It's exactly as amazing as it sounds. Actually, probably more amazing than it sounds.
One thing that made it so cool was the amount of scenes with something coming at the screen...with teeth bared.
Perhaps as a testament to the popularity of the film, it outgrossed every competing film two weeks in a row and is the highest grossing re-release since the original Star Wars was re-released in 1997. In fact, Lion King was grossing so much that theaters decided to extend the limited release, even after ads for the home video re-release started airing.
Rafiki going Screaming Mandrill Fu on some hyenas.
Rafiki gets an earlier and subtle one - he's a shaman, after all, and had to have been rolling the bones for quite some time after Scar took over. He no doubt got all kinds of confusing signs, since of course Simba was dead...everyone knew this! But then one day, the tea leaves tell him - in no uncertain terms - Simba's alive and grown up. All of those previous confusing signs suddenly make sense, and he realizes...
"It is time!"
Mufasa leaping out of a stampede to climb a sheer cliff after saving Simba.
The fact that Mufasa saved Simba successfully. He went into the fray, got hit by a wildebeast and kept going, caught Simba in midair, weaved back through trouble and brought Simba to safety. Meanwhile, Simba avoided being trampled several times. The contemporary equivalent is doing the same on a busy highway. Mufasa and Simba are downright valiant.
Banzai: (as Scar gets an Oh Crap expression) Yeah, that's what I heard.
If you thought that Ed was just the comic relief hyena with no chance at being intimidating, his sinister chuckle, which is very much the death knell for Scar, will prove you wrong.
Then they tear Scar apart as the fire prevents you from seeing anything more. We only see it in shadow but for a Disney movie that's balls.
Say what you want, the fact that Scar's plan actually succeeds is a pretty awesome achievement on his part, and grants him the status of one of the most successful, if not the most successful Disney villain. It's likely one of the reasons for his sizeable fanbase.
As well as the lionesses responding with roars of their own, while that glorious African chanting kicks in.
For that matter, the opening sequence, "Circle of Life" is a Moment of Awesome for the bloody movie. If one character had to be placed as MOA recipient, it has to be Rafiki, but that whole sequence just leaves the jaw agape Every. Single. Time. Disney's first trailer for this film was no more than this sequence!
The fight between Simba and Scar, complete with a majestic version of the music that plays when Mufasa shows Simba the kingdom. (Which is not included on the official soundtrack, damnit.) Just as importantly, it clearly shows that Simba fights in a distinctive way from his father, in a cooler, more cerebral way.
It's in slow-mo, but awesome all the same!
To put this scene in perspective. You have two Lions battling each other for the Crown, atop of a fiery mountain while lightning blazes in the background.
Mufasa's head appearing in the clouds to give Simba confidence.
Bowling for Hyenas
Mufasa telling the hyenas in no uncertain terms that if they mess with his kid again, he will END them (also comes with a little bit of a Funny Moment). His perfectly timed arrival: Simba tries to scare the hyenas off with a roar, but it's a "rather uninspiring thing". The hyenas smirk and dare him to give it another crack. He takes another deep breath-and what seems to come out is the THUNDER of one VERY angry adult lion. The hyenas have just enough time to Oh Crap before Mufasa's Big Damn Heroes arrival is clear.
Not a minute earlier, Simba saw Nala slipping down the cliff, the hyenas about to catch her. He races to save her, with Shenzi about to make a meal of Nala... only for Simba to slash right through her cheek, leaving three deep claw marks. And judging by her growl, he truly angered her.
It's a small one, but when the hyenas corner the cubs, Simba pushes Nala against the wall and plants himself protectively in front of her.
The hyenas smirking and daring Simba to give it another crack.
The animation in the stampede. For one thing it marked a milestone in animated filmmaking as the first time computer generated animation was used heavily across a sequence. But more than that, the technical side isn't what people remember about the scene: all they remember is the incredible emotion it's imbued with.
Strangely, this scene can also be a crowning moment for Scar; after his initial shock (where he thinks Simba is Mufasa returned,) he recovers his composure extremely quickly, manages to Hannibal Lecture Simba off a cliff, and actually gets into a position where he can kill Simba and the lionesses are too stunned by the revelation Scar brought to light to react. If he hadn't suddenly grasped the Villain Ball with his Evil Gloating, he could well have turned Simba's entire awesome return into a Shoot the Shaggy Dog and killed him there. Scar is not only one of the very few Disney villains to actually accomplish his goal of becoming king, he manages to Xanatos Speed Chess his way to a Near Villain Victory even after the Rightful King Returns.
The moment leading to this is pretty impressive. After a heated argument with Sirabi, Scar finally snaps and smacks her to the ground for mentioning the name of his cursed brother. Straight afterwards, he notices a very angry looking Simba on an above ledge. As he leaps in front of him, Scar is naturally ready to shit himself.
Real-life example: Jim Cummings doing a perfect impersonation of Jeremy Irons towards the end of "Be Prepared" (everything after "YOU WON'T GET A SNIFF WITHOUT ME!"). You would never know the difference.
Nala travelling across a desert on the small chance that she might be able to find food. Bear in mind that she's starving, and has been suffering under Scar's tyrannical rule for years. That took guts. Or maybesuicidal depression. But it was still epic, even if Simba later repeated the feat.
Simba's Big Damn Heroes moment when she goes after Pumbaa, until they put two and two together.
Its massive success-both critically and financially-is a Crowning Moment Of Awesome considering that Disney just thought it would be a "filler" movie while they worked on Pocahontas, which they expected to be the smash hit. We all know how that turned out.
The Lion King II
Kovu standing up to his mother and declaring he wants nothing more to do with the Cult of Scar.
As cubs, Kovu and Kiara saving each other in the crocodile swamp and gaining respect for each other's abilities.
Vitani, having effectively raised Kovu from a cub, is the first to listen to him when he turns on the Outlanders. Between them, they have enough influence to turn everyone against Zira in a matter of moments, but the other lionesses only really seem to make that decision after Vitani defects. We don't see her on screen much, but Zira's daughter must be a damn good leader to hold that much sway.
"Not One of Us" is just... so primal in its expression of hatred and the casting-out of someone.
The beginning of the movie. Just like her dad before her, Kiara gets presented before the animals as the new princess. While the song He Lives In You plays in the background.
In the original script, Zira actually willingly dropped off the cliff ledge than let herself be saved by Kiara. A villain she is, but she proved to have something over Scar simply by being consistent about it to very end.
The Lion King 1 1/2
The way Timon saves the day when he, his mom, Uncle Max, and Pumbaa are cornered by hyenas. To elaborate, he formulates a plan that involves Ma and Max digging a tunnel barely held by sticks while Timon and Pumbaa get their attention. The plan nearly works, until the part where Max is to collapse the tunnel by toppling the sticks (taking the hyenas above with it), where a loose rock puts a snag into it. Timon resolves this by diving into the tunnel to finish the plan. and he does so…just before Shenzi could reach the other three. He also makes it out alive just as his Ma starts to worry.
Most of the crowning moments from the first film are cleverly symbolically shown in the musical. A few of the results potentially upstage the film:
If you thought "The Circle of Life" was a Moment of Awesome for the original film version of The Lion King, just wait until you see it live.
They found a way to have several actors appear from the crowds holding props that, together, materialized a full-scale African elephant which walked convincingly onto the stage! It always gets applause. Julie Taymor remembers this as one of the crowning achievements.
The Wildebeast stampede is completely on-stage, using a combination of a projected background of Afro-styled art depictions of them, along with a full group of costumes and some clever use of the rotating sets.
The use of full-human actors with distinctive facepaint for the lions allows fight scenes to be very distinctive.
When Mufasa appears in the clouds to give Simba confidence, Mufasa's face is a gigantic prop that manages to shimmer into place from out of nowhere, larger than most of the entire sets of the show. This, accompanied by a chorus on-stage in the corners, gives the biggest chills in the show along with the Circle of Life opening.
Meta: While this is a highly personal one for Alaskan troper musical fans, this particular show was not built for two-thousand-seat facilities, nor for circular arenas - eliminating the two major performance spaces in the city (the Atwood Concert Hall and the Sullivan Arena). When local TV celebrity John Carpenter wanted to make it happen, he had to convince the city to let the show's producers massively modify the Atwood, taking out significant amounts of the sound-direction paneling to add two platforms for drum sets, taking out two columns of seats for specific moments where actors and/or gigantic costume animals ran through the aisles, and making sure that support actors could easily get up to higher levels in the audience; combined with a few precision tweaks to the show, the entire thing managed to run to two weeks of non-stop sold-out shows - a record for both that particular tour that far (this was 2009, ten years after the musical started) and for any multi-show event in Alaskan history - along with possibly one of the strongest performances the musical ever saw due to its more intimate audience.
Child Simba leaves during Hakuna Matata running offstage. ADULT SIMBA TARZAN SWINGS IN, SINGING THE SONG CALMLY THE ENTIRE TIME.
The song He Lives In You. BIG TIME.
The added scene where Timon nearly goes over a waterfall into a gator's snapping maw. When he gets out of said dilemma, he's acting totally casual, not even remotely shaken by what just happened. Because, hey, hakuna matata.