For an animated kid’s movie, The Lion Kinghad its share of surprisingly disturbing scenes, like Mufasa‘s death at the hands of Scar, the Nazi-esque hyena rally during the “Be Prepared” sequence, and Scar getting eaten alive by hyenas at the end.
It’s actually a wonder that kids weren’t rendered into blubbering messes after watching the film.
Having said that, The Lion King would’ve served up a guaranteed dose of trauma to you and anyone else who watched it had Disney decided to stick to the original, horrific ending.
In this original ending, everything unfolds roughly same way up until Simba faces off Scar for the final time at the top of a fiery Pride Rock.
After Scar knocks Simba on his back and about to finish him off, Simba manages to push Scar off, causing the older lion to fall off Pride Rock. But Scar isn’t dead as he is still clinging on the edge and begging Simba to save him. Telling Simba that letting him fall will make him no better than his murderous uncle, Simba decides to help.
However, Scar is able to grab hold of Simba’s mane and throw him off the edge to his apparent death. The elder lion manages to climb back up just before the flames engulf him. Since he doesn’t see Simba, who survived the fall thanks to a perfectly placed tree that broke his fall, Scar laughs maniacally in victory just before he gets consumed by fire and burned to death.
This original ending ultimately wasn’t properly completed and only exists in storyboard form, which is for the best because those alone are trauma-inducing enough and seeing the scene fully finished would’ve been way too much to handle.
As for why the original ending was deleted, Disney rightfully thought that it was too horrific for a Disney film and thought it was more interesting (and somehow less graphic) for Scar to be mauled to death by hyenas.
This makes sense on a character level given Scar’s association with the hyenas but the “too horrific for a Disney film” reasoning is an interesting one given how the studio went with graphic deaths for some of its other animated masterpieces.
There’s Ursula being impaled and electrocuted in The Little Mermaid, Frollo falling into molten copper in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Clayton getting hanged in Tarzan, and Gaston falling to his death in Beauty and the Beast.
So while Scar’s final death worked just fine, his original death wouldn’t have been too out of line when put alongside other Disney Renaissance films.
Perhaps having Scar laughing evilly while being roasted alive was just one step too far for a film that was already dark enough as it is.
And besides, The Lion King had already already used its “traumatise the audience” card with the death of Mufasa and playing it twice would’ve probably scared too many folks away from what was supposed to be an animated film about lions.