Study Guide

The Lion King

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.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We see the sun rising over the savanna, and a bunch of animals begin to wake up. Soon, rhinos lumber past a mountain, birds fly over rivers, and antelope hop through tall grass.
    • As the animals travel toward Pride Rock, a female voice sings "The Circle of Life" and the music swells.
    • Cut to: Mufasa sitting on top of Pride Rock, looking majestic. Zazu bows before him, and Rafiki climbs up Pride Rock to give him a hug.
    • Mufasa nuzzles Sarabi, who is holding a very cute sleeping baby Simba. Rafiki gives baby Simba a blessing.
    • Rafiki holds baby Simba up for all of the animals assembled beneath Pride Rock to see, informing them that a young prince has been born.
    • All of the animals cheer and bow down to their future king.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Scar is hanging out in his den, being evil and threatening to eat a little mouse.
    • He is interrupted by Zazu, who tells him that Mufasa is on his way. Scar is unimpressed.
    • Mufasa shows up, angry that Scar missed the presentation of Simba at Pride Rock. Scar has no good excuse for this, other than that he's jealous of Simba for being first in line for the throne.
    • Mufasa and Scar fight a little bit and then Scar limps away, warning his brother to watch out for him.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • As a thunderstorm rages, Rafiki paints a picture on the trunk of the tree in which he lives.
    • The picture is of a lion cub. He gives the lion cub picture the same blessing he gave Simba.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Fast-forward in time: Simba is now a young cub, standing atop Pride Rock. He wakes up his mom and dad in a highly annoying, little-kid fashion.
    • Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands, telling him that everything the light touches is their kingdom.
    • Simba asks about a shadowy place, and Mufasa tells him never to go there. He then lectures Simba on the delicate balance of the ecosystem they live in, preparing the young prince for his turn as king.
    • Zazu arrives with the morning report. Mufasa then uses him as a dummy to teach Simba how to pounce.
    • After Simba pounces on him, Zazu gets word from a gopher that there are hyenas in the Pride Lands.
    • Mufasa leaves to take care of the hyena situation, and Simba complains that he never gets to do anything fun and cool like his dad does.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • Simba tracks down Scar in his cave, informing Scar that he's going to be king of Pride Rock. Scar is not enthused.
    • Scar attracts Simba's attention to the shadowy place that Mufasa warned Simba against. Using reverse psychology, he basically orders Simba to go there, letting slip that it's a badass elephant graveyard.
    • Simba "promises" never to visit the elephant graveyard.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Simba finds his best friend, Nala, and they try to sneak off to the elephant graveyard, but they're stuck with Zazu, who's supervising them.
    • To ditch Zazu, they sing a snappy musical number called "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." It works.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Simba and Nala head to the extremely creepy-looking elephant graveyard, only to find they've been trailed by Zazu the entire time.
    • They have a run-in with the hyenas—Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed—who threaten to eat them but then get so distracted by the puns they're making that they let their prey get away.
    • Nala and Simba escape, but the hyenas manage to catch up with and capture Zazu. They're trying to boil him in a soup when Simba comes back in an attempt to rescue him.
    • The hyenas give chase, and eventually Simba and Nala find themselves trapped in a cave. Luckily, Mufasa shows up to rescue them.
    • Mufasa takes the gang home, and the camera pans up to reveal— gasp!—Uncle Scar watching from a ledge in the cave.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Mufasa sends Nala home with Zazu so he can give Simba a talking-to.
    • After a stern lecture about responsibility, Mufasa and Simba horseplay a little. Mufasa tells Simba that all of the great kings of the past are looking down on him from the stars.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • Back in their cave, the hyenas recover from their run-in with Mufasa. They talk with Scar about how he's basically one of them.
    • Scar reveals that he "practically gift-wrapped" Nala and Simba for the hyenas and is disappointed that they didn't kill them.
    • Scar sings a villainous song about how he wants to kill Mufasa and Simba and become king, and how he needs the hyenas to help him.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Simba and Scar stand in the middle of a giant gorge. Scar tells Simba that he's got a surprise for him but he needs to be very patient and wait to see it.
    • Scar tells Simba to stay put and then trots off to go fetch the surprise. Soon, Simba notices the ground is trembling.
    • At the top of the gorge, the hyenas have set off a wildebeest stampede. An entire herd of wildebeests heads into the gorge.
    • Terrified, Simba gets caught up in the stampede.
    • Scar runs to tell Mufasa that Simba is stuck in the stampede. Mufasa runs to save him.
    • Mufasa manages to save Simba but then gets dragged back off with the stampede. He climbs a sheer cliff and begs Scar to pull him up.
    • Scar throws Mufasa off the cliff, sending him plummeting to his death.
    • Simba finds his father's corpse at the bottom of the gorge and attempts to revive him. When he realizes Mufasa is dead, he cries.
    • Scar convinces Simba that his father's death is all his fault. He tells Simba to run away before anyone finds out.
    • Scar tells the hyenas to kill Simba, but Simba manages to outrun them. They watch as he escapes from the Pride Lands and assume he's as good as dead.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Scar addresses the assembled lions, informing them of Mufasa's death and Simba's (supposed) death.
    • As Scar speaks of his heavy-hearted reluctance to assume the throne, a bunch of scary-looking hyena shadows take shape on the wall behind him. The lions look terrified.
    • Farther away from Pride Rock, Rafiki shakes his head in grief. Back in his tree, he wipes away the picture of Simba, presumably because he thinks Simba is dead.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Simba lies in the middle of a desert, encircled by buzzards.
    • Timon and Pumbaa ride into the scene, scaring the buzzards away.
    • They discover that Simba is still alive and realize that he's also a lion. At first, they're intimidated, but then they decide to keep him.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Back at Timon and Pumbaa's watering hole, Simba recovers from dehydration.
    • Timon and Pumbaa can tell that Simba is depressed, so they decide to find out why. Simba doesn't want to tell them anything.
    • Timon and Pumbaa cheer up Simba by singing "Hakuna Matata." Simba feels better. He even eats a bug.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • Through a time-lapse sequence, we see Simba growing up: he goes from cub to teen to adult lion while singing "Hakuna Matata."
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • Back in Scar's lair, Zazu is imprisoned within a set of wildebeest ribs and forced to sing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts."
    • The hyenas enter Scar's lair, complaining that they've got no food or water. Scar blames it on the lionesses and then invites them to eat Zazu.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa lie in the grass, contemplating the night sky.
    • Simba tells Timon and Pumbaa what his father once told him: that the great kings of the past are up in the stars, watching over them.
    • Timon and Pumbaa think the idea is hilarious, and Simba tries to laugh with them, but he gets sad. He flops down on the edge of a cliff, kicking up some grass and flower petals.
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • The grass and flower petals float all the way back to the Pride Lands, where Rafiki grabs ahold of some and does some magic with them in a giant tortoise shell.
    • The magic reveals that Simba is still alive. Rafiki jumps for joy, adding a mane to the smudged picture of Simba on the tree's trunk.
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • Timon and Pumbaa are out for a walk when Pumbaa gets distracted by a beetle.
    • While trying to catch his precious beetle, Pumbaa notices he's being hunted—by a lioness!
    • The lioness charges after him, but Simba steps in to defend him.
    • Simba and Nala fight for a while until Simba realizes the lioness is none other than his childhood best friend, Nala.
    • Nala and Simba catch up, and Nala tells Simba he has to come back and be king of the Pride Lands. Simba refuses but starts to cave when he sees how beautiful Nala has become.
    • Simba and Nala play around in the jungle while singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."
    • Timon and Pumbaa cry because their little Simba is growing up.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • Nala informs Simba that Scar has let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands. Simba is alarmed but still refuses to go back.
    • Simba and Nala fight, and Simba storms off.
    • Determined not to go back to Nala, Simba wanders into a field. Rafiki finds him and starts spouting strange riddles at him.
    • Simba, annoyed, tries to shake Rafiki. But Rafiki refuses to be shaken.
    • When Rafiki correctly identifies Simba as Mufasa's son, Simba chases after him.
    • Eventually, Rafiki leads Simba to a pool of water and asks him to look into it. At first, Simba sees nothing, but then he sees the image of his father.
    • Mufasa's ghost rises and addresses his son from the sky, telling Simba that he's the one true king.
    • Simba realizes he has to return to the Pride Lands.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • Timon and Pumbaa sleep. Nala wakes them up and tells them she's looking for Simba. Neither Timon nor Pumbaa has seen him.
    • Rafiki appears in a tree above them and informs them all that Simba has gone back to the Pride Lands.
    • Cut to: Simba running majestically across the desert.
  • Scene 21

    Scene 21

    • Simba arrives back in the Pride Lands and finds the area destroyed.
    • Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa catch up with him and pledge their allegiance to Simba's cause.
    • The four of them sneak up to Pride Rock, which is full of sleeping hyenas.
    • Simba persuades Timon and Pumbaa to create a diversion while he and Nala sneak into Scar's lair.
    • Nala goes off to rally the lionesses while Simba looks for Scar.
  • Scene 22

    Scene 22

    • Scar orders Sarabi up to Pride Rock and chastises her for being unable to find food.
    • Sarabi tells him that all of the food is gone and that if the lions are to survive, they've got to leave the Pride Lands. Scar refuses to leave.
    • Just then, Simba leaps down into Scar's lair. At first, both Scar and Sarabi mistake him for his father. Then, they're surprised to see that Simba is still alive.
    • Simba demands that Scar step down, but Scar demurs. He then forces Simba to tell the lionesses that he was the one responsible for Mufasa's death.
    • Scar tries to chase Simba off the edge of Pride Rock.
    • As Simba is dangling there, Scar grabs his paws—just as he grabbed Mufasa's all those years ago—and whispers to Simba that he's really the one who killed Mufasa.
    • Spurred on by Scar's confession, Simba leaps up off the edge of the rock and forces Scar to confess to Mufasa's murder.
    • A giant battle between the lions and the hyenas ensues.
    • Simba corners Scar at the edge of a cliff. Scar tries to blame his evil on the hyenas, who are enraged.
    • After a good, long fight, Simba throws Scar off the edge of the cliff. He falls into a briar pit, where the betrayed hyenas happily devour him.
  • Scene 23

    Scene 23

    • The lions regroup in the aftermath of the battle. Simba takes his place atop Pride Rock.
    • When Simba reaches the top, he roars in triumph. All of the lions roar with him. It's a beautiful moment.
    • Cut to: a sunnier, happier-looking Pride Rock. Just as in the beginning of the movie, all of the animals are assembled.
    • Simba and Nala nuzzle one another. Rafiki emerges from behind them and presents their newborn son, the future king of the Pride Lands.