Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
So by now, you can probably guess that Disney isn't exactly a proponent of the auteur theory of filmmaking. Producing, writing, animating, and yes, even directing: Everything. Is. Done. By. Committee. Like, actually, though.
The Boys of Disney
Roger Allers had wanted to join the Disney ranks since age five, when he saw Disney's classic feature film Peter Pan. After a career in children's television, he finally got his big break in 1985 when he was hired as a storyboard artist for the Disney film Oliver & Company. After that, his animation resume pretty much reads like a list of all the blockbuster Disney films of the '80s and '90s: he worked as an artist or writer for The Little Mermaid, The Prince and the Pauper, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Rob Minkoff took a slightly more traditional path to the Magic Kingdom. After graduating from CalArts, he was hired as a cleanup artist for The Black Cauldron, a 1985 flop that nearly killed the animation division of Walt Disney Pictures. Luckily, the disaster didn't touch Minkoff: he went on to do animation and character development for The Great Mouse Detective, The Brave Little Toaster, and The Little Mermaid.
Both Allers and Minkoff had no idea what a huge hit The Lion King would be when they signed up to direct it. Years later, they would both refer to it as their "big break." George Scribner is probably kicking himself for quitting to this very day (read more about him in the "Screenwriter" section).
O, Ye of Little Faith
After shepherding The Lion King through four years of turbulent pre-production, Allers and Minkoff settled on the idea of making a musical about a young lion coming into his own as king of the savanna. But, perhaps because of that very turbulence, not a ton of people were as excited about the musical lion thing as they were.
Animation for The Lion King started around the same time as animation for Pocahontas, and most animators chose to work on Pocahontas, believing it to be the more prestigious and profitable of the two films. Even Brenda Chapman had her doubts about The Lion King, claiming once in confidence that the story wasn't that good (read more about her in the "Screenwriter" section).
Eventually, a team of supervising animators was rounded up to establish the personalities of the main characters. Animators observed animals in the wild in order to master drawing four-legged creatures, a technique Disney had used before to create the 1942 film Bambi. Allers and Minkoff tried to stay loyal to Scribner's original request for realism, encouraging animators to depict nature-documentary effects like lens flare in their artwork. The whole process took a little over two years.
The result? The most successful 2D animated feature of all time.