Since The Lion King’s release in 1994, it’s arguably grown to become one of Disney’s most beloved classics. The animated movie is still so popular, in fact, that a CGI remake is planned for summer 2019. But although the movie’s story of kinghood is a fairly straightforward one, over the years some fascinating fan speculation about the film has made its way around the internet. And one such theory is so good that you’ll wonder how you never thought of it before.
The story of The Lion King actually borrows heavily from Shakespeare. In particular, it was influenced by the plot of Hamlet, the famous playwright’s tale of revenge and regicide. Indeed, most of the major elements from Hamlet – the wicked uncle, the self-imposed exile and the ghostly father – also appear in the Disney feature.
However, The Lion King thankfully ends on a far more pleasant note than Hamlet does. By the end of the movie, the evil Scar is killed not by his nephew, Simba, but by his own hyena henchmen, after which Simba takes his rightful place as king of the Pride Lands. In addition, Simba’s friends – his love interest Nala, his buddies Timon and Pumbaa and his father’s adviser Zazu – all remain alive. Poor Hamlet had no such luck.
And although The Lion King can’t yet claim to be as famous as the works of Shakespeare, it’s nonetheless spawned an entire franchise. There’s a musical version of the movie on Broadway, for instance, as well as a direct-to-video prequel and sequel and two animated TV spinoffs. Then there’s of course the upcoming remake, which has a mostly all-new cast.
Furthermore, fans have come up with some pretty interesting theories about The Lion King. To give one example, it’s been said that Nala is related to Simba, as that’s how real prides of lions operate. This hypothesis was eventually debunked in the TV show The Lion Guard, though: Nala’s father is not Scar or Mufasa but just an unnamed third lion.
But now there’s another theory about the Lion King characters going round, and this one’s yet to get a “no” answer. In 2017 a Reddit user called CombustibleCompost posted an extensive idea in the subreddit “FanTheories.” And their premise was this: “Zazu is a traitor working for Scar to kill Simba.”
“In the Lion King, Zazu… is a hornbill, trusted adviser to King Mufasa and comic relief,” the post began. “However, I propose something more. I propose that Zazu, sick of being belittled and a figure of fun and worried about the monarchy’s future, colluded with Scar to assassinate Simba and in the process [killed] Mufasa.”
CombustibleCompost went on to reveal what purported motive the colorful bird might have for these actions. They wrote, “In [the song] ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,’ Zazu is trampled on, sat on and disrespected by every animal of the kingdom… It would make sense that Zazu would resent this treatment that Mufasa allows.” Mufasa too mistreats Zazu to some extent, the user pointed out.
“However, I do not believe that Zazu wanted Mufasa dead, but rather [he] was worried about Mufasa bringing Simba up to be a spoilt brat who would ruin the kingdom,” the post went on. “Not only this, but Zazu is worried about his own future. Simba declares that when he’s king he will fire Zazu, both directly and in his song.”
So could an embittered Zazu have collaborated with Scar? There’s apparently plenty of other evidence, as CombustibleCompost points out. At one point in the film, Simba and Nala escape Zazu’s supervision and go to the Elephant Graveyard; while there, however, they fall into a trap laid by Scar. Yet Zazu manages to catch up with the pair at the location. Did Scar tell him about the plan?
“This would explain why ravenous hyenas, when given ample chance to eat Zazu, decide only to taunt him and stick him in a hot pot to fly out off,” explained CombustibleCompost, referring to one of the film’s more comic scenes. “Because Scar informed them that Zazu was an inside agent, and whilst they could have their fun, he needs to be kept alive.”
In the film, Zazu is also present when Mufasa is killed saving Simba from a stampede. “Zazu was not informed of this part of the plan as he still wants Mufasa as king,” CombustibleCompost stated. “This is why he panics and goes off to get help.” However, Scar swats Zazu into a wall before the hornbill can do so, which raises further questions.
CombustibleCompost also asked, “Why would [Zazu] not consider it suspicious that when suggesting that he gets help, he was knocked out by the king’s brother?” But the Redditor has an answer for that, too, continuing, “Because [Zazu] knows he is complicit. He knows that Scar has dirt on him. This is why Scar locks him [in] a cage: he can’t have Zazu reveal anything or ruin the plan.”
And there’s apparently even more evidence against the hapless bird. “In the Norwegian version of ‘Be Prepared,’ Scar mentions ‘undercover agents.’ Hyenas are definitely not who he is referring to – they are by no means trusted in Mufasa’s inner circle. Who could he be referring to?” CombustibleCompost wrote. “Only Zazu fills the bill.”
And, finally, there is the Hamlet connection. “Are there any characters Zazu mirrors? Yes, in fact, there are. Polonius, comic relief and chief counselor to the king,” CombustibleCompost wrote. “In the play, Polonius conspires with Claudius (Scar) to spy on Hamlet as he worries about his place in the monarchy and his relationship with the king.”
But despite the detail of that theory, there were still some holes that needed to be filled. “[Scar] already wanted to eat Zazu in the beginning of the movie. Why keep Zazu alive after Scar was king?” one commenter asked. CombustibleCompost suggested, however, that Scar did so both for the sake of his reputation and to feed his own ego.
Another person recalled that British actor Rowan Atkinson plays Zazu. And that suggests another interesting link, since one of Atkinson’s most famous comedy characters is Blackadder. In the first season of the series in which the character appears, he serves as an underling to a historical monarch – and he’s happy to undermine or betray that monarch too.
Meanwhile, another individual was full of praise for CombustibleCompost’s hypothesis. “One of the BEST theories I’ve read on this sub in a while,” they commented. “It all adds up, that’s the best part of it, and you explained it excellently!” Yet another wondered if perhaps the upcoming remake of The Lion King would feature an outwardly traitorous Zazu.
The new version of The Lion King does after all seem to be more than a straight-up retread of the original – at least so far. Although apparently the iconic opening sequence is the same – Disney showed some advance footage at a convention in 2017 – other things will be very different. Some songs will be new ones, for instance, while others featured in the 1994 movie have been left out.
One of the songs apparently not making it into the remake is “Be Prepared,” Scar’s extremely catchy villain song. Its famous lyrics include lines like “So prepare for the coup of the century/Be prepared for the murkiest scam!” Perhaps, then, it could be reworked and given to Zazu instead? You never know…