This forgotten Lion King spin-off paved the way for changes at Disney parks!

1995's Circle of Life film at Epcot was not only a fun show but helped change the way Disney used IP at the parks!
Photo: Disney's The Lion King - Walt Disney Pictures
Photo: Disney's The Lion King - Walt Disney Pictures /
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How The Circle of Life shifted Disney parks

Thanks to The Lion King’s popularity, the film remained a favorite at The Land until February 3, 2018. That’s a terrific 23-year run, one that’s more impressive given Nestle stopped sponsoring the pavilion in 2009. 

The attraction was eventually replaced by Awesome Planet, narrated by Ty Burrell as his Modern Family character Phil Dunphy trying to “sell” Earth like it’s a house. 

Given how popular The Lion King has remained, one wonders if it’s possible this film returns. However, its debut is notable as it would truly begin the rise of IP attractions at Epcot as well as other Disney parks. Back then, Epcot was still doing its best to avoid real connections to Disney characters (it took a few years to even sell Mickey merchandise) and, especially with IP.

This changed things, a blatant use of Disney characters to try and sell Epcot’s main messages in an environmental tale. While it took a while to build, it’s now become commonplace at Epcot with Frozen in Norway, a Ratatouille ride in France and the Living Seas with Nemo. 

Yet somehow, Circle of Life worked nicely as the Lion King characters fit a tale about the environment, and its message of respect came off as much less preachy via the presentation. The kids are more inclined to listen to Simba talk of the damage of man more than some scientific lecture and, like Timon and Pumba, come around to respecting the planet. This is the type of IP use fans can enjoy more than the fare of today and a nice connection to a Disney classic. 

While it did shift up more IP in the parks, this film also captured the classic Epcot feeling of "edutainment," not talking down to the audience but making the message meaningful and fun as well. It's something that's a bit lost now with the rush to make everything connected to a Disney property and it worked.

So while some fans may complain a bit about Circle of Life paving the way for more IP influence at Epcot, it does retain a nice charm and how Disney used to be able to mix the message with a fun presentation, a trait they need to revive today.