I had an 'aha' moment when I realized that if I had finished eight seconds later, my solve time could have been a palindrome. Wow.
I was able to complete most of the puzzle in fairly short order, but the south east was my own personal circle of hell, to grossly overstate the matter. I don't think I've ever seen THELIONKING, although I have picked up some parts of it over time, including HAKUNAMATATA, CIRCLEOFLIFE, and, thanks to the NYTX, NALA. :) But, the parts I didn't know, including director JULIETAYMOR, setting PRIDEROCK, and villain, SCAR all seemed to be lumped together, a problem further compounded by my slip into the too-specific at 44D where I entered blAdE for "Need for doing toe loops," which was, unfortunately supported by an initial misspelling of MATAdA. It wasn't until I saw SACl at 47A (QB tackle) that I realized my mistake and got it squared away. Supporting the central theme, we also get a literal circle of L I F E in the center of the puzzle.
Elsewhere, I liked:
First mate? (ADAM)
Dug in, in a way (ATE)
Getting long in the tooth (AGING)
Pack animals (BURROS)
List quickly, with "off" (REEL)
It's worthless (TRASH)
Dreaded one? (RASTA) - ha!
Other entries that I was less RAHRAH about the inclusion of EYER "One who's looking", ONS "Slip-___ (shoes)", OTIC "Suffix with hypn-" and ESSES "Valuable Scrabble tiles." But, NOWORRIES, we know that a puzzle constructor mufasa tough choice now and again.