where this lion with a black mane stands. The villain, in this sense surpasses his origin. It is not made clear why he feels rejected but we receive a hint when he says he has the brains but unfortunately, Mufasa is stronger than him. This implies that Scar might have lost a fight against Mufasa for the throne, in fact, that may be where he got the scar on his eye to begin with.

This makes Scar’s plans all the more significant. Scar makes allegiance with a group of hyenas. He manipulates Simba very conspicuously to journey to the Elephant Graveyard but unfortunately, Zazu accompanied him and warned Mufasa when the hyenas got involved. They could not kill Simba as instructed and Scar was left disappointed. He proceeded to make a backup plan and in his villain’s sequence “Be Prepared,” he lays out his plan and what his new Kingdom would be like. Scar manipulates Simba once again to work on his roar. In the background, the Hyenas stir up a stampede that ultimately kills King Mufasa. The King very nearly escaped from it, so much that Scar needed to push Mufasa back in to the horde of stampeding animals.

Scar has Simba think his roar started the stampede to solidify the trauma, and Simba runs away. Scar has the Hyenas kill him but they fail once more due to Simba escaping through a field of cactus. Nonetheless, Scar still managed to impose exile on the former Prince and he is left to die in the desert. Scar is the one villain to actually achieve what he wanted. He made a plan, he went through with it, yes it suffered setbacks like all plans do, but in the end he made it happen. In the end, Scar usurped the throne and became King of Pride Rock and had Simba truly died out there, had Timon and Pumbaa not come to his rescue, he would have maintained control.

The Lion King’s villain is very different from your typical villain. Scar’s villainy was known from the beginning, not to the characters but to the audience. When Scar killed Mufasa, it did not shock the audience because they discovered Scar was evil, it shocked the audience because he actually succeeded. In Disney or even any typical feature film, villains usually fail. Scar succeeded. Scar exiled Simba by telling the cruelest lie that could be told to child. Making the child think he was responsible before sending hyenas to kill him. Scar was treacherous and yes, he betrayed but we all knew he would in the end. The fact he did it was no shock, it was what he did that sent shockwaves reverberating throughout the Disney fandom.

Frozen’s villain is another thing entirely. Disney went on a major misinformation campaign to fool the audience. Promotional posters made Hans look like any typical part of the cast, they kept the villain ambiguous, the supposed villain who was the Duke of Weselton, was no different than Ratcliffe chasing after riches. Had he been the villain, Frozen would have failed miserably in this standard. No. It was Hans. The love interest, Anna’s supposed true love, the one who was supposed to break the spell. His betrayal shocked both the characters and the audience. He also bares similarity to Scar. Both are evil Princes bent on domination based on previous rejection they deemed unfair. The only difference is: Scar succeeded, Hans did not. Scar, as discussed proved to be very adaptable, Hans did too. The only thing is, Scar actually managed. All he failed to do is quash the rebellion.

Whatever movie wins this standard does not do so by a lot. Like with the protagonist, it all comes down to that one unknown X-factor only an individual audience member can decide. One will defend Scar and another will defend Hans. Hans represents the evil mirror from the original Snow Queen tale, mirroring every character well enough to gain their trust but is in secret, evil. Scar on the other hand is one of the few villains who made a plan, put it in action, watched it fail, made a better plan, and succeeded, hence ruling the Pride Lands for a few years and only failing to quash a rebellion. Scar stayed secretly evil till the end, his treachery was not known till the very last battle. Hans failed because he spilled the beans to someone he assumed was dying (note, every time a villain does this, he fails almost immediately after.)

Hans does not defy your typical villain trope (love interests have become villains before, just not in Disney), Scar does. The Lion King may have the edge here but it is not because Hans is a bad villain. It is because unlike Scar, Hans based too many things on assumptions. His first plan was to marry Elsa, which is fine but he could not marry a secluded princess so he settled for Anna and hoped to arrange an accident and kill Elsa. This, of course would’ve failed because Elsa, as proven, is difficult to kill. All it would’ve done is unleash winter (which makes little sense since Arandelle is already a pretty cold place judging by the export being ice.) When Anna’s heart was frozen, Hans thought it would be best to leave her and pretend she had died. This begs a question. Why did nobody ask to see the body? Why did nobody tend to the supposedly cold body?

These questions may be insignificant but they are the product of a lack of thinking on Hans’ part and yes, the director’s part. Frozen far from failed with this standard and it is thanks to Frozen’s strong showing in three different standards that people assume it just dethroned The Lion King.

Disney Music

Admit it! This image fills you with nostalgia.
Admit it! This image fills you with nostalgia.

The music in The Lion King was not done by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman like the first two movies of the Disney Renaissance were done. In fact, The Lion King’s music is composed by Hans Zimmer and the songs were written by Elton John and Tim Rice as well as other singers lending their voices (and in some cases voice actors too.) The movie starts with chanting, much like Frozen, before ascending into a full-blown song. The chanting is African chanting by a background African choir led by Lebo M. and its follow-up, “Circle of Life” is sung by Carmen Twillie. The song is the most meaningful song of a Disney movie in regards to the setting it is in. The movie, in a way is about the Circle of Life, Simba taking his place in it, and even respecting the animals they eat. It was shown very wisely during an iconic scene when Mufasa is teaching Simba about his role as King, and preaches respect for the animals. Simba asks.

“But dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”

“Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become grass and the antelope eat the grass. So we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

This leads up to Simba expressing his anticipation of being King. “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.” The song, of course was ultimately used as a distraction so Simba and Nala can make their way to the Elephant Graveyard unhindered. Upon being rescued from hyenas by Mufasa, Scar proceeds to sing his villain’s ensemble “Be Prepared,” where he places himself on a pedestal of having brains (similar to what he said at the beginning.) He warns both the characters and the audience to be prepared for his coming victory. Disney pulls a fast one on everyone when Scar does indeed win the day with his army of hyenas, and his wit, vision and brain.

“Be Prepared” leads to Mufasa’s death, Simba’s exile, and in a rather philosophical attempt to move past the on-screen death of a character (and we thought Bambi’s mother was sad), the audience was greeted by “Hakuna Matata.” The song is philosophical because whether one believes in these ideals or not, it preaches no worries by putting the past behind you and forgetting all about it. This is what allowed Simba to grow and mature, and as the sequence shows, he does mature on screen happily and healthily to look just like his father.

Simba must come to terms with his past if he is to return to the plot of the movie which is blissfully absent after the tragic death of his father. In order to reclaim his place in the Circle of Life, he must bring the plot full circle. He must confront his Uncle Scar, mate, and bring about a new, future heir for when he himself passes away. This is what brings Nala, who is now an adult lioness, back into the picture and it gives the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” more significance than it already had. Critically acclaimed as one of the best song’s Elton John ever wrote, he lent his voice to a longer, fuller version of the song during the credits. It sets the relationship between Simba and Nala up and showcases Simba’s inner turmoil over his past. Right after, he is challenged to face his past once again.

It is only when challenged to face his past once again, in defiance of the beliefs Timon and Pumbaa brought him up with, when Simba once again has to reclaim the Circle of Life. Taking his ghostly father’s words to heart, Simba challenges Scar, reclaims his place, Rafiki holds up a new cub, and the movie goes full circle, as the central song in the movie preached.

Here’s a question: “Frozen Heart” or “Circle of Life?” Both songs are sung at the beginning, both sort of define the movie and both are sung after a chant from a foreign language (foreign to Disney’s home country at least.) We had the African choir to the “Circle of Life” and then Scandinavian choir to “Frozen Heart.” The answer to this question is clear. Few will disagree that “Circle of Life” is the much better song, does a better job in defining the movie and because of this, The Lion King starts strong. “Let it Go” is Frozen’s defining moment in the movie. It is the only reason why people would assume Frozen might win this standard. To be fair, one good song, even it smashes all other songs in The Lion King to bits (which it does not but for the sake argument), does not win a movie the whole standard, particularly a movie with plenty of unforgettable songs.

“Let it Go” is about leaving worries behind and unleashing your potential within. “Hakuna Matata” is about letting go of your worries and putting the past behind you. Both are unforgettable and if one does suggest that “Let it Go” wins this one (that’s an if), songs like “Fixer Upper” and “Summer” do not compare to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (both by Simba and Nala and the classic one by Elton John.) “Love is an Open Door” is the villain’s song in Frozen, and it is strong because it serves as both the romantic duet and the villain’s song, showcasing the villain’s relationship with one of the protagonists. By making this song powerful, it took from the potential of a true and heart-building duet between Anna and Kristoff and that is why “Fixer Upper” falls short.

Both movies have great songs of course and this by no means puts Frozen down. The problem Frozen has is it starts weak with Frozen Heart, it gets emotionally stronger with “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman,” it gets more light-hearted with “For the First Time in Forever,” it gets romantic and ominous with “Love is an Open Door” and finally climaxes powerfully in “Let it Go.” Then it falls down with “Fixer Upper” and “Summer” (both of which are, let’s face it, comic-relief at this point, and overshadowed by a more powerful song sung before it.) Frozen did not end its music on a high note like Tangled did, let alone The Lion King. In ended weakly. The Lion King had no weak moments, it started strong, steadily stayed strong and ended strong, bringing The Circle of Life to a full circle.

Disney Settings

Everything the light touches.
Everything the light touches.

Quiz: What’s the setting you think of when The Little Mermaid is mentioned? What about Aladdin? Does Beauty and the Beast ring any bells? How fondly does one recall those settings? Since Snow White, each and every Disney movie has generated a significant setting reliant and exclusive to the movie it is in. For the aforementioned Disney movies, one might recall Atlantica, Agrabah, and the Beast’s castle respectively. In Princess movies, these settings are most often Kingdoms or castles at the very least. Frozen for one had two castles for two Princesses. The Lion King is no different. Its main setting is none other than Pride Rock. Even when Simba leaves Pride Rock, it still remains his destination while the audience is introduced to the Savanna itself.

There is only one simple reason why Pride Rock is memorable enough to put smiles on all faces worldwide. One iconic moment based purely on the setting. Iconic moments are indeed rare in Disney. The Little Mermaid had Ariel surfacing the sea with her hair being thrown back for example but Pride Rock itself is responsible for another to take place only five years later. The image of Rafiki holding Simba up to be seen by the entire Kingdom, all the inhabitants of the Pride Lands, is one of the most iconic moments in all of Disney and is always associated with the movie itself, the main character, a side character, and that one setting neither can do without (note, there is a difference between an entire scene being iconic and a single moment being iconic.) Very few Disney movies have such moments, (one of the reasons Disney is so special is the rare gems it gives out.)

The movie begins and ends at Pride Rock, just as it begins and end with the Circle of Life being showcased (not necessarily in song but in action.) Holding a lion cub up for the Pride Lands to see is symbolic to the Circle of Life itself, showing their newest Heir. It is the reason why the romantic relationship is so special in the movie but all of them rely heavily on Pride Rock. It is the symbol of the Circle of Life itself and it symbolizes Simba ultimately taking his place up there, which was why the movie made sure to have him roar his resounding victory upon defeating Scar, the sun rising, and the Pride Lands returning to its former beauty and glory, cut to where a new cub is being held up on Pride Rock, and the Circle of Life is complete, (or as complete as a circle can be.)

It’s almost sad. Arandelle does not compare to The Pride Lands in the slightest. Frozen shows too little of the different aspects of the Kingdom for the audience to truly grow in love with it. It did not have a moment that introduces the audience to the setting like The Lion King did when Mufasa had his talk with Simba and showed him the Kingdom. Frozen did not fail with this standard. There have been lesser Kingdoms where even less were known, but if The Lion King took the time and introduced the audience to its main setting, the fact Frozen did not says more than one can ever know. Unfortunately for Frozen, The Lion King wins this one and it wins it strongly. This time, Frozen was just massacred.

Disney Characters

Just one of them dances circles around all the Frozen side characters
Just one of them dances circles around all the Frozen side characters

Remember how much Sebastian the crab was loved? Remember Abou or the Genie from Aladdin? Disney has a flair for creating iconic characters, memorable characters that are loved and remembered longer than even the movie itself. These are some of the many characters Disney is known for. Where would Snow White have been without the seven dwarves? Would Fox and the Found be the same without Beaky and Boomer? Is it fair to remember Beauty and the Beast without mentioning Lumiere, Cogsworth and Chip? One of the most important standards of Disney is the side characters it possesses. These side characters are only part of what make any given movie memorable and is therefore a very important standard.

The Lion King has an abundance of these side characters. Most Disney movies churn out one, two or maybe three with exception of Snow White which dished out seven. In The Lion King, almost every side character introduced is widely remembered and loved. Timon and Pumbaa will always be remembered for their heroic charge that saved Simba’s young life, Rafiki will always be remembered for his Shaman-like wisdom stretching through generations of the circle of life, Zazu will always be known as the bird advisor with a snarky attitude to boot, the three hyenas Bonzai, Shenzi, and Ed, all three of whom have different voices and personalities. In the end, one could even count King Mufasa as a side character and he alone is more memorable than any of them (the Lion King indeed.) Disney passed this particular standard with flying colors and it is one of the reasons why to this day, The Lion King is one of its greatest classics.

Once again, Frozen hardly tries in this standard. Olaf’s irrational love for summer does not compare to the antics of Timon and Pumbaa. The trolls might have appeared wise at the beginning and they may have shown a hint of their wisdom in Fixer Upper when establishing themselves as love experts but they are nothing on Rafiki telling Simba to look inside himself to meet his father. Speaking of his father, King Mufasa dances circles around both the King and Queen of Arandelle put together, Zazu and three hyenas and their antics easily beat the Duke of Weselton and his two nameless goons, let alone Sven the reindeer. Speaking of Sven, he has been done before. We’ve all seen an animal act canine in Maximus and Frozen’s obvious attempt to create that is almost sad. Kristoff is not as established as a love interest as other love interests in Disney, (in fact, to him, reindeers are better than people.)

Frozen did fail with this standard. They failed it miserably and it is mostly because they tried too hard. Some people were indeed enchanted by Olaf and some like the idea of an animal acting Canine. Even if Olaf is ceded as a memorable side character and even if people do like the trolls, The Lion King dished out seven side characters where Frozen only managed one or two (maybe.) This is not counting the fact that regardless of everything, let’s face it, Sven is not unique because his character so resembles Maximus from Tangled. This is a copout, and when a movie cops out, it is a very big minus. Where The Lion King indeed might have copped out with Kimba (that is a controversy but not admitted publicly nor is it widely known), Frozen copped out with its very character, someone who was meant to be memorable. He is overshadowed by Maximus. This can be attributed to the fact that the makers did try to study the behaviors of a reindeer but when that led to nothing, they studied the behaviors of a dog instead.

The Final Verdict

And the King is...
And the King is…

It is because of passing those seven standards exponentially that The Lion King has become one of the most successful Disney franchises of all time. While Frozen may have made a strong start with a movie and a Broadway production, they are competing with The Lion King, a stage production, two sequels, and more than enough books all telling different stories from Simba’s son, his daughter, his uncle, and more. To say Frozen achieved something great is one thing. To say it surpassed The Lion King is on a whole new level.

Yes, in terms of money, Frozen made more than The Lion King but in the end, this means as little as a billion people reading the same book. Having bought it and read it is one thing, having liked it is something completely different. Let us not forget that with the world is one billion people more than it was in the nineties. Of course a movie is going to make a ton of money. There are more people to watch it. Frozen the movie made more money yes, but, The Lion King as a franchise still reigns on top and the likelihood of it being dethroned still remains ferociously low with the advent of a new animated series called The Lion Guard which will star the son of Simba and Nala.

This is not to say Frozen was unlikable. Frozen did something Disney could not do for a long time. Tangled may have brought Disney magic back into cinema but Frozen solidified its presence, one song from the movie was enough to blow most other Disney songs out of the ice but this does not mean in any way that it stuck to, adhered to, or succeeded in recreating what the Lion King could. It is great that Frozen managed popularity not seen since the Disney renaissance but to think it dethroned The Lion King? That is something else.

It is also worthy to mention that Frozen and The Lion King have plenty of similarities. As discussed before, they both begin with chanting that is a prelude to a song, but their stories are also scarily similar. They both feature a royal losing his or her parents, running away from home while their castle falls apart, try ignoring a former friend/sister seeking to bring them back, both characters sing about letting their worries go only to return and defeat the evil Prince after the throne, thus restoring everything to what it once was. If Frozen was strong in the Origin/Storyline standard thanks to the Kimba controversy, it loses what it had once it becomes clear that the makers did try to recreate The Lion King. Frozen is The Lion King, just with ice.

Recreating a previous movie is not a bad thing. Disney does it all the time. By all means, recreate a movie. But a recreation does not dethrone. The Lion King took its throne because it was different. It did not recreate Snow White or The Little Mermaid. Frozen, while different and special in its own way (and this is not to bash the movie in any way), cannot take the throne by redoing what the occupant did. It was an attempt and a strong one at that but by The Seven Standards of Disney, with The Lion King taking five points and Frozen taking two (or one, depending on which way the Origin standard goes), it did not succeed in taking the throne. It was a good movie… just not the best. And with this, The Lion King can reclaim its rightful title as King of Pride Rock.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Writing is my life, my love, my passion, my hobby. I was born in rural Kentucky, USA and now live abroad in Lebanon where I majored in English Language and Literature.

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  1. Aaron Hatch

    I liked Frozen, but it will never top the Lion King in my opinion. I really like that you compared and contrast the two films with there strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Providencia Sample

    The Lion King is a great movie, awesome songs, a nice message about sticking together as a family, and great voice work.

  3. One of the best disney movies.

  4. I cannot understand why this movie has ever gotten positive reviews. It is horrifying and obscenely violent. The uncle’s meanness, deceit, and manipulation are better suited to adult psycho-dramas than a kids movie.

  5. Just watched it today with my wife and 2 year-old (hadn’t seen it since I was like, 7).

  6. I think that it is a wonderful film, certainly one of the best. The characters are endearing and enduring, the songs are absolutely magnificent, and the tough choices the main character has to go through are something that a real person would be biting their nails over!

  7. it was a good movie and it had rather good messages but i did not really enjoy it too much

  8. The characters are well-formed, and the lines are still hilarious even the 50th time around.

  9. The broadway show is spectacular too!!

  10. Have you ever watched a movie that inspires you or fills you with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence? The Lion King has done this for me.

  11. Elly Vitale

    Highly satisfied! Thanks!

  12. I still remember watching this in the cinema as a kid when it came out.

  13. Nof

    I honestly don’t even remember most of the movie, and it’s a famous story!

  14. a great disney movie! sad and intense, but a very well developed movie. one of disney’s greatest masterpieces.

  15. This movie is very boring.I watched it onc and got bored.The story is HORRIBLY boring and the animation is awful

  16. Okay, The Lion King. The success of this movie was CRAZY! It was so famous that took Disney to the next level. But what do I think of this movie? For me, I thought it was a great movie but I didn’t think it was the best Disney movie of all time like everyone thought it was.

  17. Mckenzie

    I’ll probably still watch it when I’m fifty. It’s cute and funny.

  18. The songs are unforgettable.

  19. This was a great movie but should have been PG for the nazi symbolism (goose-stepping hyenas)

  20. I couldn’t help but notice after watching this movie in 3D that the composer for Inception also did Lion King. The stampede scene gave it away. Lion Kingception.

  21. Helen Parshall

    Excellent article! While Frozen certainly has had a crazy amount of hype, the Lion King forever and always will be my favorite.

  22. LaurenCarr

    Movie tickets cost a lot more now than they did 20 years ago. Frozen made more money but did they sell more tickets at the box office?

  23. The movie has a great storyline, it gives many people some history about Africa, it has a great cast, great music from Elton John and Tim Rice, and one of Disney’s greatest films.

  24. Gabrielle Addison

    This movie is great for teaching kids about whats the “Circle Of Life” and why we have the “Circle Of Life” from God

  25. RaynaJacob

    My favorite disney movie, a must see movie for kids and everyone!

  26. A.Dalton

    Awesome movie! The only Disney Cartoon that I liked as a kid and will still watch today. Hakuna Matata bitches!

  27. Mary Awad

    People say that Frozen is better than the Lion King and they are all dirty liars. The Lion King is amazing and you say why in this article! What’s better than an animated Hamlet with lions?

  28. Nicole

    I appreciate the effort given here to compare/contrast these films, however I don’t know that it was executed well. There are definitely significant considerations listed, though they are only shoddily addressed.

    An important aspect to consider when comparing The Lion King and Frozen is the time periods. Lion King was the Renaissance of cinema’s pioneer of animated films (Disney). The Renaissance literally means a looking back and replication of tradition and classicism. This explains the closer relationship between the Lion King and Hamet. Frozen, released in the new millennium, instead focuses on progress and innovation as seen in the cutting-edge use of CG and extremely loose interpretation of H.C. Andersen.

    I could go on, but would end up writing an entirely different article…

  29. I love the Lion King and always will. It is a great story of triumph and hardship that makes you truly think. It is my all time favorite disney movie and I feel that nothing can surpass it. I challenge anybody to watch it and say that they do not like it.

  30. Wilson Allen Williams

    I love Disney and I don’t understand how people claim that Frozen is better than Lion King.

  31. Lion king has always been my favorite movie! I think it’s Disney’s best movie ever!

  32. Siothrún

    Ticket prices in the 90’s: Around four or five dollars (I checked for some reference other than memory, but didn’t find anything much). I feel that this was an interesting article. I liked the fact that you compared and contrasted two great Disney films. I did, however, find two typos. “Fox and the Found” and “In failed”. Good article, and the typos are just something to keep an eye out for in the future.

  33. Brianna

    I very much enjoyed the compare and contrast within this article. Your sense of writing is very intriguing and I was very impressed with the language within the piece.

    I enjoyed that you spoke about how The Lion King and Frozen are basically adaptations of previous works by great authors of a time before us. The fact that you specifically spoke about this was very informational.

    Personally, I agree with the fact that the Lion King has surpassed Frozen. Money does not make the film popular, the viewers make the film popular. When viewers want more, the viewers get more. This brings up the topic of the Broadway production of The Lion King, there is no Frozen production.

    The Lion King is not dethroned by Frozen and a movie that can dethrone The Lion King, will rightfully deserve it, but Frozen does not.

  34. Robert Gilchrist

    It’s interesting that you took a film in “The Lion King” that follows (and set) so many different story beats that nearly every Disney film would later follow with a film like “Frozen,” which arguably breaks those rules and sets a new path for later animated movies to follow. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that I really enjoyed.

  35. Personally I feel that both films are great in their own ways. Yes both of the films have their flaws but they also have plenty of good aspects as well. Money should not determine how good a film is.

  36. I love it!

  37. Lion King any day!

  38. Jordan

    I am so happy you wrote this. When people say Frozen is better than the Lion King, I want to roll my eyes. It’s good, but not THAT good. So glad you agree!
    I enjoyed reading your article 😀

  39. Seth Childers

    I enjoy Frozen (especially the “Let It Go” sequence), but in my opinion, it does not come close to topping The Lion King. It is easily one of Disney’s best movies.

    I like how you bring up the similarities between the two but also the differences they share in how original they are and how they tell their own stories. I like Frozen a lot for bringing back the Disney magic that was seen during the Renaissance (the only recent film to do that was Tangled, and even then the songs were one of the weakest aspects of that movie), but taken on its own terms, it just does not stand as strong on its own as The Lion King did.

  40. Samantha Brandbergh

    Never really got into all the hype about Frozen, but The Lion King will always be one of my favorite Disney movies. I listened to the soundtrack on cassette every day when I was little.

  41. Lauran Myles

    The bestest movie ever made in 1994, but what an absolute disgrace about the intensity in the movie, the hyena gets scratched in the cheek, Mufasa gets killed, the female lions run the hyenas out-of-town and Scar’s throat is cut open, but still the film is mild on violence but moderate on dangerous behaviour.

  42. Liz Havens

    Great article. Thank you. While Frozen is a decent film, I was a little shocked when people kept stating it was better then The Lion King. This article did a great job of putting words to my feelings through a basis of logical comparison.

  43. sphere7788

    This is a more accurate article in terms of comparing The Lion King gross income to Frozen’s. If you adjust for inflation (and take into consideration that ticket prices almost doubled from 1994 to 2013) then the Lion King made almost $1.5 billion While Frozen made $1.2 billion. TLK still tops all Disney movies and that’s awesome, when you think about it.

    • Adnan Bey

      Thanks for that. It really does more to push across the idea that Frozen did not really make more money when you really look into it. TLK is still on top, even now and may always be.

  44. The Lion King is still to this day, my favorite Disney animated feature. It has an amazing soundtrack and the opening sequence is probably the most well done of all Disney movies as it not only invoked a strong emotional response from my part, but demonstrated the importance of Simba’s birth and the power of Pride Rock.
    Although I can understand why people would enjoy Frozen more as it seems to embody a strong message for young females to believe in themselves and independent, the Lion King will always be the original movie that made me fall in love with Disney and taught me the importance of family, surviving through hard times, and believing yourself

  45. Katheryn

    “LONG. LIVE. THE KING.” – one of the darkest lines and moments (and particularly gruesome and torturous in how Scar is hanging Mufasa over the cliff by his claws in his paws) in ANY animated feature I have ever seen. I was fully 24 when the movie came out, and I saw it in the theatres about 5 times. Now that I have children of my own, I’ve seen it all over again from fresh eyes, and it’s still wonderful. I still get misty-eyed when Rafiki realizes Simba is alive, and the opening sequence makes me cry every time. Every. dang. time. Thanks for the article!

  46. Stephanie M.

    Great article. I love both movies, so I’m not going to cast definitive judgment, except to say I might disagree with you about Frozen on some points. That said, you make a beautifully thought-out case for The Lion King, especially in terms of its protagonist (it’s nice to have a break from the normal princess every once in a while).

  47. I never did see “Frozen”, but the “Lion King” is a wonderful movie. It’s very intense, with an intensely good soundtrack, and good story, to boot.

  48. The thing that can be said about Timon and Pumbaa is that, whatever their faults, they did provide Simba a place where he could be a kid.

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