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Open Access Creating The Lion King: Story development, authorship and accreditation in the Disney Renaissance

The Lion King, Disney’s most lucrative property, began life as the most successful animated film to emerge from the Disney Renaissance. It was developed against a background of creative transformation and personal feuding at the studio, as Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg attempted to introduce a new, script-led method of making animated films. This article examines the accreditation given to writers in the film’s credits, Katzenberg’s claim to have originated much of the story himself, and the actual slow process of story development from first concept (1988) to finished screenplay (1993). Emphasis is placed on the original creative brief, to produce a Bambi-like film based on ‘[r]eal lion behaviour’, the first story treatment by Thomas M. Disch, the additions to that story made by later writers and directors, and the conflict between more realistic and more fantastical visions of animal behaviour that slowed the movie’s development for years. Based on collections of primary source material not in the public domain, and personal correspondence with many people involved in shaping the movie, this is the first full history of the screenplay of The Lion King.

Keywords: The Lion King; credit; fantasy; realism; revision; screenplay

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Doshisha University

Publication date: September 1, 2018

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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