The musical score was written by Elton John and the lyrics by Tim Rice. In the film the song is sung by Timon (a meerkat voiced by Nathan Lane), Pumbaa (a warthog voiced by Ernie Sabella), and Simba, a young lion voiced by Jason Weaver (singing voice as a cub) and Joseph Williams (as an adult). The two main comedy characters in the film, (Timon and Pumbaa), talk to Simba about moving forward from their troubled pasts and forgetting their worries, and Simba grows from cub to adult as the song progresses. The song also provides a backstory for Pumbaa, explaining that he was ostracized from animal society for his excessive flatulence. It contains several breaks at which the music grinds to a halt and then starts again. It makes use of a large proportion of the orchestra as well as many other more unusual instruments including an elaborate drum kit.
A second version of the song, produced for the companion album Rhythm of the Pride Lands, was performed by Jimmy Cliff featuring Lebo M. This version of the song is slightly modified the previously unreleased verse focusing on Timon's past being partially rewritten with a different instrument arrangement but remains very similar to the original. It was released as a single with "He Lives in You" as a B-side, and was ultimately used in the Broadway theatrical version of The Lion King.
Rice is said to have got the idea for the lyrics for the song from watching the comedy series Bottom and at one point wanted the show's stars Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson to play Timon and Pumbaa.
The song was based on an earlier song written early on in the production stage called "Warthog Rhapsody". Although the two songs shared the same message and position in the film, when Elton and Tim began to work on the music the song was completely rewritten and it eventually evolved into "Hakuna Matata". "Warthog Rhapsody" was eventually re-produced and released on Rhythm of the Pride Lands. The melody of Warthog Rhaspody was used in The Lion King 1½ for the song "That's All I Need".
Hakuna matata is a Swahili phrase that is frequently translated as "no worries". In a bonus features of The Lion King Special Edition DVD, the film's production team claims that it picked up the term from a tour guide while on safari in Kenya. It was then developed into an ideology that, along with the seemingly antithetical value of duty to the monarchy, is central to the moral content of the film.
The title phrase is pronounced with American English phonology within the song, including a flapped "t", rather than as it is pronounced in Swahili.
In one of Disney's many self references, the "Hakuna Matata" song can be heard briefly in the 1995 Pixar film Toy Story, in which it was played in Andy's mom's car while Molly sees Woody and Buzz Lightyear through one of the side view mirrors. This song can be heard in the 2015 Disney and Pixar movie Inside Out.