In The Lion King, we are shown a family of lion royalty over multiple generations, as well as its subjects and other animals involved with its kingdom, the Pride Lands. Recently, I have noticed how long certain species live compared to other species, and have wondered whether this is at all realistic. We are not shown many other families, and do not see many other child animals, so this will have to be mostly within the context of the royal family.

At the beginning, we see the birth of Simba, born from Mufasa and Sarabi. Scar is Mufasa's brother. Nala, Simba's future wife, would also have been born around this time. Besides the lions, we see Zazu, a hornbill, and Rafiki, a baboon, in this scene. Both are clearly adults, and serve major roles in the kingdom's hierarchy. Timon, a meerkat, and Pumbaa, a warthog, are first seen, as adults, as well, about halfway through the film, when Simba is still a young child.

At the end of the film, most of these animals are still alive when we see the birth of Simba and Nala's child. Most of the animals look almost exactly the same, even though the lion equivalent of decades has passed. Mufasa was killed by Scar when Simba was a young cub, and Scar himself was killed towards the end of the movie by his own army of hyenas, but we see Zazu, Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, and Sarabi at the new cub's presentation at the end, and all 5 look identical to their first appearances. Simba and Nala are the only animals who have clearly aged during the movie, as they were just being born at the beginning and are now adults, having a child of their own.

It gets even more ridiculous if we consider The Lion King 2 and The Lion King 1 1/2. The former is a sequel, and deals with Simba and Nala's cub, Kiara, and ends with her coronation, as an adult; while the latter is a prequel of The Lion King, and starts long before the first movie. In the sequel, Rafiki, Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa are all seen at the end, when Kiara is all grown up, and all four do not seem to have aged a day since their respective first appearances in the first movie. These are cartoons, so it is rather hard to show age, but I would think they should at least have grey hair or (more) bent backs or perhaps more realistic, less anthropomorphized signs of aging.

Rafiki, Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa are also all seen in The Lion King 1 1/2, long before Simba's birth, still looking exactly the same (though Timon was coming of age at the beginning, so he looked a little younger), meaning all four animals lived through at least 3 or 4 generations of lions after they came of age and do not look like they have aged a day throughout. We do not see Sarabi, Mufasa or Scar in either movie, except in a scene in The Lion King 1 1/2 already shown in the first movie, so we do not know how long they lived compared to their younger relatives. However, Sarabi lives to see her grandchild, and Scar almost does, and neither looks significantly older. I know these are children's cartoons, but this seems like a bit of a stretch, even for children. Disney does not consider many sequels canon, however, so it does not endorse these two movies, but the company commissioned them and some people thought this would seem realistic, so I'm counting them. Even with just the first movie, however, the age problem is apparent.

Is this situation at all realistic? Do hornbills, baboons, warthogs, or meerkats live significantly longer than lions? Do these animals come of age early and live for a very long time afterwards, assuming they are not killed by predators, rivals or disease? I understand that this is a children's cartoon, and thus should not be considered a perfect model for the real world, so I am asking whether it is at all a model of the real world, by accident or on purpose. I am also not asking so much about the realism of age not being apparent, as these movies are cartoons, so this is hard, but discussions about apparent signs of age, such as different colors of fur, wrinkles, that shaking old people do in movies, or others, and whether these were or should have been shown, are welcome.

  • 6
    Your question is toooo long. Couldn't continue reading after the 3rd para. Please edit out the specific examples if you can. One example to strengthen your point is enough Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 4:48
  • 2
    Hmm, this at least seems like a better question than I first thought (or until I fought myself to the last paragraph). But I agree that it is a bit overwhelming with examples (though, that might also be because I've never seen any sequels and the original only a looong time ago). Maybe you can concentrate the examples on the original since you also say that "[Disney] does not endorse these two movies" (though one could still question their adherence to a broader outline of age differences).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 9:10
  • 1
    But that being said, I'd guess that any perceived age inconsistency is still inside the broader limits outlined by it being (1) an "unrealistic" animation movie in the first place and (2) employing heavily anthropomorphized versions of actual animals, which means they all probably have the average life expectancy of humans. And seeing that Simba was maybe max ~10 years away between his father's death and his return/coronation, that doesn't make it too unrealistic for all the "adults" to still look exactly like when he left.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 9:14
  • 1
    I think what makes your question so hard to read is that you are not coming straight to the point. I bolded the actual question to make it easier for the reader to see where this is heading, but I think you should put most of the examples after the question, which would make the text much easier to read.
    – magnattic
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 14:36
  • @atticae Your efforts in all honours, but I think the actual question here is a bit bigger than just this sentence. I fear emphasizing this part only might result in too easy-out answers to a question that is (hopefully) a bit deeper than just "did the movie realistically depict animal life expectancy?", ignoring much of what is said in that whole last paragraph. (But I admit that I can't do much more than lament at the moment either.)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 14:52

2 Answers 2


Insofar as you would really want to apply the word "realistic" to The Lion King, YES, the lifespans we see are realistic.

Here are the stats on maximum lifespan (average is lower, of course, especially for prey animals) and reaching adulthood (sometimes defined as sexual maturity) for the animals involved:

  • Lion (in the wild): 12-16 years, adulthood in 2 years
  • Hornbill: 35-40 years, adulthood in up to 6 years
  • Baboon: 35-45 years, adulthood in 8 years
  • Warthog: 15 years, adulthood in 20 months
  • Meerkat: 12-14 years, adulthood in 1 year
  • Hyena: 12 years, adulthood in 2

So assume, just as an example, that Simba and Nala were born in 1994, and the other characters are around these ages:

  • Mufasa, Scar, and Sarabi are all 6-7 years old.
  • Zazu and Rafiki are both in their early 20s, having served the pride for generations and with generations ahead left to serve.
  • Pumba and Timon are both 5 years old and are adults enjoying bachelorhood.
  • The Hyenas are all around 5 years old.

So Simba lives with Mufasa for some part of his first year (say 6 months or so) and runs away when he's less than a year old. He stays away until a little more than a year has passed and he is coming into adulthood around 1996. So all told, roughly two years pass from the beginning of the movie to the end.

In my example scenario, all the other characters in the movie are still well within their normal adult lifespans, even Mufasa if he had lived. Moreover, there is wiggle room on either side for the characters to all be older or younger and still alive in the given timeframes; my suggested ages were just an example.

For The Lion King 2, still realistic.

So at the end of The Lion King, Simba and Nala are 2 years old and at maturity. Let's say they wait two years to have kids and are four at the beginning of the movie. Based on my example above, Sarabi is reaching old age at 11, but still below the 12-14 maximum age range. Pumba and Timon are 9 now and getting on in years, but also years before their maximum ages. Rafiki and Zazu are just 24 and comfortably middle aged with a decade or two left of life. The movie covers a span of about two years (until Kiara and Kovu reach maturity) and at this point, only Sarabi is within the maximum age range--she is 13 and Lions live 12-14 years, so her being still alive is not unrealistic.

No problem for Lion King 1 1/2 either.

Lion King 1 1/2 is not entirely a prequel according to its Wikipedia plot line description. Timon gets himself kicked out of his community and meets Pumba and shortly they go to Pride Rock and see Simba being presented to the animals (as seen in the first film). Most of the events of this of this film play out concurrently with the events of the first film, so really it does not change anything in terms of the realism of the characters' ages.


First of all, birds do live a long life. I owned an African Gray and a Double Yellowneck and both had a life expectancy in the 70's. And they do look exactly the same during almost that entire time.

However, in the context of Disney, this is merely to establish continuity among beloved characters. You want a 4 or 5 year old to recognize Timon and Pumba because they're the sidekicks. They're the reason kids with a 10-minute attention span can watch the whole movie. If you suddenly made them unrecognizable, you take that part away and a child could become confused and then disinterested. Plus, which version do you make the inevitable plush toy resemble? :oP

Disney almost always engages in Anthropomorphism; giving human qualities to non-human beings. Hence the aging, wrinkles, etc that real animals do not go through. When it's time to progress a character to that point, you need to have a way to indicate they have aged, and since in the real world they don't exhibit any characteristics of aging (save maybe some gray hair on certain animals), you have to show them what they know, and they know grandparents have those characteristics (slightly hunched, gray hair, wrinkles, etc...).

  • While the answer is generally spot on, the question seems to argue that exactly those anthropomorphic signs of age you describe in your last paragraph were not employed by the movies.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 12:23
  • I didn't mean it for The Lion King, but they definitely use it in other movies. I may have misunderstood that part of the question. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .