The Lion King
Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Can you imagine The Lion King, the billion-dollar-­grossing worldwide hit about a young lion’s oft-brutal coming-of-age in the wilds of Africa, without the Oscar-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John and Tim Rice? Without the mythic overtones and rib-tickling comic relief? These things were almost left out, according to co-director Rob Minkoff, currently celebrating the classic’s 20th anniversary and the recent release of his ­DreamWorks film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Minkoff tells the story:

“The Lion King was originally seen as a true-life adventure, kind of in the vein of Bambi; much more of an adventure, with much less of the spiritual element to the story, and no music. But after years of development, there was a sense at Disney that maybe the story wasn’t all that it needed to be. So a very small group of very talented people got together for two days and remade the story into what it is today. We brought in the spiritual element: the idea of Mufasa coming back as a ghost to visit Simba, which was not in the original version; the idea of Rafiki being kind of a shaman was new from us; the idea of Timon and Pumbaa being comic-relief characters Simba would meet when he ran away from the pride, kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; and then those songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. If it’s just an animal story — and there have certainly been many of them — it’s one kind of thing, but it’s not a myth. And we wanted to make a myth.