We dove into some of the wildest (pun intended) fan theories about The Lion King, one of the greatest films and West End shows ever made. Some of them will make you question everything you know about the story, others may just make you roll your eyes and move on but try to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy them!
Warning: there will be spoilers, but also this show is nearly 30 years old…
1. The Lion King takes place in a Planet of the Apes style future
Yep, we are diving right in with the wild fan theories of The Lion King.
According to /u/TheNamesEarly on Reddit, The Lion King might actually exist in a futuristic, animal dominant world where humans are no longer in charge.
They posit that, as we have no record in The Lion King of the talking animals interacting with humans, but not all animals seem to be able to talk, it’s not logically unreasonable to assume that they may be speaking a language like English – certainly something from the human tongue.
So, it would also be reasonable to assume that they somehow gained that accelerated speech through some kind change, perhaps like that of Planet of the Apes wherein the apes were administered with a serum that developed their intelligence.
As a result, the animals of Pride Rock have significant cultural knowledge of human culture, from Zazu joking that Scar would make an excellent throw rug (although he makes a great cape for Hercules, technically that ruins this theory but we are going to pretend these parentheses didn’t happen), to the monarchy the lions seem to have established, interspersed with idioms like “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” or Scar’s “Long live the King”.
But what about the apes? They became dominant in Planet of the Apes, so why not now? Well, we don’t really see any apes – their natural habitats are typically forests, whilst lions usually roam a variety of grasslands and open woods, which is what we see in The Lion King.
One thing we do see though to credit this Lion King fan theory is Rafiki, a mandrill who is clearly exalted among the community of Pride Rock. They are seen as a wise and priestly character, called in for special occasions like the birth of a prince.
2. Mufasa was the bad guy…
Surely not? Mufasa is kingly, graceful, kind and loving towards his kingdom! Even his name literally means king! So what is this crazy Lion King fan theory all about?
But remember guys, the victors write the history, and Simba’s overwhelming victory probably led his supporters to rework the story to fit him.
The world Mufasa presents, where the big guns – aka his family – get to eat all those lower down on the food chain because hey! Corpses will be grass tomorrow so you can eat too! It sounds pretty rough.
In reality, The Circle of Life is just propaganda fit to a catchy tune, telling the lower rungs of society to be happy and silent as food and that’s that. Pretty bleak, huh.
Mufasa also had built a kingdom with clear segregation of those who threaten his position. Within Pride Rock, who can speak? The Lions, Zazu…. That’s it. Outside of Pride Rock, however, we see the hyenas and Timon & Pumba capable of speech but clearly not a part of this community.
What’s more, there’s a complete character assassination of Scar, when he seems to be the only one trying to make reparations with the hyenas. He doesn’t do it through coercion or threats, he does it through the mere offer of food. Was Mufasa really denying the hyenas the right to eat?
Of course, there’s also the iconic song Be Prepared, where Scar addressing his ”˜troops’ as it were, clearly drawing parallels between him and the Nazis like that’s not the oldest trick in the book. Want to make people think someone is bad? Compare them to Hitler. Nice one, Simba.
Whilst Scar actually is King, what does he do wrong? ”˜Pride Rock was in famine, drought, and bad weather’ I hear you cry – right, like a lion could actually influence any of those things. You really expect Scar to somehow conjure rain out of nowhere? Really? Mufasa would have had to grapple with the same things, but I guarantee he wouldn’t have been blamed for it like Scar was.
Of course, Simba is a kid who absolutely idolises his dad. All he really saw of him was the glory days through a child’s eyes, and the rest has been passed down to him through Mufasa’s supporters: Zazu, Rafiki, Nala, his mother… It’s no wonder he didn’t hesitate for a second to condemn his uncle.
3. Mufasa can control the weather
Okay so, Scar can’t control the weather, but maybe Mufasa can? After all, this Lion King fan theory proposes it had to be some kind of serendipity for the clouds to just coincidentally look like Mufasa that fateful night for Simba.
But, since we’re dealing with talking animals is it really that much of a stretch to think Mufasa gained supernatural abilities upon death (that serum sure is powerful)? Then, he would have used those powers to reveal himself to Simba in a mystical shroud high in the sky – the legendary Mufasa Cloud- and potentially plunge the Pride Lands into drought?!
Really, this is further evidence of theory 2. Mufasa was so pissed that his brother took over the throne after he died (died at the hands of the mindless hordes he helped create, also), he would rather risk his kingdom’s food supply just to be petty.
When Simba rolls up to take the kingdom back, Mufasa doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to be a bit dramatic and throw down some thunder and lightning, soaking the victor in the sweet salvation of rain.
There is the argument that the drought occurred because the kingdom had been thrown out of balance with Scar in charge, or perhaps that Mufasa only did it so the lionesses would have to hunt further afield, leading Nala to stumble into Simba once again (I say stumble but, she was trying to hunt one of Simba’s new best friends so…), but would a good king really put his people at risk just for that?
4. Nala is Scar’s daughter
The Lion King focuses largely on one dysfunctional family. We have the warring brothers Mufasa and Scar, the mourning mother Sarabi, and the estranged son Simba, but really no one else’s family is explored.
So who are Nala’s parents? She is one of the main stars of the show after all.
We know that Nala’s mother is Sarafina, a close friend to Sarabi, but her father is never really explained…until this Lion King fan theory.
Let’s look at Simba and his parents. Mufasa’s key physical trait is his luscious red mane, which Simba also grows to have as an adult. One thing he also shares with his family is their eye colour: Mufasa, Simba and Sarabi all have red eyes.
So, what about Nala?
Well, as she is a lioness we can’t compare things like mane colours to other lions seen in the film. We’re not aware that she has any siblings or other family besides her mother, so we just have the similarities with Sarafina to go off.
Like the royal family, Nala shares her bluey-green eye colour with her mother, but there also happens to be another lion who sports green eyes too.
Is it really just coincidence that Nala’s eyes seem to be in between Sarafina and Scar? Science shows that lionesses usually tend towards lions with dark manes, which would make Scar a tall glass of water.
Maybe he was a lot nicer before his and Mufasa’s relationship began to suffer? Maybe she had a thing for bad boys in her youth?
Though, pride behaviour also dictates that only the most dominant male mates with the females, and that a darker mane can just denote health, maturity and dominance. Mufasa’s mane is also fairly dark… There’s not a lot of lionesses around but no other male lions… Mufasa could definitely also be Nala’s father…
That means that Nala and Simba are either siblings or cousins (I’ll let you decide which is worse), but in reality, any other female from the pride is likely the same kind of relationships so they were kinda doomed.
I guess it does focus on just one family after all…
5. Mufasa and Scar aren’t actually brothers
But what if Mufasa and Scar aren’t related at all? Then Nala and Simba are likely (there’s a 50% chance) not relations too.
In the real animal kingdom, what usually happens is that a wayward male lion spies a pride that has an ageing leader he thinks he can take. This rogue lion will stalk the pride, waiting for an opportunity to jump in and kill the old leader, taking the pride for himself.
Producer Don Han backs this Lion King fan theory, claiming that they took this as inspiration for Scar’s character, playing with the idea that this new younger lion would usually kill off any of the old leader’s children and solidify his position – much like what Scar tried to do.
Scar could have just been a stranger worming his way into a new pride, ready to assume control. In fact, if you pay close attention you can hear Scar saying “I’m from the shallow end of the gene pool,” which could have been his way of confessing that fact.
After all, Mufasa and Scar really look nothing alike, when it’s clear how strong the genes are when Simba is just a carbon copy of his dad.
Although, director Rob Minkoff confirmed in 2017 that “They are [brothers]! I just want to clear that up in case it hit your radar.”
“Typically [they would] be in different prides … but for sure they grew up together.”
Okay so, they are brothers and Nala and Simba are brother-husband and sister-wife.
6. The Lion King is basically just Hamlet
We’ve spoken about this a little before, and it’s probably the most legitimate of all the fan theories out there, and that is that The Lion King is Hamlet rehashed.
Just listen: we have a young, impressionable prince ready to learn about the throne when his father suddenly dies and his life thrown into disarray.
Amidst the throes of grief, his (maybe not so) evil uncle seems to usurp power and convince the little prince to leave, ultimately causing the kingdom to suffer.
Whilst the young prince is away, he sees his father again in an other-worldly fashion is led to believe that the late King was murdered by his brother, resulting in his return to save the kingdom from doom.
He has close friends who accompany him along the way, he falls for a girl like no other and is spied on by his Uncle’s cronies whilst a distant advisor is gently affecting the turn of events whilst serving the crown and only the crown.
Who am I talking about?
Simba = Hamlet and you can’t tell me otherwise. Which basically means that Shakespeare wrote The Lion King.
Therefore The Lion King is also a Shakespearean musical, the first of its kind, right?
7. Zazu was on Scar’s side all along
This fan theory surrounds Zazu; the very put upon King’s aide (and also the most complicated puppet in the musical), the “parrot from The Lion King” (he’s a red-billed hornbill, guys). Whilst he may be a bit tetchy and fairly irritated by the young prince’s lack of care for the position, ultimately he seems to one of the good guys.
Or is he?
Zazu is quite literally pushed around, hit, dunked in water, sat and stepped on by just about every animal in the kingdom (see – I Just Can’t Wait to be King, Simba even threatens to fire Zazu when he finally gets the position). It’s clear that no one really cares about his opinion, and he just seems to be trotted out by the monarchy whenever they need some menial task fulfilled they can’t be bothered to do.
So, perhaps sick on being walked on and used by the monarchy, Zazu actually joined up with Scar and plotted to get Simba out of the way?
It’s Scar who lures Simba and Nala to the Elephant Graveyard in an attempt to kill them, so they lie and say that they’re going to the watering hole and Zazu goes escort them.
Please tell me how a tiny bird can save two lion cubs from anything.
Of course, them being rambunctious kids with a hidden agenda, they try to lose Zazu and go off on their own – but Zazu caught up with them at the elephant graveyard. How would Zazu know that that is where they were actually going – not the watering hole – unless someone told him?
The only other person who knew they would be heading to the graveyard was Scar and his hyenas…
The idea that Zazu is a traitor is backed up by the fact he is a mirror of Polonius – the chief counsellor to the King in Hamlet, and co-conspirator with Claudius, spying on the young prince for his uncle.
“But Zazu went to get help when Mufasa was dying!” okay yes, but it’s unlikely Zazu ever wanted Mufasa dead. His main concern is how ill-suited for the throne Simba seems to be, and it’s likely he went along with Scar’s plan thinking Scar just wanted the heir out of the way so that he was next in line.
It would also explain why Scar kept Zazu close after taking the throne, he didn’t want the person who knew all his secrets to let anything loose.
8. The Lion King hides some explicit messages
The explicit messages hidden throughout Disney’s filmography were the height of playground humour when we were children, and there is perhaps none more famous than The Lion King hidden message – Simba kicking up dust that then spells “sex” in the sky.
According to this Lion King fan theory, it was a four-year-old who was watching the movie with his head tilted to the side that first saw the message, who then told his mother who told her friends who told the entire world.
We all wanted this subliminal message to be true, we all want it to still be true but sadly it is not.
According to former Disney animator Tom Sito, the dust is trying to spell something, but it’s actually “SFX” – a subtle nod to other creators in the field of special effects.
Raise your hand if you feel the need to go back and watch the Lion King right now? Yeah, me too. Between the film and musical, see which of these theories you think holds some truth, and which are absolutely wrong, or maybe come up with a new theory of your own.
Disney’s The Lion King is showing now at the Lyceum Theatre in London, and you can find & compare all ticket sellers below to get the cheapest prices available. The musical will also be embarking on a UK and Ireland tour this year too, taking it out of the capital for the second time only.