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THE LION KING Controversy: Did Disney Rip-off Kimba the White Lion?

Updated on November 15, 2011

The Lion King

Kimba the white Lion

Was the beloved LION KING a stolen idea?

Disney’s The Lion King (1994) is one of the most loved animated films ever made. It was critically acclaimed when it was released and won a Golden Globe for Best Musical feature. It is the highest grossing 2-D animated American film ever (It made $783 million) and is the fifth highest grossing animated film world-wide. The film spawned an enormously successful Broadway play. It is being re-released this year in 3-D form.

Everyone knows about the Lion King, but how many people know about the controversy? Did you know that the Lion King was accused of intellectual theft by the creators of the animated Kimba the White Lion, who claim that Disney stole their plot, characters, and even much of their animation style?

This hub is not meant to accuse or to take sides. I’m just laying out some facts as I know them. Since the Lion King is being re-released, I expect to hear more about the long-time controversy, so I’m writing this is anticipation of that. In case you hear anything about the controversy, you will know what it’s all about after reading this.

Kimba the White Lion began as a Japanese manga (comic book) called “Jungle Emperor”, which came out in the 1950s. It was written and drawn by Osamu Tezuka. The story was adapted for television in 1965. The anime (cartoon) was retitled Kimba the White Lion. The show ran for 52 episodes and was shown for a time on American TV. (I remember watching the show back in the late 60s/early seventies.) The show is not well-remembered in the United States but it is still beloved in Japan.

Kimba/Jungle Emperor tells the story of young cub Kimba, son of the leonine Jungle King Caesar. Caesar is killed by hunters when Kimba is young. Kimba has to learn to become the new king of the Jungle. He gets some help from a wise Mandrill, a talkative parrot and a shy deer. Kimba vows to become a great king and keep peace in the jungle, but first he has to contend with his father’s old rival, a lion named Claw, and his hyena minions.

The first season of the show dealt with Kimba’s youth and his training to be a great king. The second season showed the older Kimba bringing a semblance of order to the wild jungle.

All this is rather similar to Disney’s story of young cub Simba, who just can’t wait to be King, sees his father get killed, has a Mandrill for a counselor, an argumentative parrot as a sidekick, and an adult Lion rival in the form of his uncle Scar. (Scar also has hyena henchmen.)

Aside from the general basics of storyline, taking the facts one-by-one, there does seem to be some validity to the Japanese claim that Disney stole their ideas.

A few facts:

*The similar names of the lead characters; Kimba and Simba.

*Simba sees images of his father in the clouds, just as Kimba did years earlier.

*Claw and Scar both have the same color fur, which starkly contracts with the good lions. Both have a deformed eye.

*The design and behavior of the hyena henchmen in both stories are very similar.

Aside from the plot and stories, there is a strange similarity in much of the animators work. Look at the pictures below for comparisons.

Kimba and his father

Simba and his dad

Kimba sees his dead father in the clouds

Simba sees his dead father in the clouds

Cute cub Kimba

Cute Cub Simba

Cub Kimba tries not to be a meat eater

Cub Simba tries not to be a meat eater

The cliff scene from Kimba

the cliff scene from Lion King

the thorn patch in Kimba

The thorn Patch in the Lion King

the stampede in Kimba

the stampede in the Lion King

Although the late Mr. Tezuka’s family and production company acknowledge the similarities between the two stories, they chose not to bring a lawsuit against Disney. There were three reasons for this. One is because of the good relations that the company has always had with Disney and hoped to continue to have. Secondly, Tezuka was a huge fan of Disney’s work and at one time had hoped to have Disney do an adaptation of Kimba the White Lion. The third reason was that the release of the Lion King and the resulting controversy in Japan brought new attention to the old Kimba cartoond and helped with VHS sales of the old show, and the 1989 remake The New Adventures of Kimba.

Reaction from the animators who worked on the original cartoon was more vocal about their outrage, because they claim that Disney stuck far too closely to their original drawings for their liking. That, they assert, is intellectual theft. However, no litigation was ever initiated.

Obviously, there are many differences between the two storylines (the most notable being the greater involvement of humans in Kimba’s tales) but there does seem to be enough here to justify the complaints of stolen ideas.

Disney’s position was—and remains—that they were unaware of the Japanese anime Kimba the White Lion while they were making the Lion King, and had never heard of Kimba until the controversy began. (Some point out that the film’s co-director Roger Allers worked for years in Japan in the anime industry before returning to make the Lion King, which makes it unlikely that he was unaware of Kimba.)

Could all this be coincidence? Could it be possible that so many similarities occurred between two animated films about lions? Was Disney unaware of Kimba the White Lion?

I have my own opinion but I reserve judgment, as not to bias the opinion of others. I leave it to you. What do you think?


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    • profile image

      Desmon Bowman 3 years ago

      Jim Jax no Disney did no steal the story of Kimba! There are alot of differences between the two for one Kimba had Humans present throughout the it's plot ( heck a human killed Kimba's dad ) while the Lion King had none, secondary the themes are very different as well the former is about Animals Liberation while the latter is about taking responsibility and the list just goes on and on. In short the Lion King is just Hamlet with animals and it has nothing to do with Kimba at all.

    • profile image

      Jim Jax 3 years ago

      You did a good job on this article. First of all I met Walts Daughter as a kid at their winery in the late 80's. I actually washed the windows of their Vineyard in Napa.

      Fred Ladd was one of the famous producers of the Disney movie the Lion King. Fred Ladd was ALSO one of the producers 25 years earlier who helped introduce Kimba to the U.S. tv market.

      Animators from all over were outraged over Disney stealing the Kimba story.

      Osamu Tezuka who is the father of Anime, also created Astro Boy which went on tv in the early 60's.

      Tezuka met Walt Disney in 1964 at the Worlds Fair and Disney told him how much loved Tezuka's work and how much he loved Astro Boy and wanted to do something like it. Disney was brilliant and knew what was up so to think that he didn't know about Kimba is just not true.

      Disney Animators were also big fans and adopted the big dough eyes that anime loved to use, especially in Betty Boop, and Bambi, and many other characters.

      They did steal the story but you were right; a lawsuit would have taken years and was pointless because it would ruin the relationship. good job!

    • profile image

      Jim Jax 3 years ago

      Why can't people be honest? Of course Disney ripped it off. Disney has sued companies for even having an inkling of one of their story lines.

      And for the naïve ones saying who cares, if they sued they would win MILLIONS in damages because it's obvious the story was copied.

      The SECOND I saw lion king commercials our friends who are fans of anime and stories like kimba and astroboy said they were doing a story about Kimba.

      In fact Matthew Broderick who was the voice of the adult Simba told interviewers and all his friends he was doing a remake of Kimba. Why is it being questioned? Are people this obsessed with the Disney corporation that they can't be honest?

      They did rip off the story but knew that the creators would not sue them because it brought new light to Kimba, and they were afraid of burning a bridge with Disney. If they did sue, they would get millions but their relationship would end.

      Disney was cut throat at times. That's why the writer of Mary Poppins would not give Disney the rest of her stories. He lied to her in the way he was going to show them in the first movie but she was broke and needed the money. She left hollywood and never returned again and vowed never to sell the rights of all the Mary Poppins stories. She never did and died.

    • profile image

      Christopher 4 years ago

      I hope some day I can live in a world where it's not "bad business" to be fair and honest.

    • profile image

      sarahb411 5 years ago

      Given the huge success of the broadway version of Lion King, some credit should be given to Kimba. The first thing that came to my mind when seeing Lion King back in 1995 was, "That was Kimba doing Hamlet!" As Disney insisted the story was derived from. Actually it was the second. The first thing that came to mind was, that at the time Lion King came out, Disney was making an "effort" to racially diversify their movies. For instance, Mulan, Alladdin, Pochohontas, then they get to Africa and the story is about animals. I thought, "what, no people in Africa?" Disney then made a feeble attempt at creating an African American version of the Frog Prince, (or the Princess & the Frog) but again fell profoundly short of creating a story that spoke to both African American Girls and Boys when they simply re-cast Alladdin for the male lead as the Frog Prince. So I said all that to say Disney's creative department is greatly lacking in original ideas, but hugely successful at marketing and given the huge success of the Lion King on broadway I would hope they'd at least give some credit to the makers of Kimba. Or pay them off for not raising the issue.

    • dreamworld87 profile image

      Roberta 5 years ago from hammond,indiana

      Who cares??? Doesn't everyone rip off its years and people remake a song...or weather a movies is based on another movie...nothing safe now a days...people cant come up with new they try to remake old ideas....all i say is lion king is still a great now!!!! get over it!

    • profile image

      lionkingfanboy 5 years ago


    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks Carl. Cogerson may have a good point. The Disney execs may not have known, but it seems likely that someone did.

      Thanks for stopping by,


    • CarltheCritic1291 profile image

      Carl 6 years ago

      I agree with Cogerson on this one, but great Hub as always Voted Up, Useful, Awesome, and Interesting.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Carrie; I like to keep people informed.

      Thanks for stopping by my hub,


    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi m a great Disney admirer but! wasn't aware of such kind of rampant plagiarism. Nice hub and comparisons between the two cartoons.


    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Various sources. I do lots of research. On the web and in books. You can look it all up yourself. It's all public information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      what are your sources? Where did you get this information

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Actually, that's not where I got those pictures. I've never been to www.kimawlion. I'll take a look at the site you mentioned, but these pictures are readily available on the web.


    • profile image

      Samantha66 6 years ago

      Considering the subject matter, it's very interesting that you don't mention the site where you got all the pictures you used:

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi cogerson; Always good to hear from you. You may be right that some of the people working on the project knew about Kimba and were influenced by it, but the Disney brass may not have known. As for Allers, it's true that it wouldn't be damning evidence in court. But it sure doesn't look good.

      Thanks, as usual, for stopping by;


    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Hey Rob another thought provoking hub. I remember some of the these issues years ago. My thought on the matter is...the Disney company might not have known about Kimba the White Lion...but I think they trusted the wrong people who worked on the Lion King and were greatly influenced by Kimba. I think the fact that Roger Allers worked for years in Japan in the anime industry is one of those circumstantial pieces of evidence...that would not hold up in real court....but holds up in public Barry Bonds and steriods....public court has found him guilty....interesting and informative as usual.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi stevennix; thanks for your very well thought-out and detailed hub. I agree with what you say. Assuming Disney is guilty, there is no reason at this point for Disney to admit anything. No one is bringing a suit against them, so it would be bad business to confess to something (assuming they are in the wrong)that would take money out of their pockets.

      Thanks for stopping by my hub;


    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Rosemay; You're right. It's not only standard business practice to remain aware of the competition's work, but also legally prudent to be aware of what could be considered plagerism and theft. As much as I've always liked Disney films, I'm having trouble accepting their party line on this one.

      Thanks for commenting;


    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 6 years ago

      Well to be honest, I never heard of Kimba the white lion until I read Susan Wong's hub and yours today, so this is very interesting news. Personally, I can't really comment on this, as I've never seen the original anime. However, it definitely wouldn't surprise me if there is some truth to these accusations. I know one person wrote a blog online saying there were legal issues with the anime that prevented Disney from acquiring the film rights to it, so they had to change it enough to make it seem like it wasn't a remake according to this blog:

      To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if there is truth to this, and I doubt seriously the people at Disney were that oblivious to the original anime's existence. However, how can you prove it? Sure, you can argue all you want about how much Disney may have allegedly ripped off "Kimba the white lion", but the reality is that they're legally not obligated to admit anything until a court of law forces them to. Therefore, I doubt seriously Disney will fess up to this anytime soon if plagarism is at play here.

      No, if Disney isn't apologizing for the old Donald Duck cartoons with him playing a Nazi, then I doubt seriously this will be any different. The reality is that Disney's CEO's only care about money, so they're not going to come clean about anything unless they're forced to legally. Think about it, would you come clean about it if it meant costing your company millions of dollars in the process? I doubt it. Sure, it's easy to claim that you'd do the right thing by admitting it (assuming that Disney is guilty), but you'd be dooming your company to losing money, and possibly downsizing as a result. Therefore, it's kind of a catch 22 thing.

      Don't get me wrong, I think if plagarism is at play here, then I do think proper recognition should be warranted. However, i doubt it's going to happen. Although if I were to take all of the blog's statements seriously, then it would make sense that Disney would not only go out of it's way to deny they ever heard of the show's existence, but to make sure very few people of today's generation have. Sure, it's a low ball technique; very similar to how EA bought the gaming rights to make video games off all things relating to football like the nfl, cfl, arena football and college football. Of course, the irony is that EA has no intention of making a cfl or arena football game, as they only bought the rights to keep their top competitor, Sega, from making any football games. Gee, isn't that nice of them? lol. Anyway, I do apologize for rambling like this, as I tend to get lost in my train of thought sometimes. However, I do appreciate you bringing this to our attention, as it'll be interesting to see what happens from here.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      I remember Kimba as a child, and I have also seent the Lion King

      No matter what type of business you are in, you know exactly what your competition is doing. It is your job to know.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; I agree with you. I do think it's impossible for animators to be unaware of the work that came before them and someone in Disney must have been familiar with the Kimba series. So it's the denial, more than the actual content, which is so troubling.

      Thanks for stopping by, Flora.


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      It's one thing to make a Disney version of a story, ruffrider-they never denied that the fairy tale films were fairy tales-although they dramatically changed the little mermaid was sweet and beautiful instead of evil and gorgeous like the mermaids of mythology.

      Personally, I don't see how anyone was unaware of the earlier film, at least as far as the animators are concerned. Animators know the work of their fellow animators across the eras. I have never seen this film-I'm the wrong age and don't have children to take-but I'm quite familiar with the music as I love the artists who wrote the music. The problem is the denying. It is perfectly all right to do a version of a story if you say so. For eg. The Magnificent Seven and The Outrage being American versions of Japanese films. Personally, I have always seen any jungle film where animals talk as "stealing" from Rudyard Kipling.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      That's true, ruffridyer. In this case, Disney is denying it. I'm a huge Disney fan, but this looks bad.


    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Disney studio's have been stealing story plots for years. Snow white, Cinderilla, Little Mermaid are all from earlier stories.

      Shakespeare stole the tale of Romeo and Juliet from an earlier tale.


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