The Lion King Remake's Biggest Changes From the Animated Classic

The Lion King

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Lion King, in theaters now..

Disney's remake of The Lion King is largely the same as the original animated film with little deviation much from the source material. Scenes and shots are recreated exactly as they originally appeared, but the film works best when it's willing to play with the narrative and insert new, interesting small beats and motivations for the characters.

Here are all the ways 2019's The Lion King is different from the 1994 animated classic.


The hyenas were portrayed as playful idiots in the original film and in the Broadway production. Although they could be dangerous in brief bursts, they spent most of the film being comic relief around Scar. Even when they're trying to kill Simba, they make jokes. But the new version of The Lion King makes them considerably more threatening. Although there is still some playful banter between Kamari (Keegan Michael-Keye) and Azizi (Eric Andrè), it's with a harsher tone than it ever had in the original.

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The biggest change, however, comes with Shenzi (Florence Kasumba). The leader of the hyenas was barely more intelligent than the others in the original film, forming a comic trio with the other two major hyena characters. In the new film, she's firmly established as the leader of her species. She's even shown to be a mortal enemy of Mufasa (James Earl Jones), speaking of the war that's been going on between the lions and the hyenas for generations. It makes them much more dramatic and imposing.


Scar (Chitwel Ejiofor) is the primary villain of the film. The character hasn't been changed much from the original: He's still the bitter brother of Mufasa who wants to steal the throne for himself. Ejifor's performance is much more subdued than Jeremy Irons was in the original, but still carries a lot of the same moments and character beats. But new details have been added to the subtext of Scar's motivations, making him a slightly more complicated character.

Early in the film, Mufasa asks Scar if he's looking to challenge him again. This suggests that the two once came to blows, and that Scar didn't manage to succeed. Future lines later in the film hint that it was over Sarabi (Alfre Woodard). This could even explain why Scar hates Mufasa so much that he'd be willing to kill him. While denying that he wants to fight him again, Scar points to the scar across his face. This hints that Mufasa is the one who gave the lion his famous injury. Scar even makes sure to slash Mufasa across the eye when he kills him during the wildebeest stampede, driving the point home.


The supporting cast all get small additional material in the film. Sarabi, for instance, is treated more as member of the royalty than she was in the original film. Zazu spends the latter half of the original Lion King in captivity. He's trapped inside a cage within Scar's den until the climax of the film when he's freed by Timon and Pumbaa.

In the new film though, Zazu (John Oliver) is never caught by Scar's forces, even though the hyenas are on strict orders to catch him if they can. Instead, Zazu flies around Pride Rock, continuing to give the morning report to Sarabi. It's an interesting tweak on Zazu's role in the film and makes him more proactive in the overall narrative.

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He even helps Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) escape Pride Rock. Instead of just being on a hunting trip like she was in the original, Nala is forced to actually flee Pride Rock. She goes off in search of someone who can help liberate the kingdom from Scar. She stumbles across Simba while on this mission. It gives Nala more agency than she had in the original, heading out not on the desperate orders of Scar but in hope of finding something to fight him with.


Timon and Pumbaa make for an interesting comparison to their original incarnation. Although they share much of the same dialogue and actions, Timon and Pumbaa don't just live alone in the forest. Instead, there are actually a number of small animals that also live in the jungle area they've found.

Although Timon and Pumbaa become best friends with Simba, the other animals are always a bit wary around Simba. They're clearly aware of his place in the food chain, leading some of them to be skittish around him.

Timon and Pumbaa are also significantly dourer than they were in the original, making their exile well-known throughout the film. It makes their disconnect from their families more overt, and explains why they put so much importance on the relationships they've developed. The two are practically fatalist when explaining Hakuna Matata to a young Simba, making the philosophy sound more depressing and less carefree than the original version of the characters.


Rafiki (John Kani) fills much of the same role as he did in the original. He helps introduce Simba to the world and eventually convinces him to return to Pride Rock. But Rafiki doesn't spend the whole film walking around with his staff. Instead, the new movie makes it more into a war weapon. He only pulls it out when it comes time to take Pride Rock back from Scar and the hyenas, and wields it much more realistically (less as a refined weapon and more of a blunt club) than he did in the original.

Another surprising change comes with the extended version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The song was only briefly sung in the original before Pumba wandered away from Timon. However, the new version of the film extends the song significantly longer, basically making it a full-blown musical number alongside the other animals that live with them. It's a fun sequence, which is suddenly ended by Nala pouncing into the group.

Directed by Jon Favreau, The Lion King features the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Eric André, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones.

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