The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters: From Mickey Mouse to Hercules
Character Description of Simba from "The Lion King" (1994)
The story of Simba is the story of the movie: Born to kingship, he is tricked into abandoning it and then deliberately turns his back on it until persuaded by others to assume his responsibilities. Stripped down like that, the story seems a very simple one, but that is not the real
story. The real
story is of the transformation of Simba's character through several pronouncedly different stages.
As a baby and then a cub he is what Bill Cotter has described as "warm and fuzzy" - what used to be a typical Disney animal, in fact. As a cub he is as cocksure as the average preteen, and as gullible. It could not be made more patent that "Uncle Scar" is a stinker from root to branch, yet the young Simba swallows everything he says. The characterization is such as to evoke great sympathy - we have all been through that stage ourselves.
It is more difficult to sympathize with the adult Simba - at least, before he takes on his responsibilities. We see little of Simba's maturation - within a second or two he develops from cub to full-grown adult. Asv an adult, and under influence of Timon and Pumbaa, he still has the mentality of a child: all that's important in life is to have fun, and the overall philosophy should be hakuna matata
("no worries") about the past or the future. Adults who persist in childish ways are always either irritating or depressing, and this version of Simba is no different. By the time that Nala comes across him she is a fully matured lioness but he, while physically at least as powerful as her, is infantile in terms of personality; even his loyalty to Timon and Pumbaa, as he fights with her to save them from her, has a feeling of playground loyalty.
Physically, by this time, Simba looks very much like his father, Mufasa, although his features are rather more gentle. When Rafiki tells him to look into the water at his reflection and see his father there, we do indeed see Simba's face transmogrify into Mufasa's, but the difference is not considerable - it is little more than a change in facial expression. There is a difference in deportment, however: Mufasa always moves in a way that suggests ponderousness (even when romping with his young son), whereas at this stage in his life, Simba appears to lack that physical mass. He seems to be an adolescent - possessed of the stature while still needing to fill out the bulk. Nala, we are led to understand, reacts to him also as a woman might react to a man who was still innately adolescent: after the joys of physical attraction she effectively tells him to shove off until he gets his act together.
All this changes, of course, once the guiles of Nala, the sophistry of - and, more forthrightly, a thump over the head from - Rafiki, not to mention a visitation from the wraith of his father, have persuaded Simba that he must depose the usurper Scar for the sake of the wellbeing of the Pride Lands and all the animals who dwell therein. Now the resemblance to Mufasa is profound in every way - to the extent that on first seeing him Scar assumes he is
Mufasa, and even Simba's own mother, Sarabi, seems to have moment of confusion.
Simba cannot be said to be one of the more complex of the major characters in Disney's recent animated features; indeed, one can go back a lot futher than "recent", for his tale has many parallels with that of Bambi
, whose personality was explored in much greater depth. Nevertheless, Simba has proved an enduringly popular character, possibly because then movie as a whole was aimed at a younger audience than some of the other Disney features of the 1990s.