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Set in a kingdom of lions in Africa, The Lion King tells the story of Simba (Swahili for lion), a lion cub who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as King of the Pride Lands; however, after his paternal uncle Scar kills Mufasa to seize the throne, Simba is tricked into believing he was responsible for his father's death and flees into exile. After growing up in the company of the carefree outcasts Timon and Pumbaa, Simba receives valuable perspective from his childhood friend, Nala, and his shaman, Rafiki, before returning to challenge Scar to end his tyranny and take his place in the Circle of Life as the rightful king.
In the Pride Lands of Africa, a pride of lions rule over the kingdom from Pride Rock. King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi's newborn son, Simba, is presented to the gathering animals by Rafiki the mandrill, the kingdom's shaman and advisor. Mufasa's younger brother, Scar, covets the throne.
After he collapses in a desert, Simba is rescued by two outcasts, a meerkat and warthog named Timon and Pumbaa. Simba grows up with his two new friends in their oasis, living a carefree life under their motto "hakuna matata" ("no worries" in Swahili). Years later, an adult Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala. Simba and Nala fall in love, and she urges him to return home, telling him that the Pride Lands have become drought-stricken under Scar's reign. Still feeling guilty over Mufasa's death, Simba refuses and storms off. He encounters Rafiki, who tells Simba that Mufasa's spirit lives on in him. Simba is visited by the spirit of Mufasa in the night sky, who tells him that he must take his place as king. After Rafiki advises him to learn from the past instead of running from it, Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands.
Sometime later, Linda Woolverton, who was also writing Beauty and the Beast (1991), spent a year writing several drafts of the script, which was titled King of the Beasts and then King of the Jungle. The original version of the film was vastly different from the final product. The plot centered on a battle between lions and baboons, with Scar being the leader of the baboons, Rafiki being a cheetah, and Timon and Pumbaa being Simba's childhood friends. Simba would not only leave the kingdom but become a "lazy, slovenly, horrible character" due to manipulations from Scar, so Simba could be overthrown after coming of age. By 1990, producer Thomas Schumacher, who had just completed The Rescuers Down Under (1990), decided to attach himself to the project "because lions are cool". Schumacher likened the King of the Jungle script to "an animated National Geographic special".
The voice actors were chosen for how they fit and could add to the characters; for instance, James Earl Jones was cast because the directors found his voice "powerful" and similar to a lion's roar. Jones remarked that during the years of production, Mufasa "became more and more of a dopey dad instead of [a] grand king".
The use of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in a scene with Timon and Pumbaa led to disputes between Disney and the family of South African Solomon Linda, who composed the song (originally titled "Mbube") in 1939. In July 2004, Linda's family filed a lawsuit, seeking $1.6 million in royalties from Disney. In February 2006, Linda's heirs reached a settlement with Abilene Music, who held the worldwide rights and had licensed the song to Disney for an undisclosed amount of money.
The Lion King was first released on VHS and LaserDisc in the United States on March 3, 1995, under Disney's "Masterpiece Collection" video series. The VHS edition of this release contained a special preview for Walt Disney Pictures' then-upcoming animated film Pocahontas (1995), in which the title character (voiced by Judy Kuhn) sings the musical number "Colors of the Wind". In addition, Deluxe Editions of both formats were released. The VHS Deluxe Edition included the film,