How The Lion King Got Away With Ripping Off a Japanese Anime Series

How The Lion King Got Away With Ripping Off a Japanese Anime Series
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Copy, but don't make it too obvious.

When The Lion King roared into theaters in 1994, it shattered every possible record, becoming Disney 's highest-grossing film and breaking with the studio's tradition of retelling classic stories.

Marketed as Disney's "first original story," it etched itself into the hearts of generations with its timeless tale of Simba, the young lion who takes his steps to become king of Pride Rock. However, it wasn't long before the story was challenged, as controversy erupted as soon as The Lion King was released in Japan.

Viewers quickly drew parallels between this Disney sensation and a Japanese-American anime series, Kimba the White Lion. Created by Osamu Tezuka in 1965, this Japanese series centers on a young lion named Kimba and his journey to become king of the jungle.

The similarities between the two stories are hard to ignore, as both heroes share not only a similar name and appearance but also a strikingly identical heritage. Both stories revolve around the ascent of a young lion cub to the throne, marked by the profound loss of their fathers.

The parallels deepen with the presence of an antagonist, a sinister black-maned lion with a scar, accompanied by a trio of cackling hyena sidekicks. Even the comedic bird advisors — Zazu, the hornbill in Disney’s classic, and Polly, the parrot in Tezuka’s masterpiece — appear as uncanny mirrors of one another.

How The Lion King Got Away With Ripping Off a Japanese Anime Series - image 1

Disney, however, vigorously denied any connection between these two stories. Co-director Rob Minkoff maintained that he was entirely unaware of the TV series, despite the fact that another co-director, Roger Allers, had prior experience working in Japan during the 1980s.

Actor Matthew Broderick, renowned for his portrayal of adult Simba, further fueled the debate by confessing that he initially thought he was participating in a project intricately connected to Tezuka’s work (via Hollywood Reporter).

How The Lion King Got Away With Ripping Off a Japanese Anime Series - image 2

Ignoring the undeniable parallels, Disney steadfastly maintained that The Lion King was inspired solely by Shakespeare's Hamlet and African culture. Despite an impassioned appeal from Japanese cartoonists and animators, no legal action was taken and the matter eventually died down.

While the debate persists to this day, both The Lion King and Kimba the White Lion continue to hold a special place in the hearts of fans worldwide. And while the controversy surrounding the similarities between the two productions remains unresolved, it's clear that these gems explore similar themes and reflect a shared appreciation for the circle of life.

Who is the real king of Pride Rock?

Source: The Hollywood Reporter