Disney films capture the imagination of adults and children alike. From heart-warming, timeless classics such as Fantasia and The Jungle Book to new landmark animations like the recently released Tangled, the animal kingdom has taken a leading role in providing some of Disney’s most popular and memorable stars. Whether it is a warthog and meerkat comedy duo or a chorus line made up of uncharacteristically nimble elephants and hippos, you can’t help but immerse yourself in the fun and frolics even if there are some glaring biologically incorrect factual errors!
Anthropomorphism aside, I have been reminiscing and have delved into these much loved films to uncover some of Disney’s wildest characters.
Set in Africa, the endangered animal cast is almost too large to pick favourites. They include Timon and Pumbaa the loveable meerkat and warthog duo, the laughable trio of spotted hyaenas, and of course Simba the playful and curious lion cub.
As future king, Simba has a reputation to live up to. He should be courageous and majestic, growing up to be one of the largest big cat species in Africa as well as head of the pride. Though the likelihood of a lion actually becoming friends with a meerkat and warthog seems doubtful!
The trio of hyaenas, portrayed as comical, stupid and low in the food chain sticks to a typical misconception of these misunderstood animals. The second largest carnivore in Africa, spotted hyaenas are in fact intelligent and adept hunters. Though, like their wild counterparts, the film does accurately portray the female hyaena as the dominant leader of the trio.
The bare necessities
One of my favourites has to be the classic tale of a boy growing up in the jungle surrounded by a cast of endangered species. Baloo the sloth bear truly lives off the land, sticking to the “Bare Necessities”. Unique among bear species, the sloth bear primarily eats insects, and can be found looking under “rocks and plants” for some “fancy ants”, although it will also indulge in fruit and honey.
The bulky ballet
My personal favourite has to be Fantasia, with one of the highlights being the ostriches, hippopotamuses, crocodiles and elephants performing ballet! It is difficult to imagine these rather cumbersome animals performing so elegantly in the wild, especially Africa’s heavyweight, the hippopotamus.
Despite being greatly appealing and entertaining, many of the films do have some factual errors, something the biologist in me can’t help but notice such as a mandrill-baboon cross called Rafiki in the Lion King and the presence of King Louie the orang-utan in the jungles of India!
Why not explore the world of Disney and let us know if you find any of your favourite characters hiding in ARKive.
Ben Morris, ARKive Species Text Author Intern