Their pants would be on fire if they wore any…
Disney’s The Lion King (1994) is one of the most beloved animated classics in cinematic history and is a fondly nostalgic piece of many childhoods. However, was it ever truly an original product of Disney or is there something nefarious behind it all?
Is The Lion King actually more like The Lying King?
King By Proxy?
Since its initial release, Disney’s The Lion King has been decried by certain people who point out the uncanny similarities between the beloved animated classic and Kimba The White Lion, a Japanese anime based on a manga by the late legendary Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Black Jack, etc).
Throughout the years, the House of Mouse has defiantly denied any claims that The Lion King was influenced or inspired in any capacity by Kimba The White Lion. The company’s official stance is that those involved with developing and animating The Lion King had no prior knowledge of Tezuka’s work.
In an interview with The LA Times, The Lion King co-director Rob Minkoff said that he wasn’t familiar with Kimba The White Lion (when making The Lion King) and that it wasn’t unusual for a movie set in Africa “to have characters like a baboon, a bird or hyenas.”
“I know for a fact that [“Kimba“] has never been discussed as long as I’ve been on the project.
In my experience, if Disney becomes aware of anything like that, they say you will not do it.
People are claiming copyright infringement all the time.”
One does wonder: is there any truth to that? Let’s look at the facts, shall we?
In Plain(s) Sight
Kimba The White Lion‘s anime adaptation aired in Japan from 1965 to 1967, becoming the first Japanese animated television series with featuring colour. It later started airing in the US in 1966.
What this means is that by the time that The Lion King was released in 1994, Kimba The White Lion has already been airing in the US for almost three decades.
It is highly unlikely that those who worked on The Lion King at Disney (at the time) were totally unfamiliar with the Japanese anime, especially considering that these were professionals, seniors and otherwise, who animate for a living.
They should at least have an inkling of knowledge about Osamu Tezuka’s major works and anime in general.
What about the alleged similarities between The Lion King and Kimba The White Lion? It’s true that both movies feature what seems to be two entirely different stories. The Lion King is about Simba, a cub who leaves the pride after believing that he was responsible for his father’s death and later returns to take his rightful place on the throne.
Meanwhile, Kimba The White Lion is about Kimba (or Jungle Emperor Leo if you’re from Japan), a cub whose family is captured by poachers and supposedly died during the journey. Kimba survives, but finds himself in the middle of human civilization, making friends with them in the process.
There are no humans in The Lion King but certain plot points and designs do seem remarkably similar. These include:
- Both feature an evil lion villain with a scar and black mane who takes over the throne in the absence of the protagonist.
- Claw in Kimba The White Lion (left) / Scar in The Lion King (right).
- Both cubs grow up to eventually retake the throne and succeed their kingly fathers
Simba in The Lion King (left) / Kimba in Kimba The White Lion (right).
- Both feature the symbolic scene of the protagonist standing on a rock.
Kimba standing on a rock that looks like Pride Rock in Kimba The White Lion (left) / Simba standing on Pride Rock in The Lion King (right).
- A lioness love interest for the protagonist.
Kitty in Kimba The White Lion (left) / Nala in The Lion King (right).
- Both films feature animal characters who fulfill similar roles, such as a wise baboon character, a mentoring bird, and bumbling hyenas.
(Dan’l Baboon in Kimba The White Lion (left) / Rafiki in The Lion King (right).Pauly Parrot in Kimba The White Lion (left) / Zazu in The Lion King (right).The hyenas in Kimba The White Lion (left) / The hyenas in The Lion King (right).
There are actually a lot more similarities between The Lion King and Kimba The White Lion than the ones listed above. You can check out the side-by-side comparisons of both in the video below.
A True Circle (Of Life) Indeed
It’s not totally unheard of artists and creators paying homage to one another. For instance, Marvel and DC Comics have always done this to a point, with characters like Darkseid and Thanos, Namor and Aquaman, Superman and Hyperion, and countless more.
However, in the case of The Lion King and Kimba The White Lion, Disney’s claim that something so clearly similar hasn’t influenced their work in any way sounds absurd and arrogant. There are too many near-identical plot details and designs (some of which I listed above) that are impossible to simply dismiss.
This particular controversy may never be solved but ultimately it doesn’t diminish the valued standings of both The Lion King and Kimba The White Lion in the annals of pop culture. Both of them should be appreciated for the legendary animated heritage that they are, in spite of everything.