I would probably expect 98% of the people reading this article right now have either heard or seen The Lion King. Many people may be surprised Lion King wasn’t an original concept by Disney… it was practically based on two things
- First one being a famous African Ruler of Mali called Sundjata (1235 – 1255) is where the Lion King story comes from, where a Prince is exiled from the country (In this scenario he escapes) and his evil uncle takes the throne and after years of exile the Prince returns and reclaims the throne. His given title was “Lion Of Mali.”
- Most of the other elements, characters and scenes were taken off from Kimba The White Lion a manga that first came out in 1950 created by the Godfather of Manga Osamu Tezuka (Creator of Astroboy, Black Jack & Phoenix) and later adapted into an anime in 1965. (Also another reboot in 1989 among other later adaptations.)
Kimba The White Lion Origins
Before we start comparing The Lion King and Kimba we have to go back in time and find out what exactly gave birth to Kimba. When Osamu Tezuka was a young boy his father showed him Disney films, he became obsessed with the movies and began to replicate the art style. He became a huge Disney fan and started watching multiple movies in a row and famously known from seeing Bambi over 80 times.
Before the 1960’s he was given an opportunity by Disney to do a manga version of Bambi among other Disney movies, which would be released in Japan later on.
Bambi was Osamu’s favorite character and served a big inspiration on his manga Kimba The White Lion. Some resemblances can be seen with shape, black color on ears, and also both of their noses are black too. If you compare the setting and personality there aren’t really that much similarities between each other, but you can see some influences.
Kimba debuted on Manga Shōnen in 1950 and ran until 1954. Since then there has been three anime TV adaptations and three movies as well made out of Kimba.
Understanding the Kimba timeline with Lion King
I think its very important to layout some background context to the timeline here, because i think it’s very important factor when making claims about Copying. So as i mentioned earlier the first Kimba anime aired from 1965 to 1966 after the series had aired they made a sequel called Leo The Lion, which followed the footsteps of Kimba’s Son. Both of these also got dubbed in English and were released in west around ~1984.
In 1989 Tezuka Productions made a reboot called The New Adventures Of Kimba The White Lion which was done in memory of Osamu Tezuka who died that year. This was later dubbed into English in 1998 by a Canadian company called The Ocean Group.
In late 1998 people at Disney started to discuss the concept of The Lion King a movie taking a place in Africa. Original name for the project was King Of The Jungle, but later scrapped since they decided to move the setting to savanna rather than a jungle. Somewhere along the way they released a concept art picture with a White Lion that resembled Kimba.
Similarities Between Kimba & The Lion King
Now that we have covered all the origins and release dates for everything – we can finally start looking at some of similarities between the two. So lets dig in!
Comparison Of Characters
So i think its best to start with the main characters in Kimba hes called well… Kimba and in the Lion King they just changed one letter and we got Simba. Both names are rooted in Africa, which makes a lot of sense. In terms of physical looks both of them grow up to become big and both have some black in their ears – the adult forms tend to look a lot similar than the cub form. Personality wise i would say both are playful and brave and have swift of mentality when they grow up.
Then we have the Baboons, in Lion King he’s called Rafiki (Which means “Friend” in swahili). In Kimba he’s called Burazza once again a lot of similarities where both serve as mentors/teachers to the main character.
Then we have the villains. In Lion King we have Scar and in Kimba we got Claw. Both of them have a scar in their left eye and have black fur, however in Kimba they are not related, while Simba is relate to scar. In both cases they are rivals to the protagonists father and also serve as the “main villain”.
Then we have the fathers of the protagonists. Mufasa is the father of Simba and means “King” in swahili and then you have Kimba’s father Ceasar and both of them are named after kings/rulers, also both are heralded very highly in the society (savanna/jungle) and have esteemed reputation. Both of them also die very early on leaving their legacy to their son.
Then we have love interests (mates) of the protagonists. We have Nala from Lion King and Lyra from Kimba. For the most part I don’t see much visual similarities between the two and their personalities are somewhat different too, but they play the same role, which is give birth to descendants to Kimba & Simba.
Then we have the birds who accompany the main characters and who serves as some type of guides / guardians, so in Lion King we have Zazu who seems to be a bit more snobby and intelligent than his Kimba counterpart Coco who perhaps serves more as a friend.
Then we have the Hyenas, in Kimba we have Dick & Bo and in Lion King we have Hyena Trio – to be honest I’m not too sure about their role in Kimba but they seem to have the same clown like role as the ones in Lion King, but I don’t know if they served as antagonists in the original 1965 anime, but there is later versions of hyenas in the 1989 version which serve as villains however.
Final Words – These are just a few examples of the characters that are very similar in art style / mannerism / role in the movie/series. There are unique characters in Lion King for example like Timon & Pumba and there really wasn’t anything like them in Kimba. While as in Kimba you had Elephants, Deer, Jaguars and other African animals that played ally/villain roles and given the fact the animes are rather long, so it’s expected to have more characters.
Similarities Between The Scenes
Then we have the actual scenes, which look similar to each other between the Lion King and Kimba. While not many they are still rather important.
I Guess we are going to start with the cliff scene this is rather iconic in both, if i remember right the original Kimba anime has the cliff scene in its first episode and also in the opening song. While as in Lion King this scene is from the very beginning when Simba is born.
Then we have the spirit of the protagonist’s father appearing in some point of the story to give the wisdom or some type of message. Actually in Kimba you have multiple versions of these, one you are seeing in the picture is from the manga and then we have scenes in the anime where Ceasar is appearing on the starry sky as Kimba is trying to swim back to Africa.
Then there is the scene where Scar throws Mufasa off the cliff and then we have similar scene where Kimba is also on a cliff (I don’t know the context of this scene) however still very similar to each other visually and artistically.
Comparison Of The Story
When it comes to the story I have to say they don’t have that many similarities between each other, but here is a list of a few things that were similar.
- Both Kimba & Simba lose their Father in the start of the story, which were rulers of the land.
- After losing their father they go into exile or away from Africa so to speak in Kimba’s case, but for a short period of time, in Simba’s case for years.
- Both come back and try to reclaim the throne left by their father.
- In Both stories you have a villain who has taken over the Jungle/Savanna (Scar & Claw.)
- In each story you have a love interest for the main character who eventually becomes their mate and gives birth to cubs.
- In both stories you also have companies who are helping the main character and telling them about the land they are in.
As I said earlier Lion King’s story is much more adapted from Sundjata and his life story rather than Kimba. One of the big differences between the two is not only the fact that Kimba just has a lot more source material and its ~50 episodes long so it has much more events and characters, but also it has humans who are hunting animals in the savanna and one of the recurring themes is that Kimba is rescuing these animals from humans and even becomes friendly with one or two. To summarize there aren’t much copying from the story compared to scenes or characters.
Disney’s Response to Plagiarism
To be fair I’m not the first person to write about this subject, although I’ve probably gone more in-depth on the subject versus other people. What I’m trying to say is that Disney was contacted about these similarities and were accused of plagiarism and directors were pretty much saying the following :
The whole time I worked on The Lion King the name of that show never came up. At least I never heard it. I had never seen the show and really only became aware of it as Lion King was being completed, and someone showed me images of it. I worked with George Scribner and Linda Woolverton to develop the story in the early days but then left to help out on Aladdin.
If one of them were familiar with Kimba they didn’t say. Of course, it’s possible… Many story ideas developed and changed along the way, always just to make our story stronger. I could certainly understand Kimba’s creators feeling angry if they felt we had stolen ideas from them. If I had been inspired by Kimba I would certainly acknowledge my inspiration. All I can offer is my respect to those artists and say that their creation has its loyal admirers and its assured place in animation history.
Which is probably dishonest statement given the fact that Osamu has worked with Disney in the past and they were certainly aware of his work given the stature of his career. Also the Kimba 60’s anime had aired in the West in multiple countries, which just makes it much more unlikely that none of the people working on the project didn’t know about it.
I mean let’s be honest this is not the first time Disney has been accused of Plagiarism. That could be another article of its own to be honest.
To summarize my whole article, I think definitely that Disney was aware of the existence of Kimba and purposely stole some of the concepts and implemented them into the Lion King along with some of their own stuff too. I don’t hate The Lion King any less I still think it’s a great movie still and you can also enjoy Kimba at the same time (Granted it’s really hard to find any copies of the 1989 series and the 1965 one hasn’t aged very well).
I might do a separate review out of the Kimba series at a later point, so make sure to follow AniRoute on Twitter & Facebook for future updates!
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