Some might argue The Lion King was the crescendo of Disney's 90s reniassance. The memorable characters, Shakespearean story and catchy music have endured to this day; the franchise spawned multiple sequels and even a recent TV show. But the animated classic that you cherish from your childhood was almost much different. Not only were the original scripts for The Lion King way more violent, but they also featured blatant incest.
Early drafts of The Lion King share the same basic structure as the final product -- Simba is a young lion who becomes exiled after the death of his father Mufasa, then returns to take his pride back from the evil Scar -- but the meat of the movie is almost unrecognizable. Several characters never made it to the big screen, like a German pachyderm named Herr Rhino and an anteater who had an unhealthy crush on Simba.
Some of the most substantial changes were saved for Scar, who was even more ruthless in 1990 story treatments by J.T. Allen and Ron Bass. In his earliest iterations, Scar wasn't Mufasa's brother, but instead a rogue lion who had been banished from another pride. And instead of being a slinky manipulative creep, Old Scar was a bruiser, twice as big as Mufasa. There was no complicated scheme involving a wildebeest stampede -- Scar just straight-up murders Mufasa in a fight, in front of everyone.
That's right, Mufasa didn't get trampled by a herd of scared animals; he got his neck snapped in the jaws of his rival. A death like this would probably be the most brutal in Disney history (you know, next to Mulan burying thousands of soldiers alive), so you can see why they scaled it back. In reality, the Circle of Life does include fatal brawls like this, but the animals on the Discovery channel aren't cartoons made specifically for family entertainment.
Speaking of family, the most messed up part of Allen's first draft had to be the way Simba and Nala were portrayed: as cousins.
That's not a euphemism or some kind of fancy Latin animal family lingo you didn't pick up on in high school -- early versions of Simba and Nala were related by blood. Nala's mother Naanda was sister to Sarabi, whose son was Simba. And it's not just buried in the details of the script, either -- both lions directly refer to each other as "cousin." As in "I'm looking for my cousin" or "My cousin is coming over later to watch Maid in Manhattan and it's just us and I don't think that's weird at all."
It gets creepier. Not only were Simba and Nala cousins, they were also implied to be full-blown siblings. In the opening minutes, two characters admire the young cubs frolicking together. "Aren't they just darling?" one says. "Mufasa would be so proud," the other adds. We can probably infer that Mufasa fathered both children with Naanda and Sarabi. That makes sense in the context of the movie, which was already attempting a close resemblance of nature; real lion prides often count only one or two males among their ranks, with the rest of the group consisting of females. Think about it: Do you remember any other male lions in The Lion King besides Mufasa, Scar and Simba?
Of course, the whole cousin thing was thrown out, presumably the second another human being laid eyes on it. Something that came much closer to fruition was a super intense demise for Scar. In the finished film, Simba battles his uncle while a wildfire surrounds Pride Rock; their fight ends when Scar gets knocked over the side of a cliff and is swiftly torn apart by the hyenas he once called his lackeys.
But for a long while, even through to the storyboard phase, it was Simba who was meant to be cast into the fiery abyss.
Simba doesn't die here, nor does Scar get cornered by hyenas. Instead, the blaze climbs Pride Rock while Scar lets out a bone-chilling cackle into the blood red sky. He's still laughing when flames consume him, embracing his own immolation with pleasure.
Holy shit, that's dark. Scar was more than happy to go down with the kingdom he burned to the ground. It's not often that you see a Disney movie that ends with the villain winning on his own terms. That's probably why this disturbing scene never made it to full production.
You'd think Disney would have learned their lesson, but initially the bad guy in the direct-to-video Lion King 2 was also going to "win" via suicide. During the official ending, Simba and Nala's daughter Kiara tries and fails to save the villainous Zira from falling to her death. It went down a little differently in the original version of the climax.
Wow, that's even more fucked up than Scar burning to death. Zira willingly kills herself rather than accept help from Kiala. The audio is pretty key here; Zira's gleeful death-whisper will stick with you for days.
Banner Photo Credit: Disney