Study Guide

The Lion King Summary

The Lion King Summary

If you've never seen The Lion King, close this tab, head over to the rest of the interwebs, and...just watch. See, this here's a musical with some of the most famous songs in Disney history ("The Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata" for starters). Because our musical performances are better in person and not via written-word summary, you just won't get the same vibe from us as you will from the movie. So yeah...go watch.

Back? Good.

We open with what rivals Raiders of the Lost Ark for best opening scene in movie history: "The Circle of Life."

In case you don't speak disney fanatic, here's what's happening: we're in the Pride Lands, where a bunch of animals are going to the presentation ceremony of a young cub named Simba. But Simba isn't just any old lion cub: he's the son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, the royal family of the Pride Lands. The entire animal kingdom is thrilled to hear of Simba's birth, especially Rafiki, the elderly baboon who functions as Mufasa's spiritual counselor. 

The only one who's not excited? Old Uncle Scar, who's jealous that his nephew will likely inherit the throne before him.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it's Hamlet.

Via some amazing montages, we watch Simba grow up. Like most little kids, he's pretty mischievous. At Scar's not-so-subtle urging, Simba convinces his friend, Nala, to accompany him to an elephant graveyard that Mufasa has expressly forbidden him from visiting. Simba, Nala, and Zazu—a red-billed hornbill who is Mufasa's majordomo—end up in the elephant graveyard anyway. Because kids.

Just as they're about to get eaten by a trio of bloodthirsty hyenas named Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, Mufasa shows up and saves the day. Like ya do.

After their would-be prey escapes, the hyenas lament how hungry they are. Scar, who apparently spends a lot of time chilling in this elephant graveyard, overhears them. Turns out they're all buds, and Scar and promises them unlimited food if they'll help him kill Mufasa and Simba. Easily bribed, the hyenas agree.

Cue: cackles and every kid in american finally knowing what a laughing hyena is.

Scar lures Simba into a giant gorge with the vague promise of a "surprise." Simba—who's still a little kid, if you remember—goes there eagerly, without questioning his super creepy uncle. While Simba is practicing his roar on a lizard, he notices the ground is shaking. The hyenas have sent a stampede of wildebeests over the edge of the gorge, and Simba is caught in the stampede.

Mufasa rushes to rescue his son. Because he's Mufasa (i.e., a total rockstar), he saves Simba immediately. But then...he gets carried off by the stampede. With a final burst of effort, he leaps up onto the edge of a cliff where Scar is standing and begs his brother to pull him up. Because Scar is a power-hungry sociopath, he throws Mufasa off the edge of the cliff instead. 

Mufasa falls to his death. 

Excuse us while we grab some tissues.

To add insult to injury, Scar convinces the impressionable Simba that he is the one responsible for his father's death (as if his little cub roar could actually set off a stampede) and urges him to flee into exile.

While in exile, Simba makes friends with a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa. Timon and Pumbaa basically raise him, teaching him the ways of the jungle—like what bugs are best to eat, how to burp as loudly as possible, and how to sing a song that would become part of the American subconscious for decades.

As Simba grows up, he forgets about his role as king of the Pride Lands. 

That is, until Nala accidentally stumbles upon Timon and Pumbaa's hideout.

After some convincing from Nala, Rafiki, and the ghost of his father, Simba finally decides to return to the Pride Lands. One problem, though: Scar has completely ruined the once-beautiful kingdom. The place is dark and destroyed, all of the leaves and greenery wilted. What's worse: none of the lions have anything to eat.

Simba confronts Scar, demanding that he cede the throne. Scar isn't exactly keen on that idea, and he tells the other lions that Simba was the one who killed Mufasa. Simba, still in the dark, admits to the "truth" of this statement. He and Scar fight, and Simba ends up dangling from the edge of Pride Rock. Just as Scar is about to throw Simba to his death, he confesses to Mufasa's murder. 

Scar's confession gives Simba a burst of energy (confession: we're getting choked up while writing this): he pulls himself back up and attacks Scar, eventually throwing the evil lion into a pit of hungry hyenas who have turned on him.

After Scar's defeat, Simba assumes the throne. He and Nala get together and have a kid—a son, shocker—who goes on to become the next king of the Pride Lands. 

And the Circle of Life continues.

Unfortunately, so does the franchise, with a couple not-great sequels.