This 3-Minute Scene In The Lion King Took 3 Years To Animate

If you were a young child (or the parent of one) in 1994, there is a really good chance you remember seeing Disney's "The Lion King" in theaters for the first time. A harrowing tale about a young lion cub named Simba who must reclaim his rightful place as King of the Pride Lands, "The Lion King" was formative for many of us. We loved Simba for his spunky attitude and hakuna matata lifestyle, and we loathed his uncle Scar for ruthlessly murdering Simba's father Mufasa. 

Even now, "The Lion King" remains an extremely popular story, spawning everything from sequels to television shows to insanely popular Broadway productions and a recent 2019 "live-action" remake. Which is incredible when you realize that the making the original film was no easy task. In fact, one extremely crucial scene — perhaps the most pivotal in the entire film — took nearly three years to animate: the stampede.  

A stampede fit to kill a king

In an interview for Screen Rant, director Rob Minkoff and producer Don Hahn discussed the iconic wildebeest sequence where a young Simba is tricked by his uncle Scar into venturing into a vast canyon when he suddenly finds himself trapped and at the mercy of a herd of stampeding wildebeest. Simba does his best to outrun the dangerous mass, and eventually tries to seek shelter on a dead tree branch that dangles perilously low over the charging animals. His father Mufasa learns of Simba's predicament and rushes to rescue him. He does, but just when we think both lions will live to see another day, Scar steps in, preventing his brother from climbing out of the ravine. "Long live the king," he smirks before pushing him over the side and to his death as young Simba watches and the audience bursts into tears. 

Even now, decades after seeing the film for the first time, this particular scene is difficult to watch. It toes a fine line between action-packed thrills and devastating sorrow. Hahn describes the scene for Screen Rant as "this sensitive situation that you want to take the audience through and feel this empathy for Simba, but not traumatize this audience," adding that because of this, "the thought process of that took some time." I'm not entirely certain that I wasn't traumatized by this scene as a child (and still am today), but there is no doubt that it is a beautiful, complex string of events that set the stakes pretty high for young Simba and the rest of the Pride Lands. 

The reason this scene took three years to animate is in part because of its emotional depth, but the difficulty also came in the way of technology. The entire stampede of wildebeests was computer generated, but because the technology was still relatively new, a lot of work went in to getting things just right. Per Minkoff:

"What they created was called an "avoidance" program, which was as the wildebeests would run towards each other, they would naturally veer away but they would do that among all the other ones that would be stampeding.

It may have taken three years to achieve, but in the end, "The Lion King" would just not be the same without this crucial scene in which the frightened wildebeests become a full-on, deadly stampede strong enough to kill a king.