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Friday, May 9, 2014

Kimba The White Lion Vs The Lion King

Once upon a time, Walt Disney drew a mouse... a mouse named Mickey, and the world stood up and cheered.

And gave Walt lots of money, power, fame and some interesting ideas about Germany.

Now personally, I am not a big Mickey Mouse fan and instead prefer the low-brow antics of Donald Duck cartoons and his thrilling Donald Duck comic book adventures most famously drawn by the late Carl Barks. Donald also starred in Uncle Scrooge comics, Daisy & Donald, Walt Disney's Comic's & Stories (getting top billing), Walt Disney's Christmas Parade (top billing)... basically, Donald was in everything, showing HIS immense popularity.

Those Donald Duck comic books are what inspired me to be a writer.

Donald was the every man... he was like Batman in a world of super-powered gods. Mickey Mouse... he was too perfect. Nothing every got him down. He was like Superman - a Boy Scout.

Anyhow, Mickey Mouse... that bastion of American ideals... he wasn't actually created by Walt Disney.

Back in the day when Disney was helping create the awesome antics of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, he was reminded by Universal Studios, that THEY owned the rights to Oswald. So... Walt made the last cartoons he was contractually obliged to make for them and then set off trying to hire animators to create a new stable of characters for some animated cartoons he wanted to make himself for the newly formed Walt Disney Studios.

The key was that he, Walt Disney, wanted to ensure he owned his own properties.

So... Mickey Mouse was created by Walt Disney.

Yes... the company, but perhaps not by the person.

Nope... Mickey Mouse was actually first drawn/created by American-born animator Ub Iwerks who worked with Disney. Walt wanted to call the mouse Mortimer... but his wife Lillian convinced him to change it... and eventually Mickey Mouse was born to much fanfare, and as far as anyone was concerned, Walt Disney had created a character destined for super stardom.

As for Ub Iwerks, he was quite the inventive guy and artist and Disney loved his work and work ethic.

It is reported that Iwerks actually drew the entire first six-minute Mickey Mouse cartoon all by himself in a mere three weeks or so, averaging about 6-700 drawings a night (on top of whatever else he was doing during his day job).

And that first cartoon, as everyone knows is Mickey Mouse's Plane Crazy. What? Did you think it was Steamboat Willie? Steamboat Willie was actually the first Mickey Mouse cartoon released. Plane Crazy, was the fourth one released, but unlike the ones before it, this was a silent film, not a squeakie.

And... as far as his art skill's go... in the mid-1930s when he closed his own studio down, Iewrks felt that animation drawing was no longer challenging enough, and since he had perfected it, never went back to the drawing board.

He did go to the inventing drawing board however... creating many mechanical animation techniques.

To show that he did not fade away, I should mention that Japanese manga and anime pioneer Tezuka Osama (surname first) was greatly influenced and inspired by Ub’s work.

What I'm getting to, is that Walt Disney may have been a creative genius, but he wasn't the true creator of his fortune. He owes a hell of a lot to Ib Iwerks... IE, someone else.

By the way... initially in the days leading up to World War 2... Walt thought that Nazi Germany were all right kind of guys... I suppose that may have been due to his association with rats, I mean mice.

Anyhow... let's time flip to 1994. Walt Disney is dead and awaiting revival in a frosty tomb, or so the legend says.

Walt Disney Studios is making big budget animated films again (thank you Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and has pulled out all the stops to create The Lion King.

The Lion King is a 1994 American animated musical adventure film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 32nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series.

The whole concept of The Lion King is William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Yes... that whole "to be or not to be" soliloquy that every English-speaking high-school student has memorized.

Can you image the pitch for the movie? Two guys walk into a room full of grumpy people with lots of money and common sense and say:

"Hey how about we do a Macbeth with animals?"

Deadly silence.

"Okay," the pitchers continue to throw out ideas, "how about Hamlet with animals?"

Still more penniless silence.

"Did we say Hamlet with cartoon animals?"

"Yay!!!!!!" scream the money bags as they toss wads of $1,000-bills to the movie idea guys.

I imagine that all movies are made this way. I really do.

So... since these two movie idea guys have never actually gone to high school, they don't really know much about Hamlet, but they do watch a lot of Japanese anime (animated films/cartoons) and have come up with an idea.

The movie, so they say, is Bambi in Africa with bits of Moses from The Holy Bible and Hamlet, and that's all...

It's not exactly an original idea... but what the hell... who will know? This interweeb thing will never take off.

Jump ahead 20 years to 2014, this interweeb thing is still here, though one good EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) will kill it and this blog (or at least all of the old stories).

And so, it has come to my attention (and many others before me), that The Lion King appears to be a blatant rip-off of the Japanese flick Kimba The White Lion.

I know.... I have to start creating suspense better by not putting the subject matter in the blog title.

Anyhow.... why rip off William Shakespeare and Bambi and the Holy Bible when you can rip off a Japanese cartoon?

Kimba The White Lion is actually the Japanese comic strip and anime known as Jungle Taitei (ジャングル大帝), which translates to Jungle Emperor (King of the Jungle, I suppose). It was conceived of by Tezuka (who also created Astro Boy) back in comic book form in 1950, with its own television cartoon in the 1960s that made it across to North American screens shortly thereafter, fully translated and with a catchy English theme song.

Here's Episode 1 of Kimba the White Lion from YouTube

So... what's our first clue that something might be amiss?

Well... the names of the movie leads, for one thing.

Kimba the White Lion.

Simba, who becomes the Lion King.

Both are pretty similar... but not really anything to go to court about.

In fact... Kimba's name in the actual Japanese manga/comic book created by Tezuka, is actually Leo... which given the Japanese inability to say the letter "L: seeing as how the letter does not exist in the Japanese alphabets, his name was probably written as Reo - no matter how hard Tezuka might have wanted it to be Leo.

Now... perhaps because damn near every lion known to Western society prior to 1994 was called 'Leo', when Kimba was translated into English for western audiences, Reo/Leo's name was changed to Kimba.

So... Leo first, with the Japanese using the typical lion name, and then Kimba for American audiences back in the 1960s... and then Simba for The Lion King in 1994.

Hell, my 'aunt' Freny had a dog named Simba, who was a big, lion-hearted creature. Simba, by the way, is the Swahili word for 'lion'... which I'm sure if the people from East Africa watched The Lion King, the hero's name probably confused them.

"Why does that lion have no name? He is the king, is he not?"

"Yes... perhaps Disney could call the lion by the Swahili name for 'king': Mfalme."

"No, I don't know why, but I like the name Reo."

I know... all lion's have similar sounding names, right? Let's see... there's Kimba, Simba, Elsa (Born Free), Leo (the zodiac sign), Leo (the MGM lion)... oh wait, I'm probably giving the African slave names for those last three. It is NOT still too soon!

By the way, does anyone know WHY the Japanese, though they have no "L" on their many alphabets, use the letter "L" when they are naming things?

Okay... how about the fact that in early DVD releases of The Lion King, it included a printed drawing of a young lion cub cavorting around with a butterfly... there's no white lion in The Lion King except for Disney. But... there is a white lion in Kimba The White Lion... because that's who he is. So why is there an image of a white lion (as the focus) in the drawing included in The Lion King DVD?

Anyone? What's the matter? The cat got your tongue?

It's like the artist didn't know that The Lion King was NOT an American version of Kimba and drew him (Simba) as a white lion cub.
I'd like a small white pussy cat, please... This is the image included in The Lion King DVD box.
So... rather than pay any royalties to anyone, Disney, they just went about making the film... and continued to rip-off Kimba The White Lion in the process.

Okay... so what else is kind of iffy about The Lion King relative to Kimba The White Lion?

How about the fact that Disney appears to have copied many of the secondary characters of Kimba... such as the wise shaman monkey.

In the Disney version, we have Rafiki (which means 'friend' in Swahili) who looks like a mandrill, what with the face coloring... He is considered to be the Shaman... a wise, holy monkey.

In Kimba th Whit Lion (is someone stealing my 'e's?), there is also a monkey... a wise old mandrill - what with the face coloring. His name was Buzara in the original comic, Mandy (short for mandrill or Barbara Mandrel) in the Japanese anime series, and back to Buzara for a 1997 movie. he also offers sage, wise advice to Kimba.

I think the baboon on the left is from the Lion King... no wait.. the one on the right is from The Lion King, and the one on the left is from Kimba...  probably. Who cares? They are the same, but completely different. Any questions, see Disney's lawyers.
Next, both flicks employed a bit of comedy relief in the form of hyenas... well you have to, because if something is called a laughing hyena, they must be shown to be funny to the audience. Can one blame Disney for this? Not Walt... he's long dead... but really...

Disney's hyenas - there are three of them, because three is much better than two (I'm being sarcastic - are the Three Stooges better than Laurel & Hardy?) (If you said who, you should look them up and be amazed. Women... there is no need to watch any Three Stooges film, as you will simply not 'get' the humor. Really. I'm watching an episode a week with my son, and we're busting a nut, while my wife goes to another room to noisily shake her head in derision at our stupidity.)

In the Disney version, the hyenas are named: Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. Shenzi is a Chinese name; Banzai is a Japanese word, and Ed... I have no idea what that is - short for Ted? So... there's at least a nod to the Japanese here.

In Kimba, the two hyenas are named: Dick and Bo... though that's their name in the Japanese series, with them being renamed for American audiences Tom and Tab, respectively... when  Kimba was translated to English (not as the Lion King).

Why the hell did Dick need to be changed to Tom. Why not just have them as Tom and Dick? Or Tom and Bo? What's wrong with that? Tom and Tab? I've heard of Tab Hunter, but aside from the drink I've never had and that thing on filing cabinets and on my keyboard that never seems to work, I don't know of any Tab's out there. I'm sure there are, but I don't know them. Meanwhile... Bo Didley, Bo Derek and Bo Jackson. And Bobo the Clown. And BO (body odor).

In each case, these five hyenas are comedy relief in their respected genres, though Disney did make these three wise guys a lot nastier than the Kimba version.

I don't think these characters look alike per se, but the fact that they are there in the same role is a wee bit damning.

Animation cell describing the Disney hyenas, as well as how to color them.
Kimba the White Lion's two comedy relief hyenas. Dick is the big one and knows Bo is the one on the left. You know that's how they remembered who was who: Big Dick. Ah so desu ne.
The main bad guy in Kimba was Kimba's aunt, while Disney's decided to shake things up and made she a he, having the baddie become Simba's uncle.

Okay, that's it for the characters... let's take a brief look at two of the most pivotal and influential scenes from The Lion King, that were practically lifted frame by frame from Kimba the White Lion. Check out the scenes were Kimba and Simba speak atop Pride Rock. It's an iconic image for The Lion King...

Left: Panja from Kimba; Right: Mufasa on Pride Rock. Both are iconic scenes, but only Mufasa is a scene stealer.
And, god help us, both these films have a scene where Simba and Kimba speak with the ghost of their father who appears in the form of a cloud.
Granted the clouds look quite different, but the point is... they are still clouds.
Lastly, American actor Matthew Broderick (my pal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) was slated to provide the voice of the adult Simba in The Lion King... and he was telling family and friends just how psyched he was to be doing the voice of the White Lion that was a Disney version of Kimba, the cartoon he loved watching as a kid.

"I thought he meant Kimba, who was a white lion in a cartoon when I was a little kid," says Broderick. "So I kept telling everybody I was going to play Kimba. I didn't really know anything about it, but I didn't really care." (Arar, Yardena (June 15, 1994). "Disney studios roar into action for `Lion King'". Austin American-Statesman.)

Here... I've created a wee chart without using any form of web design, to show you the list of highly suspicious transgressions.

                                                                   Japan            Disney

Creature:                                                    Lion                  Lion            check

Name:                                                        Kimba              Simba           check (too close) 

Characters                                                 Baboon             Baboon         check
                                                                  (shaman)          (shaman)

                                                                 Hyenas               Hyenas         check 
                                                                 (comedy)           (comedy)

                                                                 Aunt Lion          Uncle Lion    close 
                                                                  (I get it)

Scenes:                                                      sermon             sermon           check
                                                                  (rock shelf)      (rock shelf)     check

                                                                 Cloud Father     Cloud Father  check

Voice Actor                                               ŌtaYoshiko    M. Broderick      check
                                                                  (surname 1st)   (confused)

Oh my... it's the anime that just keeps on giving....

Anyhow, as far as I am aware, no one is suing anyone, what with Walt Disney and Tezuka having a shared past, what with Tezuka asking Disney in 1951 for and receiving permission to create a Japanese manga of Bambi.

But still, why isn't anyone suing anyone?

Could the Japanese lawyers for Tezuka Osama still be translating documents into Japanese? What if they won? Would Tezuka Osama's estate ask for Tokyo Disneyland as a penalty?

Can you see it?

Tokyo Osamaland? Hmmm, on second thought, that doesn't sound so good.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Great musical, great story. Saw it as Der König Der Löwen in Germany in Hamburg and its awesome there too. They are always making small things better, little changes in singing and acting or on stage. It was such an impressive visit with for my daughter i cannot tell. Best musical i have seen so far.

    1. That's what counts as a fan! You enjoyed it. 'nuff said.