‘The Lion King’: The Original Ending Was Really Dark for a Disney Movie

Disney’s 1994 animated film The Lion King is considered to be one of the studio’s best. However, it’s no secret that Disney’s animated films have a dark side. After all, we’re talking about the studio that killed Bambi’s mother and disposed of many of its villains in gruesome manners. So it doesn’t exactly come as a shock that the original ending to The Lion King was a little less than family-friendly.  

Kiara and Simba
Kiara and Simba | Disney Junior via Getty Images

How did ‘The Lion King’ end? 

The theatrical ending of The Lion King is considerably less gruesome than its alternate counterpart. In case you need a recap before we delve into just how messed up the alternate ending is, here’s a quick summary of how the original film ends.

Simba rushes back to Pride Rock to face both his uncle Scar and all of his fears surrounding returning home after living in exile for so long. Simba offers Scar peace at first, but the prideful lion refuses the offer and throws red hot coals into his nephew’s face. Scar and Simba fight as Pride Rock erupts into flames around them.

Simba, at last, clears his name by forcing Scar to confess he killed Mufasa. The two battle while the rest of the pride fights off Scar’s band of hyenas. Simba spares Scar’s life and leaves his fate up to the hyenas, who aren’t exactly merciful. In a stroke of poetic irony, Scar is eaten alive by his own gang of cackling, four-legged followers. 

As the chaos dies down, a healing rain sweeps across the valley and restores Pride Rock to its glorious former self with Simba as the rightful king. 

The alternate ending was a bit too Shakespearean — not to mention gruesome 

Storyboards reveal a much darker conclusion to The Lion King we know and love. 

During the battle of Pride Rock, Simba gains the upper hand and throws Scar over the edge. A moment later, Simba hears a cry for help. Scar survived the fall, having grabbed on to the side of Pride Rock. Simba is conflicted for a moment, knowing fully well Scar murdered his father and just moments ago would have murdered him.

Still, Simba upholds his moral compass and helps his uncle to safety. Then, Scar whispers to Simba, “Goodnight, sweet prince,” in a very Hamlet fashion and throws his nephew into the burning abyss below. 

Simba survived the fall, unbeknownst to Scar, who is gloating over his victory by laughing maniacally on top of Pride Rock. His hubris distracts him from the rising flames surrounding him, which eventually consume him. 

Disney producers ultimately decided to scrap this ending on account of it being far too terrifying for children and figured that having Scar confront the hyenas one final time would be poetic enough, albeit still disturbing. 

The film’s sequel ‘The Lion King II’ had a similar dark alternate ending 

As if The Lion King’s alternate ending wasn’t upsetting enough, The Lion King II also has a dark villain death in yet another alternate scene. 

The Lion King II welcomes a new league of antagonists known as The Outsiders, a group of lions who still follow Scar as fanatics and loathe Simba for his part in their leader’s demise. Their leader, Zira, attempts to use her son, Kovu, to get close to Simba and kill him. However, things don’t exactly go as planned when Kovu falls in love with Simba’s daughter, Kiara. 

Like the first film, the climax of The Lion King II is a second vicious battle pitting lions against lions. Zira attempts to kill Simba, but Kiara saves him before Zira falls into a flooding river and drowns.

But in the alternate ending, Zira’s death isn’t as much of an accident. Kiara attempts to reach Zira and save her life. But instead, the lioness smiles evilly at Kiara, saying, “No! Never!” before letting go of the rocks and falling to her death. Yikes.

For a franchise so centered on the circle of life, it’s amazing just how much of The Lion King’s story is cloaked with death. For the sake of all our childhoods, we’re glad the animators decided to stick with the theatrical endings of both films. Hakuna matata.  

Read more: Here’s How the Original Animators of ‘The Lion King’ Feel About The Remake