First impressions are always a big deal in film. They provide an insight for the audience by giving exposition and a taste of what they’re about to witness.. It can go well or if the cards are played right, the opening scene can be amazing!
I don’t think there is any other opening scene that could’ve been pulled off better than The Lion King (1994, not the ho-hum “live-action” one that came out recently). It works well from start to finish because it immediately pulls you in and keeps your attention. Through the sounds of birds chirping, a distant roar, and a booming voice singing out with the sun rising over the African savanna, I dare you to find a better in-your-face opening than the start of The Lion King.
Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers directed one of Disney’s most significant achievements ever to grace the screen, with the opening scene being the most fabulous opening scene in cinema. Through the music, visually-stunning animation, thought out uses of color, and the song ‘Circle of Life,’ the opening scene takes the audience on a majestic look at African wildlife as animals near and far gather to see a newborn lion cub that will one day rule the pride lands.
Nothing without the Right Song
Let’s look into how The Lion King’s opener is better than the rest. One point is the song ‘Circle of Life’ by Carmen Twillie and South African composer Lebo M. Immediately; the song opens with a big bang as Lebo M sings an African chant in Zulu, a language spoken in a region of southern Africa. The lyrics being, “nants ingonyama bagithi baba. Siyo nqoba.” This translates to English as “here is a lion, oh yes it’s a lion. We’re going to conquer.” Lebo M and an African choir carry this out, and begin a soft chant of “ingonyama nengw’ enamabala”; which translates to “the lion wears the leopard spots.” This part of the scene works as the song captures the African essence. The very beginning would have been much different if the booming voice sang something that was not in an African language.
Next, let’s not forget the stellar animation on display here!
Although The Lion King is a traditionally animated movie, the animators put a lot of detail into the animals and scenery. Looking back on the scene, if you notice the background of a few shots, the landscape looks like something out of a painting. For example, one of the first shots of the scene has green trees and a yellow sky that looks like watercolor. Throughout the scene, most people would notice how the animals look similar to their real-life counterparts. One could say that there’s a different contrast of colors between the normal animals and the animals that have power. While the animals are in their lifelike colors, we can see that the important animals have a color scheme for them. Rafiki is drawn like a typical mandrill: red nose and blue skin in the face with black and white fur around the body. Mufasa has a striking look as his body’s colored goldlike, and his mane is red. Sarabi and the lioness’ resemble a blend of beige and eggshell. Finally, Zazu-the most colorfully diverse character-sports three shades of blue feathers and a vibrant orange accompanied by a fading yellow in the beak.
Behavioral Details in the Animals
Another aspect of the animation in The Lion King’s opening scene is the details of the animals. While making The Lion King, the animators made sure that the animals look like as real-life as possible by studying real animals for reference. Throughout the scene, we see animals walk together as they move towards Pride Rock; birds fly, antelopes gallop, and zebras trot. When reacting to Simba’s presence, we see animals react out of joy to the sight of him; monkeys jump up and down while screeching and elephants trumpet through their trunks.
Overall, The Lion King has proven to have one of the best opening scenes of all time. Thanks to Lebo M and Carmen Twillie’s grand song ‘Circle of Life’ and detailed animation of the African landscape and animals, Disney couldn’t have executed a better opening scene than they did here in The Lion King. I don’t think any other opening scene could’ve made the audience’s jaws drop more this scene. There’s something so beautiful about watching a group of animals gathering together to witness the reveal of a newborn lion cub that captivates audiences in more ways than one. On top of that, you have a magnificent song that further lifts The Lion King’s opening scene to be the best of all time.