In Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, when a shocked Mufasa is hurled off a cliff by Scar, and his son Simba asks him to get up, will the computer-generated lions make audiences bawl? The internet has been divided over the film’s nature soon after the emergence of its trailer. Disney’s beloved film The Lion King (1995) was produced with 2D animation. Favreau’s remake, which will be out in 2019, features photo-realistic computer-generated animated versions of the film’s characters.

The Lion King (2019).

While Disney has never claimed that the 2019 remake is a live-action feature, the confusion began with director James Wan tweeting that it was one.

In reality, the actors (Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar) shot their scenes in front of a blue screen wearing virtual-reality headsets. Twitter users, however, given to clever quips and angry polemics, ensured that their voices were heard.

A remake of the 1995 film, which had been Disney’s highest-grossing animated production for years till the record was surpassed by Frozen (2013), was guaranteed to ignite intense passion among its fans. Debate raged over the necessity of a remake, even though Disney’s recent live-action remakes, The Jungle Book (2016) and The Beauty and The Beast (2017), were critically and commercially well-received.

At the time of its release, The Lion King was a unique production from Disney. It was the first animated film from the studio to feature an original story created by its team of writers. Over the years, this claim has faced several credible challenges from the Japanese anime, Kimba, The White Lion. made in 1965.

The Lion King (1994).
Kimba, The White Lion (1965).

Kimba, The White Lion was based on Jungle Emperor, a manga series created by Osamu Tezuka and published between 1950 and 1954. Tezuka, a prolific and influential creator of manga, is widely considered as the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney since his works, such as Astro Boy, not only became globally popular but also broke new ground for manga and animation. After the 1965 series, sequel series and reboots followed over time.

The similarities between the characters and themes of Kimba, The White Lion and those of The Lion King became obvious right after the release of the latter. According to the makers’ commentary of The Lion King DVD, the story, credited to 17 writers, was inspired partially by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and also by the Biblical relationship of Joseph and Moses.

The cloud scene from Jungle Emperor, which made it to the anime adaptation, and has a similar counterpart in The Lion King. Courtesy Manga Shonen magazine.

Kimba, The White Lion, set in Africa, just like The Lion King, revolves around the white lion Kimba (Leo, in the manga), who has to grow up outside his territory after his father, the righteous lion Caesar (Panja, in the manga) is killed by professional hunters. Kimba returns from the wild after years and attempts to establish amiable relations between humans and beasts.

Replace Kimba with Simba, Caesar with Mufasa, the human hunters with Scar, and you have the plot of The Lion King. The similarities do not end there. Scar, so named because of a scar on his left eye, bears similarities with the one-eyed evil lion Claw (Bubu, in the Japanese manga) who wants to kill Kimba’s family and become the jungle emperor. In The Lion King, Scar is Mufasa’s jealous brother and Simba’s uncle. Scar kills Mufasa, gets rid of Simba, and becomes the jungle’s king.

Claw and Scar. Courtesy Tezuka Productions/Disney.

Then there is the savant baboon, Dan’l Baboon (Burazza, in the manga), who mentors Kimba. Its counterpart in The Lion King is Rafiki. The spirited parrot, Pauly (Coco, in the manga), who is a close friend of Kimba is a lot like Zuzu from The Lion King. Scar is aided by three hyenas in The Lion King while Claw has two in the manga and the anime.

Dan’l Baboon and Rafiki. Courtesy Tezuka Productions/Disney.
Pauly and Zuzu. Courtesy Tezuka Productions/Disney.
The hyenas of Kimba, The White Lion (left) and The Lion King. Courtesy Tezuka Productions/Disney.

The first sequence of The Lion King begins with Rafiki introducing a baby Simba atop a cliff to the other animals of the jungle. The 1966 sequel series begins with the titular hero standing tall on a cliff.

Both Kimba and Simba see the images of their fathers forming in the sky during crucial moments. This was referenced in Round Springfield, an episode from The Simpsons that was aired in 1995. In one scene, a parody of Mufasa appears in the clouds and tells Lisa Simpson, “You must avenge my death, Kimba... I mean, Simba!”

Round Springfield, The Simpsons.

In 2017, YouTube user Alli Kat uploaded a video on YouTube depicting how The Lion King and Kimba, The White Lion’s similarities extend beyond plot devices and characters to include storyboards and fight choreography, such as those between Scar and Mufasa/Simba and Claw and Kimba.

Alli Kat's study of The Lion King and Kimba, The White Lion.

The directors of The Lion King, Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, claimed to be unaware of Kimba, The White Lion. “I could certainly understand Kimba’s creators feeling angry if they felt we had stolen ideas from them,” Allers told Italian magazine Fumettologica in 2014. “If I had been inspired by Kimba I would certainly acknowledge my inspiration.”

Minkoff told Los Angeles Times, close to the wake of the controversy in 1994, that The Lion King took years to be developed in 1994, was in no way inspired by Kimba, The White Lion, and that it was not “not unusual to have characters like a baboon, a bird or hyenas” in stories set in Africa.

Takayuki Matsutani, the president of Tezuka Productions, the company formed by Tezuka, acknowledged the similarities, but added that his staff, after seeing The Lion King, concluded that the similarities could not be avoided “as long as you use animals as characters and try to draw images out of them”. Matsutani added that both productions were different and that The Lion King was an original work “completed by the Disney production’s long-lasting excellent production technique”. Hakuna Matata, then.