Finally – with the release of Disney’s remake of The Lion King (a childhood staple) – it is our cultural duty to share its astounding magic with our children, and other less-fortunate Centennials who don’t understand our devoted and emotional attachment to a ‘simple’ animation film.
With this release will come a plethora of fresh, open minds, and a new generation of wonder for the mighty African plains. Kids will want to know all there is to know about Simba, his home, his friends, and of course – where to find Pride Rock. So, prepare yourself for the bombardment of questions, and let us help clear a few facts up for you.
Is Pride Rock a real place? Sorry! It’s not.
Although it’s never explicitly stated, we know The Lion King is set somewhere in East Africa.
There are many theories about where exactly the film was based, but the masters of the Lion King universe themselves claim to have taken the best of each location they visited, and stitched them into their own, perfect African paragon.
When the story development started in 1988, Disney sent a team of animators to East Africa to absorb the sights, sounds, colours, moods, plains, craters, jungles and sunsets of the region.
The most common ecosystem we see in the film is found in Central-, Eastern- and Southern Africa, however, East Africa takes the claim uncontended. Here there are two countries wrestling for the top-contender as the true home of The Lion King: Kenya and Tanzania.
Look up photos for national parks such as the Serengeti, Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo or Tarangire, and you’ll instantly expect one of your beloved characters to appear from the foliage at any given moment. Even many of the featured animal species we see (such as Thomson’s gazelles) are endemic of East Africa.
Our first clue is that the original 1994 film’s production staff began their inspirational journey at Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya.
Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya (the production teams first stop) was, and still is, known for its rock formations and kopjes. Most likely inspiring the design of the famed Pride Rock.
Taking an equal amount of credence is Tanzania. In the opening scene of the film, the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro is visible in the distance – located in north-east Tanzania close to the border, making it clearly visible from Kenya as well.
Another Tanzanian location that makes an appearance is Olduvai Gorge; a 50-kilometre-long, and 90-kilometre-deep canyon. This geological feature also exists in the film and is the setting of the gut-wrenching and heart-breaking wildebeest stampede scene.
This stampede scene is also the first we see of the iconic wildebeest migration. A natural event sought-out by millions world-wide, documentary film makers, and some of the greatest names in conservation, which runs through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. From Tanzania into Kenya.
And finally, the opening song of the film. The one that sends your flesh goosing, and makes you feel like you want to lift a small infant into the light of the sunrise. You know it! This song is sung in Swahili. A language spoken in a number of East African countries, and the national language of Tanzania and Kenya.
Need more Swahili proof? The phrase Hakuna Matata and most of the characters’ names are also in Swahili. They have become household names for us – but are nonetheless working words for locals.
SWAHILI WORDS THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNOW:
Hakuna Matata – “No problem”
Simba – “Lion”
Nala – “Gift”
Rafiki – “Friend”
Pumbaa – To be “foolish”, or “silly”
Shenzi – “Savage”
Banzia – To “skulk”, or “lurk”
Sarabi – “Mirage”
Asante Sana – “Thanks a lot”
Now you’re ready, travel with us on a Journey to the Pride Lands that visits all these remarkable areas and relive the childhood magic for yourself.