In this popular song from the 1994 Disney classic The Lion King, Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella) share their worry-free philosophy with Simba (Matthew Broderick), a lion cub who is grieving over the death of his father. The Swahili phrase "Hakuna Matata," they explain, means "no worries" and helped Pumbaa deal with his own rough childhood, when all the other animals shunned him over his frequent flatulence. Simba also adopts the motto as he transitions from a cub to a full-grown lion. Jason Weaver and Joseph Williams provided the singing voice for young and adult Simba, respectively.
Along with the film's other big numbers, like "Can You Feel The Love Tonight
" and "Circle of Life
," this was written by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice
(lyrics). It started out as "Warthog Rhapsody," a song that found life on the soundtrack's sequel, Rhythm of the Pride Lands
. Rumor has it, Rice was inspired by the British comedy series Bottom
and its stars Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, and he even wanted the actors to play Timon and Pumbaa. While Mayall did audition for various parts in the film, Rice said the story is false. His aim was to broaden Simba's horizons and inject a bit of humor into the plot after the tragedy of Mufasa's death. "It had to introduce [Timon and Pumbaa], had to be about their way of life and what they wanted to teach Simba, an impressionable young cub," he told Vulture
. "The main thing is they're comic relief. They represent a different aspect of life. It's not all about lions and prides."
On the special edition DVD of the movie, The Lion King production team says they learned the phrase from a tour guide during a safari in Kenya, but Rice told Vulture he spotted it in a Swahili book.
This initially began with a lengthy verse by Timon, but directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff thought it took too long to get into the swing of the song, so they cut it and incorporated a bit of the chorus into the dialogue between Timon and Simba. "We figured out a way to actually begin the song with the chorus," Minkoff explained, "where he says, 'Hakuna matata, what a wonderful phrase."
This was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but lost to another Lion King number: "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."
This was also performed by the cast of the long-running Broadway musical adaptation, starring Scott Irby-Ranniar as young Simba, Jason Raize as grown Simba, Max Casella as Timon and Tom Alan Robbins as Pumbaa. The 2019 live action/CGI version, starring Donald Glover as Simba and Beyonce as his love interest, Nala, also incorporates the tune, performed by Seth Rogan's Pumbaa and Billy Eichner's Timon.
Nathan Lane, who voiced Timon in the 1994 film, used the phrase "hakuna matata" in the 1997 comedy Mouse Hunt.
Alvin in the Chipmunks covered this on the 1995 album When You Wish Upon A Chipmunk.
On the 1997 Seinfeld episode "The Merv Griffin Show," an embarrassed Elaine tells Jerry how a coworker caught her singing the tune on her lunch break.
Shortly after the film was released, Disney trademarked the phrase so other companies couldn't exploit the brand by plastering the motto on their products. In 2018, close to 200,000 people signed a petition for Disney to give up the trademark on the grounds of cultural appropriation. "The term 'Hakuna Matata' is not a Disney creation, hence not an infringement on intellectual or creative property, but an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole," the petition reads. But, as trademark experts point out, Disney doesn't really own the phrase, it just owns the use of the phrase when connected to the film or the company. "People talk about appropriation," Phillip Johnson, a professor of commercial law at Cardiff Law School in Wales told The New York Times, "but a trademark is all about appropriation of language within a narrow commercial sphere, outside that space people are free to use the language as they wish."