It’s an image, recognized worldwide.
Lift a baby up over your head with both hands, as characters Cameron and Mitchell did on the sitcom “Modern Family” in 2009, and it’s understood you’re making reference to “The Lion King.”
The Broadway touring musical about Simba the lion cub returns to Omaha’s Orpheum Theater on Tuesday for a four-week stay, and it’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t know what “The Lion King” is about.
Since Disney’s blockbuster movie opened in 1994, and the Broadway musical version has toured widely for more than a dozen years, there’s hardly a corner of the globe left that this classic coming-of-age story hasn’t reached.
In fact, the stage version alone has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, French, Mandarin, German, Korean and Dutch.
And “Hakuna Matata,” once an obscure Swahili saying that not even most Tanzanians used, has become a catch phrase understood nearly everywhere to mean “No worries.”
The show’s impact on pop culture was assured from the outset by Elton John and Tim Rice’s score, which produced massive radio hits and influenced subsequent Broadway composers.
Three of the movie’s tunes competed against each other for a best-song Oscar: “Hakuna Matata,” “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the last of which won.
“The Lion King” later won Tonys and a Grammy as well.
References to the show are everywhere.
“The Daily Show” used “Circle of Life” in a Barack Obama skit. The opening chant from the show was played at the White House Correspondents Dinner, referencing the president’s Kenyan roots.
Other television series that have spoofed or referenced “The Lion King” include “Animaniacs,” “South Park,” “The Critic,” “Doctor Who,” “The Simpsons” and “House.”
Disney itself has referenced “The Lion King” in “Toy Story,” when “Hakuna Matata” is heard playing on Andy’s car radio, and “Hercules,” when Scar’s skin is worn by the title character. The warthog Pumbaa, a “Lion King” character, has a cameo in “Aladdin.”
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has been covered by many artists, such as Michael Crawford, Sara Paxton and Brian Wilson.
The PlayStation 3 video game “Afrika” was renamed “Hakuna Matata,” and the phrase has become the answer to many questions on quiz shows and in trivia games.
On MTV’s “The Real World: St. Thomas,” two of the house residents found they had tattoos reading “Hakuna Matata.”
Video games, merchandise, DVDs and recordings have also pumped “Lion King” characters and music into some of the planet’s most remote corners.
Contact the writer: