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Most Popular Lion King Characters Ranked Worst To Best

Nearly 30 years after its release, the original 1994 version of "The Lion King" is still as beloved as ever. With gorgeous animation, a moving story, and memorable songs, it is among Disney's best. The coming-of-age tale centers on the lion Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult), driven from his home as a cub after his duplicitous uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) convinces him he's to blame for the death of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the king of the Pride Lands. While Simba eventually returns to reclaim his place as heir to the throne, along the way he meets a pack of endearing characters that help color in the many corners of the world of "The Lion King."

Some of these characters are wise and others are funny, some are evil and some are odd, and in the decades since the movie came out, almost all of them have become as iconic as classic Disney creations like Cinderella, Dumbo and Pinocchio. But which of the characters from the animated version of "The Lion King" is the most popular, and which aren't as revered? here's our ranking. Where did your favorite land?

12. Sarabi

Of all the characters from "The Lion King," Sarabi (Madge Sinclair) is the least popular for the simple reason that she has so little screen time. While it's never mentioned in the film, as Simba's mother and Mufasa's mate, Sarabi is the queen, and she has the regal bearing and dignified personality to match. In the brief time we spend with her, Sarabi shows how much she loves her son and wants the best for him. When Scar becomes king and strips the Pride Lands of its resources, Sarabi boldly stands up to him when he questions why she and the other lionesses haven't found any food.

Despite that, Sarabi is easy to overlook because "The Lion King" isn't her story. Instead, she's there to facilitate the story of the male lions' struggle for power and is ultimately at the mercy of the outcome of that fight. So although she's important to Mufasa and Simba, and demonstrates many admirable qualities in her few brief scenes, she isn't given enough to do in the movie to make a grand impression.

11. Rafiki

Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) appears at the very beginning of "The Lion King" to introduce Simba to the animals of the Pride Lands, and although he seems to be great friends with Mufasa, he isn't seen again until after the announcement of his death. He plays a key role in convincing Simba to claim his rightful place as king, and even helps in the fight against Scar and the hyenas. Yet, because Rafiki only shows up during key moments in the story, it's a bit hard to get a read on the monkey.

Rafiki is a shaman but in "The Lion King," his abilities are more alluded to than ever explained. While it becomes obvious that he is wise during an encounter with Simba as an adult, at first he comes across as kooky and annoying — in essence, he's the Yoda of "Lion King." That said, even his jokes have a note of intelligence to them. At one point he tells Simba, "You are a baboon, and I am not." And while Simba definitely isn't a baboon (unless Rafiki's words are meant metaphorically) Rafiki isn't either. He's a mandrill, a species that used to be classified as baboons but is now considered separate.

10. Banzai

The next three characters in our ranking — the hyenas Banzai, Shenzi, and Ed — are always seen as a trio in "The Lion King," and therefore, could appear in just about any order. However, there are some small but noteworthy differences, which is what led to their positions here. Banzai (Cheech Marin) often comes across as equal to Shenzi, the other speaking member of the group; however he seems to have slightly less self control than her, is the most obsessed with food, and is by far the most hapless hyena of the threesome.

Scar and the hyenas have entered into an uneasy alliance, but Banzai often lets his desire for easy eats guide his behavior even though Scar could turn on him at any moment. During the movie, he's the hyena who is willing to ask Scar for food — and once Scar has become king, to complain that there isn't any. Plus, he has a surprising tendency to get hurt. Not only does he complain that he won't be able to sit for a week after an unfortunate encounter with Mufasa, when the trio are pursuing Simba, he manages to be the sole hyena to slide into a bed of thorns.

9. Shenzi

Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg) ranks a spot higher than her companion Banzai because, as the leader of the hyena trio, she can often be clever, even while demonstrating a silly sense of humor. Shenzi shows just how much she enjoys jokes when she repeatedly asks Banzai to say Mufasa's name so she can act frightened, however she also get annoyed at Shenzi and Ed's antics, noting that their stupidity is why the hyenas are "dangling at the bottom of the food chain."

Furthermore, Shenzi seems to have the best understanding of the necessity of the hyenas' alliance with Scar, seeing it as a means to an end for the whole clan. As a result, she tends to think longer term than either Banzai or Ed, a quality glimpsed when she reins the other two in as they wait for Scar's signal to provoke the wildebeest herd to stampede. But Shenzi is no pushover. She's the first one to get angry when Scar calls the hyenas the "real enemy" and blames them for Mufasa's death, and she doesn't hesitate to lead the clan in taking him down.

8. Ed

Of the three major hyenas in "The Lion King," Ed (Jim Cummings) stands out as the most memorable — oddly enough, because he's the only member of the trio who doesn't talk. 

Instead, this hyena communicates via laughter and gestures. And while that can be a little limiting, it's often surprisingly effective as his laughter can be boisterous, desperate, foreboding, or any other emotion he wants to express. Yet, Ed is also often the silliest and most clueless hyena of the bunch. After being tackled by a furious Mufasa, he's the only one without the good sense to deny knowing the lion cub they'd been trying to attack was Simba, and when he and Banzai wrestle after having an argument, he somehow ends up chewing on his own leg.

Yet, Ed's not completely oblivious. He's the only one to notice that Simba and Nala are escaping when Shenzi and Banzai get distracted making jokes, and he seems to know that he's best served by following Shenzi's lead, an instinct that keeps him out of trouble. So in the end, while Ed may be the daffiest hyena in the clan, there are many reasons he's also the most amusing to watch.

7. Zazu

Coming in at number seven is Mufasa's majordomo, the hornbill Zazu (Rowan Atkinson). Zazu can be arrogant, uptight, and impatient, which leads him to clash with Simba and Nala when they're cubs, an issue illustrated in young Simba's song, "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." Yet, Zazu also has a very challenging job and much of his attitude can be attributed to the pressures of his position. He seems to do anything and everything for Mufasa, from keeping up with all the activity in the Pride Lands to checking in on Scar when he doesn't attend the presentation of the newborn Simba to looking after Simba and Nala when they claim they want to visit the watering hole.

Still, Zazu cares deeply about Mufasa and his family, and readily complies with Mufasa's orders — even when it's to turn around so Simba can practice pouncing. Plus, he can be quick with a joke or well-placed pun. He makes Mufasa laugh when he suggests that Scar would "make a very handsome throw rug," and when he delivers the morning report, he colors his speech with turns of phrase like "the buzz from the bees," "the baboons are going ape," and "cheetahs never prosper." Plus, he can be somewhat sly, as can be seen when, after Scar becomes king and imprisons him, he starts to sing "It's a Small World" to Scar's horror. Still, Zazu's peevish personality makes him less endearing than many of the film's other characters.

6. Nala

Nala (voiced as a child by Niketa Calame and as an adult by Moira Kelly) is one of the most important characters in "The Lion King." She's Simba's childhood best friend and the one who finds him and tells him what's happened to the Pride Lands after they've grown up. Once Simba returns home, she supports him in his fight against Scar. Yet, in the animated version of the story, Nala isn't given as much attention as she deserves, rendering her a somewhat secondary character.

In the 1994 "Lion King," Nala is most obviously Simba's love interest, and perhaps it's not surprising in a story with so many showy male characters that she gets lost in the shuffle. But there's a lot about Nala that makes her worth paying attention to. From the time they were cubs, Nala is capable of pinning Simba. And she always stands up for herself whenever she believes she's not being given the credit she's due. 

When Simba pronounces himself a genius for using "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" to get away from Zazu, Nala quickly reminds him that their gambit was her idea. And when she finds him as an adult, she doesn't hesitate to express her disappointment in his choices. In other words, Nala is pretty awesome and deserved better from the film. At least in the 2019 remake, her role is expanded to showcase just what a strong character she is.

5. Scar

Scar is among the most dastardly of all Disney villains. After all, while many of them do awful things, none of the others killed their brother and attempted to murder their young nephew. 

That's why it's easy to be torn on Scar. On one hand, Scar is remarkably entertaining. Jeremy Irons gave Scar a mannerly vocal quality that's easy to be disarmed by. And because of that, even his most cutting lines often come across as surprisingly wry and charming. Plus, there's a certain humor to his creative way with words. Even when he's laying out his shocking plan to take over the throne in the song "Be Prepared," his insults and threats to the hyenas are on point, such as warning them they "won't get a sniff" of the rewards of his coup if they don't do as he says.

On the other hand, it's hard to get past just how terrible Scar is. He takes advantage of his nephew's trust repeatedly, placing him in life or death situations. And he takes advantage of the rest of the trust of the other lions as he secretly plots to make himself king. Of course, it's the fact that the lions don't think of him as a threat that enables him to carry out his plan in the first place. Nonetheless, as fascinating a creation as Scar is, his actions are unforgivable.

4. Timon

Along with his best bud, the warthog Pumbaa, meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) is the funniest part of "The Lion King." And his ability to delight both kids and adults with his sardonic sense of humor is what puts him at number four. 

Sure, he's a little full of himself and sometimes takes credit when he doesn't deserve it, as he does for Pumbaa's idea to take in Simba so they have a larger, stronger ally. However his adherence to the "problem-free philosophy" of" Hakuna Matata makes him a lot of fun, as he demonstrates in his and Pumbaa's enthusiastic rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Most importantly, he proves himself to be a deeply loyal friend. When Nala comes after Pumbaa, he's genuinely terrified for his pal — and relieved when Simba shows up to save him. And when Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands to challenge Scar for the throne, Timon agrees to help. Even though he notes that the place isn't looking too appealing, he still tells Simba: "If it's important to you, we're with you to the end."

3. Pumbaa

Timon and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are such an inseparable duo that it's hard to think about one without the other. They're rarely seen apart and it's clear from the way they play off one another that they've spent a large chunk of their lives together. Yet, while Timon is the louder of the pair, Pumbaa is the sweeter, smarter, and more slyly witty, which is why he's ranked just slightly above his pal. Pumbaa accepts everything about Timon, even his brash attitude and tendency to mock him. He also goes along with Timon's plans even when it means he becomes bait, like he does when Timon uses him to distract the hyenas when they help Simba take back the Pride Lands.

Plus, Pumbaa can be every bit as funny as Timon. Timon's offering up of Pumbaa to the hyenas wouldn't be half as amusing without Pumbaa punctuating the pauses in Timon's attention-grabbing song with a jaunty "yup, yup, yup." And when one of the hyenas refers to him as a pig, he proclaims: "They call me Mr. Pig!" (an homage to a classic line from Sidney Poitier) before trouncing his enemies. Seeing Pumbaa get his hackles up after he's been a largely carefree, "no worries" kind of guy throughout most of the movie still elicits a guffaw.

2. Mufasa

Mufasa may have been a lion, but he was also the embodiment of the dad many people always wanted, which is why he's earned the second spot in our ranking. Wise, playful, and stern when necessary, Mufasa made a big impression in "The Lion King." In fact, Mufasa's presence looms large over the story even though he's mostly absent after its first half. And if he didn't stand out as a character, the movie wouldn't work nearly as well

A great deal of the credit for the outsized impact Mufasa makes goes to actor James Earl Jones, whose distinct bass voice infuses Mufasa with grace and nobility no matter what emotion the character is feeling. Plus, his patient way of explaining the circle of life to Simba, his calm leadership style, and his ability to quickly spring into action when duty calls, all make him easy to admire. Mufasa is the example all the characters aspire to live up to — or in Scar's case, surpass. And he serves as a good role model for viewers too.

1. Simba

"The Lion King" is Simba's story, pure and simple. While plenty of characters help him along the way, Simba is the one who must evolve the most to gain the confidence he needs to take on the role of king. And Simba's journey from overconfident cub who thinks being king is all fun and games to adolescent trying to forget tragedy to adult taking his first steps toward becoming the fair and humble ruler he was always destined to be is highly relatable. That's why he is ranked as the most popular "Lion King" character. After all, while the circumstances may be different, like Simba, all of us have faced disappointments, setbacks, and uncertainties and struggled to get back on track.

Simba is frequently compared to Mufasa in the film, but both Matthew Broderick's vocal performance and Simba's attitude make it clear that he is frequently a long way from his father. Simba is earnest, often uncertain, and not as wise as Mufasa. Nonetheless, "The Lion King" theme of the circle of life comes out in the way Simba eventually embraces his birthright, enabling him to carry on his father's legacy while simultaneously creating one of his own. It's a powerful idea that continues to resonate decades later, largely because of the movie's sympathetic, relatable depiction of its main character.