The Lion King has been enthralling children and adults for 20 years, but what did Examiners think when the film was first submitted for classification? 

The Lion King came to the BBFC for classification in July 1994 and was classified U. It followed shortly after the Disney hit Aladdin in 1993, which was classified U for scenes of mild threat. Like Aladdin, BBFC Examiners considered The Lion King to contain similar levels of mild threat as well as emotionally intense scenes.

The Examiner report for The Lion King available here, illustrates how the film was received by Examiners. Scenes such as the stampede which ends with the killing of Moufasa by the evil Ska is intense and emotionally powerful. However Examiners recognised the fairy tale traits so often found in Disney films which weave life lessons about loss, sympathy, recovery and good into exciting animated tales which are ultimately reassuring.

Examiners considered whether the film should be classified PG for its intensity and more violent sequences, but ultimately considered that these aspects of the film were well contained within a strongly moral context, where good ultimately triumphs over evil. There are also long sequences of relief in the film where Simba lives happily with Pumba the warthog and Timone the meerkat, learning their ‘no worries’ life motto.

However, Examiners had no in-depth research to which to refer. BBFC Guidelines consultations did not begin until 1999, so the BBFC organised a small parent and child screening, consisting of 22 children and their parents. The film was classified U soon after the screening when the BBFC was confident the U rating was the most appropriate category for the film.

These test screenings were not common place, but BBFC public consultations had not yet been established (the first took place in 1999) therefore public opinion about issues such as threat and emotional intensity in films aimed at younger children, was less clear than it is for BBFC Examiners today.

When The Lion King was submitted for classification ahead of its release on video, the distributor agreed to add further advice for parents to the video packaging in the form of an additional caption, which read: ‘Some scenes may be upsetting for very young children’.

Today The Lion King remains at the U category with BBFCinsight on the BBFC website indicating that the film contains some scenes of mild emotional intensity.