The Lyin’ King

The following is an article from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader.

Over the years we’ve reported how Disney animators massaged, censored, and sanitized classic fables and fairy tales for mass audiences. But this is the first time we’ve ever heard of them “borrowing” so much of another artist’s work. Did they? Or was it just a coincidence?


In 1950, a Japanese artist named Osamu Tezuka created Jungle Taitei (Jungle Emperor), a story about an orphaned lion cub who is destined to rule the animals in Africa. From 1950 to 1954 it was a Japanese comic book series, and in 1965 Tezuka turned it into Japan’s first color animated television series. The following year, all 52 episodes were released in the United States under the name Kimba the White Lion. Over the next few years, Kimba enjoyed some success in syndication, mostly on local or regional TV stations, and Tezuka freely acknowledged that the work of Walt Disney -Bambi in particular- was an inspiration for the story of his lion hero.

In 1994, nearly 30 years after the creation of Kimba and five years after Tezuka’s death in 1989, Disney released its feature-length animated film The Lion King -about an orphaned lion cub destined to rule the animals in Africa.


Officially, the executives and animators at Disney denied they had ever heard of Kimba. But fans of the original Kimba the White Lion were incensed with the many similarities they found between the two projects. A group of more than a thousand animators in Japan sent a petition to Disney asking the studio to acknowledge its debt to the original series. Disney refused, citing only Bambi and Shakespeare’s play Hamlet as influences.

Walt Disney reportedly met Tezuka at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and mentioned that he someday hoped to make something similar to Tezuka’s earlier creation, Astro Boy. But Disney died in 1966, 28 years before The Lion King was made. If he really was a fan of Tezuka’s work, would he have approved of the project?


Some of the most striking similarities between The Lion King and Kimba the White Lion:

* The main characters’ names are remarkably similar: Simba and Kimba.

* Both are orphaned as cubs and destined to become rulers.

* Each lost their father in treacherous circumstances.

* In The Lion King, Scar enlists the aid of three hyenas (Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed). In Kimba the White Lion, Claw enlists the aid of two hyenas (Tib and Tab).

* One of Simba’s friends is a hysterical yet comical bird (named Zazu). One of Kimba’s friends is a hysterical yet comical bird (named Pauley).

* In The Lion King, Simba turns to a wise but eccentric baboon (named Rakifi) for guidance. In Kimba the White Lion, Kimba turns to a wise but eccentric baboon (named Dan’l Baboon) for guidance.

* Simba has a cute girlfriend cub named Nala. Kimba has a cute girlfriend cub named Kitty.

* Simba’s chief nemesis is Scar, an evil lion with a scar over his left eye. Kimba’s primary nemesis is Claw, an evil one-eyed lion with a scar over his blind left eye.

* Kimba and Simba each speak to the spirit of their father, who appears in the clouds.

* The image of Simba standing on Pride Rock in The Lion King is almost identical to an image of Kimba as a grown lion, standing on a jutting rock surveying his kingdom in Kimba the White Lion.


Disney may have “borrowed” the idea, but they were legally protected. Mushi Productions, the company that made Kimba the White Lion, went bankrupt in 1973 and U.S. rights to the show ran out in 1978. That means Kimba was in the public domain. Someone tried to release it to home video in the U.S. in 1993, but was delayed by a lawsuit from an undisclosed company. At the same time, details of Disney’s new movie began to surface. In an online chat in 1993, Roy Disney mentioned Kimba, the lead character in Disney’s next animated film, The Jungle King. (Kimba’s original English title was The Jungle Emperor.)

(Image credit: DeviantART member WeisseEdelweiss)


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader, a fantastic book by the Bathroom Readers' Institute. The 17th book in this the Bathroom Reader series is filled to the brim with facts, fun, and fascination, including articles about the Origin of Kung Fu, How to Kill a Zombie, Women in Space and more!

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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I used to love watching Kimba's adventures when I was a kid in the 70s! When Disney's ripoff came out, I refused to even rent it, despite the fact that I was the only one who had even heard of Kimba the White Lion. It's great hearing from other fans!
Now, how do we get someone to put it out on DVD?
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Kimba was my fav cartoon as a little kid. I cried for 2 weeks when they pulled Kimba off channel 11. I was devastated; there was no notice, just one day it was gone. As an adult I went to see The Lion King in the theater and walked out furious; they clearly stole the story from Kimba.

Yeah, I'm a little passionate about that white lion cub.
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