Easter Eggs in Aladdin and The Lion King – Disney References Past Movies

Lion King: Timon
Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test!

Who knew classic, straight-laced, non-Pixar, Original Flavor Disney would start using Easter Eggs? It’s possible they’ve been doing this all along and I haven’t noticed, but usually there’s not a whiff of cross-pollination between, say, Princess properties. No nods to Snow White in Sleeping Beauty, for example, even though both feature winsome lasses in comas needing True Love’s Kiss. (Great plot resolution, folks. Sheesh.)

But then Pixar came around, relying on fresh humor often aimed squarely at adults. Pixar wasn’t afraid to mix up their universes with dozens of Easter Eggs for sharp-eyed fans to spot, especially on re-watches.

The Pixar Theory, and Beyond

In fact, there’s an entire Pixar Theory devoted to the notion that every Pixar film — with settings from the dawn of the dinosaurs, through to man’s diaspora through space — is one long, related story. Eagle-eyed viewers pour over every frame of Pixar films to spot connections between them. I’ve looked for, and found, Rex from Toy Story as a wood carving in Brave. This lends credence to the Boo (from Monsters, Inc) Theory. These things aren’t accidents.

The Carlin Brothers do a great job illustrating the Pixar Theory in their longish video (below). I think some of it’s too reachy, but the idea is fabulous and I’m willing to go all in.

It’s not just Pixar that does Easter Eggs now. Every genre franchise, including those of Star Wars, Marvel Studios, DC, Dreamworks, Sony, and “beyond” use Easter Eggs as a matter of principle.

Then…Disney bought Pixar (and Star Wars, and Marvel too).

Live Action Disney Does Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs are finally appearing in even the sacred Princess films, which were always the most straight-laced offerings in the Disney Vault. But since we’re seeing Eggs now in the live-action/CGI remakes, maybe this is where Disney decided to test the waters.

I’m going to mention a few Easter Eggs I spotted in Aladdin and The Lion King, the most recently remade Disney films, which both have Princesses.

(I’m counting Nala here. If Simba is a King, then Nala is a Queen.)

Lion King: Nala
Totally a Disney Princess.

Note: I’m not going to even try to mention Easter Eggs in Ralph Breaks the Internet, which doesn’t qualify as a remake of a Disney Classic, and is honestly one long series of amusing Easter Eggs. Feel free to mention those in the comments below, along with any other Eggs you’ve spotted elsewhere.

ralph breaks the internet and princess venelope
Uncountable Easter Eggs. Do you realize how long an article would have to be to list them all?

Easter Eggs in 2019’s Aladdin and Lion King Remakes

  • Aladdin: This one is a self-contained movie reference. The Disney studio logo opens, showing a sailing ship on their river, then pulls back to see the Disney Castle. Then the movie itself opens on a sailing ship. I need to see this again now to determine if it’s the same boat.
    will smith as genie in Aladdin and the live action disney remake
    You ain’t never had a friend like Genie, in either version.
  • When Genie is dressing Aladdin in the desert, the magic carpet plays in the sand in the background. Over a series of shots, we see Carpet making a sand castle. In the final shot of this, it’s clear the castle is a sand replica of the Disney Castle from the studio logo, and Carpet shoots a stream of sand over it that looks like the shooting star we see at the end of the logo sequence.

I didn’t even notice what Carpet was doing on my first watch. But it’s obvious now and very clever. (Logo sequence below is from 2011, but shows the castle and star.)

  • Aladdin: There’s a great nod to Shrek when he turns Abu into a donkey. Shrek is the tentpole of DreamWorks, a competitor, which is interesting. Genie utters a line like, “No, too obvious,” — pretty amusing, and only makes sense if it’s a subtle dig on Shrek.
  • Aladdin: My sister is an even bigger fan of Disney than I, and we went to see Aladdin together. She noticed Jafar had a lion sculpture on his desk that looked like Uncle Scar from The Lion King. I’d love to hear if anyone can confirm this.
    Lion King Scar
    Scar is actually his nickname. I looked it up. It’s a little cruel that Mufasa calls him that in public.
  • Aladdin: I can’t say for certain if this was intentional, but when Iago (just Parrot in the remake) becomes Giant Parrot, there’s a sequence suspiciously like one in Jurassic World
  • The Lion King: I only saw the remake once, but found one very obvious Easter Egg. It’s when Timon calls out to the hyenas to come and eat them (Timon and Pumbaa are acting as ‘bait’ for Simba and Nala) — it’s the beginning phrase of the big showstopping number Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast. I laughed out loud at that one. Timon even uses a mock French accent as he says dramatically, “Be…our…guest”: it looks like he’s about to burst into song, as the music swells. Then the chase begins. It’s a super fun moment.
    Lion King: Pumbaa
    Delicious pork bait.

    Only a few other people in the audience laughed, though, so they clearly missed it. If I’d seen The Lion King opening night, you BET the die-hard fans would have exploded into wild appreciation. (Disney superfans are fanatic. These are the people that dressed in ballgowns during the remade Beauty and the Beast on opening night.)

That’s All, Folks

Unfortunately, that’s all I have right now from The Lion King. I’ll be looking for Eggs if I catch it again at the theater. On first viewings, it’s hard to notice background events. Naturally. Easter Eggs delight and reward us during subsequent watches.

I’m glad Disney’s decided to join the new century finally and break down their 4th wall here and there. (Maybe acquiring Deadpool was a good influence!)

Movie Review – The Lion King (2019)

Surprise! The Lion King is a Hamlet Remake

Movie Review – Aladdin (2019) – A Live Action Remake, Good for the Target Audience

 

 

Lion King – Animated vs Broadway vs Live Action

live action lion king with baby simba
It’s the Circle of life. (Sniff!)

The “live action” (actually CGI, folks) remake of The Lion King is hitting theaters.  This new version of the Disney 1994 classic features significant differences.  Now is a great time to return to Pride Rock — and revisit Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Mufasa, Zazu, and Rafiki — as we compare the animated, Broadway, and the live action versions of The Lion King.

The Animated Version of The Lion King

In the summer of 1994, Disney released The Lion King.  It was the fifth film in the Disney renaissance that started with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  It was also the first Disney animated film that featured an original story, and not an adaptation of an existing property.  Although it does have strong similarities to the play Hamlet….(link goes to our cool comparison post).

Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the award-winning songs for the soundtrack. Remember Hakuna Matata, and Can You Feel the Love Tonight?   Hans Zimmer himself composed the score.

The movie was a true critical and box office success!

hakuna matata log scene from lion king with simba, timon, and pumbaa
Hakuna matata, forever!

Synopsis of The Lion King (Spoilers)

The film starts with a young lion cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), heir to his father Mufasa’s throne.

All three versions of The Lion King open with the song “The Circle of Life” with the mandrill Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) presenting newborn Simba to the animal kingdom, who bow in reverence.

Simba’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) murders Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and blames Simba for it, sending him into exile and taking over the throne.  Simba forms a new family with free spirits Meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and Warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), who rescue him in the desert.  He embraces their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata” (No Worries).

Time passes.  Simba’s friend and love interest Nala (Moira Kelly) goes in search of him, and finds adult Simba (Matthew Broderick).  They fall in love (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”)  Nala tells him the Pride Lands are in ruin and everyone is starving under Scar’s reign.  She urges him to return home.

Simba refuses and storms off, unable to tell Nala he “killed” Mufasa.  Simba runs into Rafiki, who tells him his father’s spirit lives on in him.  Simba is visited by Mufasa’s spirit, who tells him he must take his rightful place as king (the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther has this concept too, and is also from Disney Studios…hmmmm).

Unable to run anymore, Simba returns home.  Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyenas so Simba can get to Scar.  When Scar thinks he has Simba cornered, he confesses to murdering Mufasa.  Simba pins him to the ground and forces him to confess this out loud to everyone.  Like all Disney villains, Scar ends up getting what he deserves.  Simba takes his rightful place as king with Nala as his queen.  The last scene is of Rafiki presenting their own newborn cub.

The lion king broadway poster
See The Lion King on Broadway, or at Disneyworld, if you ever get the chance!

The Broadway Version of The Lion King

In 1997, Disney brought the Lion King to Broadway.  Beauty and the Beast was still going strong as a musical, so why not adapt one of their other biggest hits for the stage?  Indeed.

From the very start, Lion King was getting rave reviews and selling out. It won six Tonys, including Best Musical.  It is Broadway’s third-longest running show, and the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time.  It made over a billion dollars.  Julie Taymor became the first woman to win Best Director of a Musical.

One of the most significant differences between the Broadway version of — and the other versions of — The Lion King is the appearance of the animals.

Animation is not an option for a live theatrical Broadway performance.  Instead, Julie Taymor designed elaborate costumes — most of them based on puppetry — that create not only the illusion of the animals, but the grace of their movements.

Having seen the show at least five times, I can tell you the effect is breathtaking.  It is the kind of creative risk one wishes Disney would take more of.

rafiki in the lion king broadway musical
Rafiki in the Lion King Broadway musical

Another significant difference is that Rafiki was changed to female, and the role is now traditionally played by a woman on stage.  According to the Wikipedia, Taymor believed there was no leading female character in the film.  Rafiki becomes a sort of Greek chorus in the musical.  She actually leads the song, “The Circle of Life” at the top of the show.

New Lion King Songs in the Broadway Musical

Musicals are generally longer than the average Disney cartoon.  So material had to be added to flesh out the show.  Significant new songs included Zazu’s pun-filled “Morning Report,” Mufasa’s powerful explanation of ancestors “They Live in You,”  Rafiki’s reprise to Simba about Mufasa “He Lives in You,” and Simba’s lament “Endless Night.”

Other new songs written for the musical include:  “Grasslands Chant,” “The Lioness Hunt,” “Chow Down,” “Rafiki Mourns,” “One by One,” “The Madness of King Scar,” “Shadowland,” and “Simba Confronts Scar.”

The book was written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, along with additional music and lyrics by Lebo MMark MancinaJay RifkinJulie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer.

Rafiki’s chants in “Rafiki Mourns” were written by Tsidii Le Loka, who originated the role on Broadway.  Of course, favorites from the animated movie such as “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” remain intact.

The Lion King musical also includes new scenes:

There is a conversation between Zazu and Mufasa about his parenting.  Timon nearly drowns in a waterfall while Simba watches, paralyzed.  This is an event that helps remind him of who he is and the power he has.  Nala departs from Scar when he tries to make her his queen in “The Madness of King Scar.”  She announces her intention to leave home and find help.  During new song “Shadowland”, the other lionesses and Rafiki bless her.

Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical
Meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa in the Lion King Broadway musical

Of course, there were new actors playing the roles when the show debuted on Broadway.  The one I felt was especially cool was Max Casella, originating the role of Timon on-stage.  Those of you from my generation may remember him as Vinnie, Neil Patrick Harris’s best friend on Doogie Howser, M.D.

The Live Action Version of The Lion King

It is now 2019 and Disney has gone a little remake crazy. (Done or coming next: The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Mulan, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid.)  Then again, after seeing the promos that show the photo-realistic Circle of Life sequence, a live action Lion King kind of feels irresistible.

I should start off by saying “live action” is a misnomer.  Even though we’re all using this expression, the animals are actually computer generated animation.

A few things the new Lion King has in common with the original:  James Earl Jones is again the voice of Mufasa (as well he should be).  And Rafiki is male again.

Like the Broadway version, the new movie includes The Tokens’ classic pop song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  The Broadway song, “He Lives In You” is also represented.  “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are, of course, highlights of the film.

The movie also boasts a few new songs.  Beyonce contributed a song called “Spirit” and Elton John wrote a new song called “Never Too Late” — which plays over the credits.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s new version of “Be Prepared” is reported to be toothless compared to the original Jeremy Irons version.  Which is ironic, because his version of Scar is angrier and scarier, according to reviews.  He even fought Mufasa for the crown and lost: a new addition to the villain’s back story.

The visuals in the new movie are beautiful.  This is constant across all versions of The Lion King.  The sets on Broadway are amazing.  The look of the original animated film is still dazzling.  (If they ever do another IMAX re-release or even just a theatrical re-release, I highly recommend it.)

According to critics, the new movie fails in two key areas:

One is that by making the film photo-realistic, the characters and the world are now bound by the constraints of reality.  For instance, you can’t have a massive animal pile-up at the climax of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” or an army of hyenas during “Be Prepared.”

The 1994 film wasn’t bound by such constraints.  The Broadway musical gets around this by using a combination of inventive costumes and set pieces, stage magic, and the participation of the audience.  When you’re watching a play, you fill in things with your own imagination.  You’re an active participant in the process.

When you watch a movie, you’re more passive.  You don’t get to co-create the experience with the filmmaker.

The second flaw with the new movie is the limited range of expression the animals have.  Again, this is a problem with setting the movie in a photo-realistic world.  In animation and theater, you can get away with going over the top.  In theater, you have to play to the back row.  However, to accurately portray how an animal looks, you can’t exaggerate its features.

And Timon and Pumbaa? 

The good news is that Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) steal the show here (as they do in pretty much every version).  Some critics claim they’re even more fun in this version than in the original.

*****

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Aladdin –  Animated vs Stage vs Live Action

The Lion King – Can Disney Remake a Masterpiece?

Surprise! The Lion King is a Hamlet Remake

Character voices for Lion King