The Top Uses of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in Movies

Everyone knows the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” also known as “Wimowey’, “Wimba Way” and “Awimbawe”. The popular song became a United States Billboard Number 1 hit in December 1961 when it was re-recorded by The Tokens. The lead singer of The Tokens, Mitch Margo, died in his Studio City, California home on November 24 at the age of 70. He started his musical career at the age of 13 and honed his skills as a multi-instrumentalist. Mitch Margo and his brother Phil started the band The Tokens with Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin and Jay Siegel. Their first hit was “Tonight I Fell In Love”. Their popular songs include “I Hear Trumpets Blow” and “Portrait of My Love”. Their most popular recording was the remake of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the song continues to bring in money for Margo and his family.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was written and originally recorded by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds in 1939 for the South African Gallo Record Company. The song was written as a Zulu folk song and was originally known under the title of “Mbube” which means Lion in Zulu. Mbube was re-recorded during the 1950’s and 1960’s by several musical artists including Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, The Weavers and The Kingston Trio. The 1961 recording by The Tokens is still the most popular today and has been used in several television shows and films. The song has earned over $15 million in royalties.

Here are our picks for the top uses of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in movies.

The Lion King

The best use of the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was in Disney’s “The Lion King”. The animated movie about a lion cub, Simba’s, coming of age upon the death of his father, the king of the jungle, is an obvious choice of film to use “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. “The Lion King was released in 1994 and is well known for its sound track with original songs like Elton John’s “The Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. It’s inclusion of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in the franchise including stage shows is perfect. Jungle outcasts, wisecracking meerkat Timon and naïve warthog Pumbaa, take in young Simba after the death of his father. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” serves as background music for the mismatched pair raising Simba. There was controversy around using the song in the movie, however. In 2004 Solomon Linda’s family filed a lawsuit seeking royalties for use of the song. The family received a settlement two years later for $1.6 million in royalties.

Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls

The 1995 sequel to “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” starred Jim Carrey in a role that help increase his status as an A List celebrity. The comedy about a detective with a special knack with animals followed up with a hit sequel that took Ace Ventura to Africa to recover a stolen sacred bat which is said will prevent war between two tribes. The song is a great although obvious choice to use in this comedy about a detective with a way with animals who travels to Africa to save an exotic bat in the jungle.

The Sandlot

“The Sandlot” takes place in small town America during 1962. The coming of age movie is about a boy making friends as the new kid in town. One memorable scene is set to the background of the popular classic hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. “Ham” Porter explains to new kid “Scotty” Smalls the simplicity of making S’mores and the exceptional reward the snacks provide with all of their oozy marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker goodness. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” would certainly have played on the radio in such a scene during that time.


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