John Kani and Lebo M. Picture: © 2019 Disney
The opening weekend for The Lion King in North America raked in an astounding $180million (R2.5billion), making it the second-best performing opening for this year.

The excitement has trickled down to South Africa, with social media abuzz and cinemas selling out.

On Thursday, the launch hosted by the Johannesburg Country Club left nothing to chance, turning the space into a safari haven for fans, celebrities and dignitaries. Guests of honour John Kani and Lebo M thrilled guests with their speeches and musical performance before the movie began.

The soundtrack to the iconic movie has always been magical. Now, with the addition of Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles the musicality has become even more explosive.

Circle of Life, the iconic intro song, has a story behind it, one that music director Lebo M shared.

“Originally, Lion King was not a favourite to work on by animators at Disney. It was seen as more of a Nat Geo show, whereas everyone wanted to work on something sexier like Pocahontas.

"When I entered the room to do the demo of what became Circle of Life things changed. I now know that after I left that created a new direction of how the movie would be made.

"The South Africanness of what we brought is the tie that binds it all because it is the emotional connect through music that the world associated with. This formed a big part of the success of The Lion King.”

With the continent becoming a place of inspiration for many a movie these days, Kani said this was because of the legacy of The Lion King.

“In 1994 it exploded in the living rooms with the little children. Then came the theatre productions, which ran all over the world and became a staple to visit. Now the movie in CGI.

"Everybody has a special relationship with a particular character it’s like a once-upon-a-time African folk tale that you always want to hear told by different storytellers in different mediums.”

He was especially proud of the fact that the movie allowed them to speak as Africans.

“The Lion King gives us an opportunity to speak from our point of view (about) our humanity, inheritance and who we are.”

Lebo M echoed these sentiments, saying that there was nothing like being on home turf, referring to the South African premiere on Mandela Day.

“It was our third stop after Los Angeles and London, but became the first real stop because it is where the spirit of who you really are that is right there and you are surrounded by 500 or more people of your country and it is Mandela Day and something happens in the air.

"It was something magical and special about the premiere that made it clear that South Africans and the continent of Africa have spiritually and emotionally taken custodianship of The Lion King.”

Kani said he wanted people to use the story as a parallel to their own lives. “You should be able to say this character reminds me of this person. It should speak to you in your heart and soul so you can reflect your own situation and environment.”

The Lion King is at cinemas now.