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Artistic License Biology / The Lion King

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The Lion King and its many sequels, spin-offs and tie-ins, not unlike one of Disney's earlier attempts at animating animals, take numerous liberties with the biology and specific behaviour of the animals real life counterparts.

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    The Lion King 
  • The confusion over Nala's paternity stems from this trope. Real lions do not accept cubs who aren't theirs, with the exception of their sibling's or cousin's cubs if relatives rule a pride together. When new lions overtake a pride they'll kill the young cubs of the previous lion(s) and kick out older cubs (and nearly grown lioness' who haven't reached breeding age yet). In The Lion King, Mufasa and Scar are the only two lions in the pride. This mean that one must be Sarafina's mate, right? But that makes Nala either Simba's half-sister or his cousin. In actuality, neither Mufasa nor Scar fathered Nala. Males in The Lion King are monogamous and are much more accepting of others' cubs than real lions.
  • Rafiki is a mandrill with a tail of a baboon and living in the savannah instead of in the forest; Zazu is a red-billed hornbill that is blue instead of brown; Pumbaa is a reddish brown warthog that looks more like a big-headed pig than a warthog; Timon is an always-bipedal meerkat with human-like teeth and that says "Ugh, carnivores!" even though he belongs to the order Carnivora as well; the spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) bear some resemblance to striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena), with grey hair, large shaggy black manes, black ears, and low-hanging heads.
  • Lions in this film have larger dew claws than in Real Life, which they can use as thumbs to make human-like hand gestures. It's most conspicuous with Scar, who grabs Banzai by the neck during his Villain Song.
  • Given that they are very close to the same age, Scar and Mufasa would realistically have been kicked out of their natal pride by their father at or around the same time and worked together to take over a pride. They would then lead and father cubs together. The same would have happened to Simba, had Mufasa lived. But that doesn't make for a very good Disneyfied version of Hamlet, now does it?
  • In general, the pride operates much closer to a human monarchy than an actual lion pride, with a clear line of succession, a monogamous ruling couple, and even royal advisers and arranged marriages.
  • The hyenas bark, drool, and whine like dogs. In real life, hyenas belong to their own family (Hyaenidae), which is more closely related to the cat family (Felidae), or the Mongoose family (which includes animals such as meerkats) rather than the dog family (Canidae.) To show how wrong this is, they could meow or purr and it would be more logical than barking (but still very wrong, as they belong to their own distinct family and have their own distinct vocalizations; mainly whooping or giggling noises.)
  • A relatively small thing, but none of the cubs in either of the movies seem to be part of a litter. Though lionesses typically have small litters (usually just two or three cubs at a time) and having a single cub is certainly possible, to have all of these cubs being single births is quite bizarre.
  • Lions tend to have litters within months of each other, but there are very few cubs in the original film or its sequel. Kiara was the only cub in her pride, while her parents were the only two when they were young as well. Extended media tries to fix this: The Lion King: Six New Adventures introduces Chumvi and Kula as Nala's Childhood Friends, The Lion Guard depicts Kiara as friends with Tiifu and Zuri, and The Lion King (2019) features background cubs - but the characters end up looking like random additions. The lack of cubs is likely a pragmatic choice in order to keep the cast concise. In development, Nala had a younger brother named "Mheetu" who acted as Simba's tag-along and was the reason for Simba being in the gorge. He was scrapped because it turned out he wasn't needed for the plot.
  • Lion cubs lack the rosettes that actual young cubs have. The sole exception is Kion from The Lion Guard (who is actually too old to have as many rosettes as he does) and the newborn Simba (but not Kiara). Concept art shows that Simba originally had rosettes, but in the simplified final product, he lacks them.
  • Newborn lion cubs are depicted as rather large and with their eyes already open, in contrast to real cubs who are smaller and are born with their eyes closed.
  • Simba and Nala are monogamous and only have one cub (two cubs as of The Lion Guard). In a real pride, Simba would mate with all the females. It's never specified who the fathers of the other other Pridelander cubs in supplementary material and The Lion Guard are.
  • It's commonly stated that all of the lion roars heard in the movie are actually tiger roars because the people making the movie felt like the lion roars weren’t powerful enough. This isn't the case, however — while tigers are larger than lions, they actually have a higher-pitched roar that sounds almost like they are saying "ow." Listen here. However, tiger roars are considered fiercer and more aggressive, which is why many movies use their roars to portray a lion. This is important for any scene where Simba or Mufasa are angry, as lion roars don't sound quite as rage-filled as tiger roars.
  • The decision to portray the hyenas as stupid feels odd when you realize that they are intelligent animals in real life, nearly comparable to great apes in that regard. They have a very complex social structure (the most complex of any predator), and can work together and problem solve better than chimpanzees can, as elaborated on here.
  • The black-maned Scar is weaker than his auburn brother. Studies have shown that the darker the mane, the stronger and healthier the lion. Females are also more sexually attracted to black-maned males than brown-maned males. Also, a lion's mane darkens as he ages; since Mufasa is the older brother, he should have the darker mane.
  • Several lions - Nala (in Simba's Pride only), Vitani, Zuri, and Tojo in particular - have blue eyes. Blue eyes only occur in white lions.
  • The lions in the film don't age quite like real lions. In the movie, cubs begin to get their manes even before they outgrow their young cub proportions. In real life, cubs are much larger and more muscular before their manes begin growing in. Adolescent male lions look a lot like lionesses due to their size combined with a lack of a mane.
  • During "Be Prepared", Scar mentions that he's been plotting for "decades of denial." The average age of female lions in the wild is 15, while males are lucky to make 12 (though both can live into their 20s in captivity).
  • None of the female lions have whiskers, and those of the males appear and disappear throughout the film.
  • Scar's claws are permanently visible. In reality, lions have retractable claws - they are hidden inside the paw until the lion chooses to extend them.

    The Lion King II: Simba's Pride 
  • During "Upendi", Rafiki gives Kiara a passion fruit (and tries to give one to Kovu), which she swallows happily. Real lions are obligate carnivores, though lions have been known to eat watermelon in captivity.
  • At one point (while the music's winding up for We Are One), Simba and Kiara are shown rubbing up against each other and purring. Roaring cats, such as lions and tigers, can't purr. The biggest cats that purr are cougars.
  • Okapis are depicted living on the plains alongside the lions. Okapis live in dense jungle and would never encounter lions in real life.
  • During the ambush, but especially before Simba takes a fall off the cliff, the lionesses are heard making dog noises rather than actual lion noises. This is especially glaring given that just before the ambush, Simba and the Outsiders were making actual lion sounds.

    Timon and Pumbaa 
  • The episode "Cooked Goose" shows the hyena trio of Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed being manipulated by Cheetata and Cheetato, two cheetah brothers, by sending them through a literal wild goose chase to prevent them from disturbing their hunts. Their first meeting has the hyenas obviously being intimidated by the cheetahs. Shenzi even puts her paw over Ed's mouth when he rudely demands what they want from them, and then immediately tries to defuse the situation with flattery, calling them "big, bold, brave cheetahs". In reality, the exact opposite would occur. Despite their speed, hyenas are much stronger than cheetahs; since hyenas hunt in groups, most encounters between the two species involve hyenas stealing prey from cheetahs. As a result, cheetahs will actively avoid hyenas as much as possible. Also, among the animals that fall prey to the cheetahs by the end of the episode are a rhino and a hippo — both of which are too large and strong for cheetahs to bring down.
  • In "Brazil Nuts", Timon calls a capybara-like rodent a marmoset (a type of monkey). He might perhaps have meant to call the animal a marmot, but marmots live neither in Brazil nor in rainforests.
  • "I Don't Bolivia" suggests that toucans have serrated bills for crushing, and the antagonistic toucan character is shown crushing a snail shell. While the bill of a toucan is serrated, it has weak muscles and is incapable of crushing even soft fruit.
  • "Nearly Departed" implies that scorpions are insects, when they are arachnids like spiders.
  • In "Once Upon a Timon", Zazu expresses disgust at the fact that Simba still sometimes eats bugs. Hornbills are also known to eat insects, so Zazu has no room to talk (hornbills also eat less pleasant things too, like snakes and lizards).
  • "Can't Take a Yolk" had a female ostrich and her hatchling that have both the black feathers of an adult male ostrich and three-toed feet.

    The Lion Guard 
  • Fuli has rosettes despite being a cheetah, and her distinctive "tear-stripe" eye markings are much too short, making her look an awful lot like a leopard. King cheetahs (a rare type of cheetah) have them, but she lacks the other traits of king cheetahs, such as back stripes, so it's not clear if she is one of them or not. Word of God is they went with the rosettes because the young audience preferred this design over all the other ones they showed them. A later comic shows a male cheetah with accurate solid spots, but unfortunately lacks the tear stripes. The most accurate looking cheetah is Azaad, who has both solid spots and the stripes on the sides of the muzzle.
  • Jasiri says hyenas are only scavengers. It's true they will scavenge when given the chance, but they are not considered only scavengers any more then lions or any other predators are. Lions actually scavenge more than hyenas do. The whole "hyenas are only scavengers" idea is a very outdated belief that contributes to the bad reputation of the animal, so it's sad they got this one wrong, especially since Janja is repeatedly portrayed as a predator. Though it should also be noted Jasiri and her clan share more traits with striped hyenas, the species of hyena that actually are scavengers.
  • Some of the crocodiles are shown with overbites, but this is only true of alligators.
  • Kiara and Kion don't seem to be from the same litter but are almost the same age. Lions have larger gaps between litters.
  • As in the original movie, the hyenas are sometimes heard to yelp like dogs. In reality, hyenas are not related to dogs, nor do they make sounds like them - they make screaming, whooping noises.
  • Makuu's float was able to force the hippopotamuses out of Big Springs in "The Rise of Makuu". No such scenario would occur in real life, as hippos can kill crocodiles with ease and are known for being fiercely territorial.
  • Ushari is an Egyptian cobra (Naja haje), and for his first few appearances he has the markings of one. But later on, he's shown to have the external hood markings of an Indian cobra (Naja naja), which does not occur in Africa - in the same episode where his species is identified, no less. This is an exceedingly common trope with cobra species in media, on the level of All Animals Are Dogs.
  • While Ono can be forgiven for referring to venom as poison (since Bunga doesn't understand the difference), he still advocates sucking the venom out of the bite - a treatment that is antiquated and useless at best, and potentially very harmful to the patient at worst.
  • Female ostriches are regularly portrayed with black and white feathers. In reality, only males are black and white — females are brown. Given that The Lion King II: Simba's Pride showed a female ostrich with accurate brown feathers, they really should've known better.
  • Baby ostrish has coloration of an adult.
  • While the elephant herd is correctly led by an adult female or a matriarch (Ma Tembo), it includes adult males or bulls. Bulls are solitary in real life, though they do form bachelor herds.
  • The hives of African bees are portrayed as being identical to hornet nests.
  • In "Fuli's New Family," several characters comment on how soft Fuli's fur is. In real life, cheetah hair is often coarse and rough.
  • Hyraxes don't rub against snake sheds to disguise their scent. Their main defense mechanism is hiding in the crevices of rocks or in trees.
  • Vultures are shown being able to hover, which they are too heavy to do.
  • The plot of "Call of the Drongo" hinges on a drongo learning that tricking other animals in order to steal their food is wrong and disruptive to the Circle of Life. If it were any other species of mimicking bird, this wouldn't have been a problem, Fork-tailed drongos, however, obtain about a quarter of their daily calories by doing exactly this (though they can and do gather food for themselves, and also sound legitimate predator alarms). It's not exactly nice, but it's perfectly natural and fairly crucial to their survival. Although the drongo from the episode appears to be not a fork-tailed drongo but a greater racket-tailed drongo...which is an Asian species.
  • The zebras make horse sounds. While zebras do look similar to horses, they sound completely different. Since all three of the movies had zebras making accurate sounds, they should have known better.
  • Gazelles are all portrayed with long, straight horns regardless of sex. In reality, female gazelles have shorter horns than the males.
  • Hares are drawn with black button noses like dogs. Rabbits and hares have slit-shaped noses. Squirrels are also depicted with button noses, when they should have noses similar to rabbits.
  • In "Paintings and Predictions", Ushari constricts Bunga to restrain him. While there are a few venomous snakes that can constrict, cobras are definitely not one of them.
  • The generic red monkeys seen throughout the series have prehensile tails that they use to dangle from trees, a trait only present in New World monkeys.
  • Aardwolves are stated to look like hyenas, but most of them get offended if someone mistakes them for one. Aardwolves actually are a species of hyena that has specialized to eat termites.
  • Giraffes are drawn with pink tongues, when real giraffes have black or purple tongues. Gets egregious in that okapis (the closest living relatives of giraffes) are drawn with blackish-purple tongues like in real life.
  • The Cucumis humifructus or aardvark cucumber seen in "The Kupatana Celebration" is colored like a galia melon. The real fruits have a biscuit color.
  • Galagos (bushbabies) are strictly nocturnal, but the ones in the show are active at daytime.
  • Mpishi is an African harrier-hawk, which belongs to subfamily Polyboroidinae, but she's frequently referred to as a hawk, a term only reserved for members of either subfamily Accipitrinae or genus Buteo. She also makes the same noises as a red-tailed hawk (a member of Buteo).
  • This series in general has serious problems with scale. The male gorillas look too small when next to Kion (with the exception of Shujaa, who is enormous). Meanwhile, Kenge the rock monitor appears to be the size of a Komodo dragon.
  • A lot of the hyenas are portrayed as stupid. Hyenas are among the most intelligent animals in real life and are comparable to the great apes in that regard. They have a very complex social structure (the most complex of any predator), and can work together and problem solve better than chimpanzees can, as elaborated on here. Of course, the stupid hyenas in the show are all villains; good hyenas are shown to be intelligent.
  • The skinks have patterns and colors much too stylized, not matching those of any African species in real life.
  • Beshte is at risk of getting sunburned in "Swept Away". In real life, hippos do not get sunburns because they secrete a blood-like liquid which protects their skin from the sun's rays.
  • While "The Bite of Kenge" is accurate about monitor lizards possessing venomous bites, the venom actually not only causes paralysis but also prevents blood clotting. Then again, it wouldn't make the show kid-friendly if they portrayed the venom realistically.
  • In the Un-Bunga-lievable short on "the Best Babysitter," highlighting good parents in the animal kingdom, a crocodile is suggested as one such candidate but is immediately rejected. In reality, many crocodilians make exceptionally wonderful parents, as good as, if not better than many species of bear (the winner of the comparison).
  • Sumu the scorpion. He has only six legs when as an arachnid he should have eight (No, the pincers do not count since they are pedipalps, which are more like mouthparts), and he also has only four eyes which are arranged more like a spider's (real scorpions have only two eyes on the top of the cephalothorax, and two or five other pairs on the front corners of the cephalothorax). He's also portrayed as resembling an emperor scorpion, which are nowhere near as deadly as he is.
  • In "Ono the Tickbird" the classical "oxpeckers = eat parasites" stereotype is rehashed. In reality, they're actually more interested in eating blood. Interestingly, egrets (which is what Ono is) do eat parasites from large mammals—it's the reason they're called cattle egrets.
  • Kinyonga is portrayed as a standard Hollywood Chameleon; she rapidly changes color by her will, even turning invisible.
  • Even though cheetahs don't roar (which is reflected in the pilot), Fuli is seemingly capable of doing so as shown in "Undercover Kinyonga". Although if heard closely it sounds more like a loud snarl than a roar.
  • Much of the crocodiles are portrayed as meatheads. Crocodiles are known for their cleverness, which is how they are able to hunt and catch prey. Thankfully, Makuu hopes to rectify this setback in Season 2.
  • Mtoto's tusks appear to be growing out of his lower jaw. Real elephants (and the adult elephants in the show) have their tusks protrude from the upper jaw.
  • Kenge is shown to have his upper teeth visible when his mouth is closed like on an alligator. Monitor lizards have their teeth hidden inside their mouths.
  • Shujaa does his Primal Chest-Pound with clenched fists like a stereotypical cartoon gorilla. Real gorillas do it with cupped or open hands.
  • In "The Golden Zebra," Makucha attacks the Lion Guard with help from his leopard friends. In reality, leopards are both highly solitary and territorial animals who actively avoid one another. The sole exceptions to this is when they are mating or raising young.
  • In "The Wisdom of Kongwe" Fuli has trouble catching Makucha because she can't zigzag like him. Cheetahs are perfectly capable of zigzagging because of their long tails and semi-retractable claws; if anything, zigzagging is usually how they capture prey.
  • In "Pride Landers Unite!", Kifaru is revealed to be part of Mbeya's crash of rhinoceroses. Except that Kifaru is a white rhinoceros while Mbeya and the other rhinos are black rhinoceroses, meaning they're an interspecies crash (something rhinos don't form). Also, it is the white rhinos that form crashes; black rhinos are solitary.
  • Nyuni shouldn't be present in "The Morning Report", since yellow wagtails like him migrate to Europe during Africa's dry season.
  • When Kion gets bitten by Ushari, it is said the venom will send him insane. While snake venom can cause hallucinations, they can't cause someone to lose control of their morals. In fact, being a cobra, the most likely outcome is for severe necrosis to settle in.
    • Elapids are known for having powerful neurotoxins in their venom, and the components of Egyptian cobra venom are no exception. Neurological damage can be severe and permanent, and in some cases has led to mental illness, such as depression or PTSD, both of which cause moodiness and lapses in judgment. Cytotoxins that cause blistering and localized necrosis are also present in N. haje venom, but this is at least partially justified by the permanence of Kion's scar, which under normal circumstances couldn't be afflicted by the short fangs of an elapid.
    • Cobra bites are also unlikely to cause slash-like wounds like the ones in the show. They will, rather, look like a pair of pierced holes, and then, if not treated immediately, discoloration on the bitten organ.
  • The cobra who gave Scar his scar was shown with stereotypical "reptilian" slit-pupils, but real cobras have round pupils. This is jarring considering they got it right with Ushari.
  • Season 3 goes full on Misplaced Wildlife, with Asian animals apparently being accessible to our African protagonists within a day's walk. While it's never stated how far the Tree of Life is from the Pride Lands, it doesn't seem to be so far away that the main characters can't walk there.
    • One episode in particular seems to take place in Japan, featuring flora, fauna and geographical features from that country. Flying squirrels also appear. While Japan does have flying squirrels, these aren't them— its native species bears a closer resemblance to the Australian marsupial known as a sugar glider, while in the episode, the flying squirrels more closely resemble a species found in southeast Asia and Indonesia.
  • During Season 3, Kion uses salt water as a temporary relief for pain with his scar. Salt water has a slew of bacteria that could make Kion's injury worse, so it really isn't best suited for healing.
  • Despite Komodo dragons being cold-blooded, Ora is able to stay active in the snowy climate for long periods of time. In reality, he would have become too sluggish to fight or even move, if not outright gone dormant.
  • In a flashback showcasing the gang as babies, Ono hatches out of his egg with full flight feathers, and its implied Anga is similarly young. Aside from megapodes, modern birds hatch out covered in fuzz or entirely naked and incapable of flying.
  • Owls and parrots are depicted with three toes in front and one in back, rather than two in front and two in back. Oddly, the series' hornbills get this feature right.
  • In "Long Live the Queen" Makucha, Chuluun, and Ora attack Varya and her cubs. In real life, leopards would not dare approach a tiger at all, let alone a tigress with cubs, as tigers can easily kill leopards. This might be justified as Makucha is an African leopard and might not be familiar with tigers.

    The Lion King (2019) 
  • Rafiki's lithe appearance and dull colors make him more closely resemble a female mandrill, although this could be excused as an attempt to convey his old age.
  • The teaser trailer closes with a shot of adult Simba roaring atop Pride Rock, but the sound he makes is the typical Hollywood beefed up tiger-esque roar rather than an actual lion vocalization. He also does the stereotypical wide-mouth yelling posture commonly associated with roaring, but actual full-blown lion roars are produced with the mouth in an almost closed position similar to a howling wolf.
  • Once again the hyenas are portrayed as shitty scavengers that somehow still overhunt (in real life hyenas do hunt more than lions, but here its downright contradictory). The male hyenas also speak more often than Shenzi, but its actually accurate given how hyena social structure is more complex than just matriarchy (to put it simply, leadership in hyena clans is passed down through the female lineage as opposed to that of the male, but any offspring a lead female bears, even if they are male, will inherit her rank).


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