- Japan’s Kimba the White Lion was shown during the 1960s.
- The Lion King shared uncanny similarities to the Japanese classic.
- Tezuka Productions didn’t have enough funds to sue Disney after the release of The Lion King.
Before The Lion King was released in 1994 and became a massive success, Disney marketed the animated film as unique and original. It’s supposed originality became one of the reasons for The Lion King’s exalted place in Disney history.
However, with the recent release of the computer-animated version of the cartoon, a hidden 25-year-old controversy surfaced. In Japan, there’s an animated film with a storyline that is practically identical to the more popular Disney version.
Kimba the White Lion is a Japanese animated film hailed as one of the country’s classics.
It was released in the 1960s and became a beloved icon in Japan and has become a huge part of their popular culture.
It’s creator, Osamu Tezuka, is also behind the iconic character and series Astro Boy.
He was referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan and he did not hide the fact that Kimba was inspired by the Disney classic Bambi.
Kimba the White Lion, however, was based on Tezuka’s own 1950 manga Jungle Emperor. Kimba began airing in Japan in 1965 and was actually commissioned by NBC. The network has built a relationship with Tezuka after they bought the rights for Astro Boy in 1963.
Kimba became huge in Japan and only subsided when Tezuka died in 1989. Around this time, Disney was also working on The Lion King.
The two cartoons share a similar plot. They are both coming-of-age stories of lion cubs born to royal fathers. However, it’s the other similarities that raised the eyebrows of many.
First, the villains. The Lion King as Scar, who sport a black mane and a scar over his left eye. Kimba has Claw, an evil lion who also has a black mane and in place of his left eye is, yep, a scar.
Second, the henchmens. Scar has three spotted hyenas, Claw has two. Simba’s advisors include a bird (hornbill) while Kimba also has one (a parrot).
Third…well, the obvious similarity of the names Simba and Kimba.
Now throw in the scenes and shots from the two cartoons that appear to be identical.
When The Lion King was released in Japan, it caused a huge controversy. In a statement, Tezuka Productions said that “We’re a small, weak company. It wouldn’t be worth it anyway. Disney’s lawyers are among the top twenty in the world!” Outside Japan, the controversy caused very little press.
Of course, Disney denied the accusations that they ripped off from Kimba the White Lion.
In 1989, Tezuka Productions created a post-humous film adaptation off Kimba called the Jungle Emperor Leo, which was a faithful adaptation of the last half of the king of the jungle story.
It was only released after ten years (and three years after The Lion King’s release) because of production troubles.
When it was screened, Disney filed a cease and desist order against the production. Despite that, Jungle Emperor Leo screened to a full house in North America.
Watch this for a more in-depth look of the controversy:
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