Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton
The number of people who helped write what would become the final screenplay for The Lion King can't actually be counted, even on two hands. So here's a little bit about the two main writers who worked on Team Lion King.
Linda Woolverton was just your average YA book writer and former TV executive when a rather gutsy move put her on a well-known entertainment conglomerate's map. Despite protests from her agent, who didn't think she was "ready," Woolverton decided she wanted to work for Disney. She left one of her novels with a Disney secretary and told her to give it to someone to read.
The secretary made good on her promise, and Woolverton was soon hired as a screenwriter for the Happiest Company on Earth. She wrote the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast, which was eventually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. (Unfortunately, the Beast was snubbed for Best Actor.) In no time, she joined the ranks of Disney royalty.
Simba the Frat Boy?
In 1989, with production and development for Beauty and the Beast under her belt, Woolverton was approached by The Lion King team with Thomas Disch's King of the Kalahari script and asked to work her magic on it. She wrote several drafts of the script, which was called alternately King of the Beasts and King of the Jungle.
The original plot of King of the Jungle was extremely different from the plot of the final film. First of all, Scar was a baboon. And, the story was about a war between the lions and the baboons. Rafiki was a cheetah, and Timon and Pumbaa were Simba's childhood friends. And, Scar manipulated Simba into becoming a "lazy, slovenly, horrible character" so he could be easily overthrown when he came of age.
Yep, you read that right. Simba pretty much became the kind of belching slacker you'd see in Superbad. As you can guess, that version of the script didn't last too long.
The Fine-Tuner: The Story Supervisor
When director Roger Allers joined the project, he brought a plucky young writer named Brenda Chapman with him. Chapman became the film's head of story, which basically means she was in charge of making the movie's plot work. Awesomely enough, she was the first woman to do so in the history of animated feature films. Glass ceiling: smashed.
Like Woolverton, Chapman came from a well-pedigreed background. She'd studied at CalArts, which is basically Disney Boot Camp, and done much of her on-the-ground story training in production for a film called The Little Mermaid. (Heard of it? We thought so.) Chapman began to fine-tune Woolverton's script, and The Lion King production team went to Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya in order to gain an appreciation for the environment of the film.
Would-be The Lion King director George Scribner quit shortly after the trip to Hell's Gate, and soon-to-be The Lion King director Rob Minkoff rushed in to fill his shoes. At this point, The Lion King production was in crisis: people were leaving the project willy-nilly, the story was unfocused, and Simba was still a frat boy.
After Minkoff and producer Don Hahn got involved, the team decided that the script needed a huge rewrite. With some input from the directors and storyboarders, Chapman rolled up her sleeves and began to draft new versions of the script. The team decided that the story needed a coming-of-age theme, and that the lions should be chilling in the savanna instead of the jungle.
Soon after that, The Lion King was born. Simba went from the lion version of Seth Rogen to noble young prince, Scar morphed into a lion, and Timon and Pumbaa became the bumbling meerkat-and-warthog comedy team we know and love today.