Talking About the Real Lion King

With the release of the remake of Disney’s The Lion King approaching, Dr Graeme Shannon from the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University looks at how the original film portrays the social behaviour of animals.

Disney will release the new live action remake of the classic film on Friday the 19th of July. An active researcher and lecturer in zoology and animal behaviour, Dr Graham Shannon examines the depiction of animals in the wild, specifically lions, in the Disney cartoon. He said,

“In terms of animal behaviour, they’ve looked at lions specifically and they’ve done a pretty good job, but they skirt over some of the more brutal aspects of the actual predation. Even the mating is done with a romantic song playing in the background - when in fact lion mating is very far from that.

“They’ve depicted different animal species and the lion portrayal is reasonably accurate for a cartoon. In terms of the pride structure and the group organisation, you have a dominant male, often you’d have a coalition of males, but the single male and then a group of females that are related and their offspring. That is an accurate portrayal of what largely is the only social felid, the lion.”

According to Dr Graeme Shannon there is one obvious inaccuracy in the Disney film. He added, 

“The lion roar that Mufasa and other lions have in The Lion King isn’t very accurate. The Lion has more of a guttural grunt that’s loud and it can travel many kilometres in communication, but it doesn’t sound like the classic roar that you hear in the film.”

Talking about other animal species in the film, he says that the hyenas have wrongly been portrayed as a scavenger and as the baddy of the film. He added,

“Spotted hyenas, which is the species they focus upon in the film, are actually effective predators in their own right, taking upwards of 90% of their own prey not necessarily scavenging it.

“They are also highly social and have quite advanced cognitive abilities and the ability to process information and problem solve. I know a number of researchers whose noses were put out of joint by the film’s depiction of hyenas as these evil, incompetent individuals that are led by Scar to try to kill Simba.” 

Students studying at the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University get hands-on experience of animal behaviour both in the lab and in the wild as part of their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. He added,

“There are behavioural based modules which have practical assessments looking at animal behaviour and then we have field trips in the second year. There is one to Uganda that focuses on primatology so looking at primates, various different species but also behaviour is also key to that. There’s also the Spain field trip which really looks at the behaviour of a variety of wildlife species.

“Further to that, we have the dissertation module in the third year; I’ve had students collecting data from oystercatchers in the Menai Straits, and even a few students have gone out to South Africa to study elephants.”

More details about our Zoology with Animal Behaviour courses can be found on the School of Natural Sciences website.

The Lion King will be shown in Pontio from Friday 26 July to Thursday 8 August.

Publication date: 5 July 2019