Jungle Emperor Leo (Janguru taitei) (1997)

I’ll plead ignorance by admitting that I wasn’t aware that “The Lion King” was controversial for being touted as plagiarizing “Kimba The White Lion” and “Jungle Emperor Leo” since the aforementioned film’s release. There are even reports of Matthew Broderick explaining his new project as a remake of “Kimba.” As for other similarities explained by anime fans, you really can’t deny the shocking similarities. “Jungle Emperor Leo” is worth viewing not just because of its inherent entertainment value and great animation from Tezuka Productions, but the fact that it bears shocking similarities to “The Lion King.”

At the foot of the mysterious Moon Mountain lives a white lion named Leo, ruler of the jungle. He and his family live peacefully among the other animals in a lush habitat that they cultivate and defend. Humans have entered Leo’s domain, shattering the peace in their greedy search for moonlight stones, a source of exquisite wealth. Overwhelmed by greed, they have little regard for the living creatures of the jungle. The animals, disturbed by the occupation of their rightful home, must resist the intruders and fight them off with the help of Leo.

Based on the popular manga “Jungle Taitei,” Yoshio Takeuchi’s “Jungle Emperor Leo” is a solid animated film. It’s an often entertaining jungle adventure fantasy that focuses primarily on the animals and garners duel sub-plots that never quite meet until the end. The opening bears a stunning similarity to “The Lion King” Circle of Life prologue, with  Lion emperor Leo, a white lion with a wife, Liya, has just given birth to two cubs; a boy Lune (pronounced loo-nay), also an albino, and a girl, Lukyo, who looks like her mother. A la “The Lion King,” a bird flaps through the forest spreading news of the “royal” birth, and all of the animals come to pay homage from all corners of the jungle. They then finally stop to see the unveiling of the pair of lion cubs.

But the scenario automatically flips to humans, where a shifty character named Hamm-egg is trying to sell an unusual pink gem. Oddly enough while the animals can talk to one another, they talk to the humans, but have to contend with their search for the gem. Along the way Leo has to fight off the humans while protecting his cubs, both of whom have an odd fascination with the humans. They only confront one really decent person in the whole shebang, as Leo garners some respect for the humans but never quite trusts them. The focus of the film is mainly on Leo the Lion Emperor with only a about forty percent devoted to his cubs and their adventure.

I would not show this movie to kids younger than ten years, as “Jungle Emperor Leo” has some on screen deaths both animal and human. In the first few minutes we meet Hamm Egg, he even shoots a warthog in cold blood. Unless you want to spend a good hour explaining to your children that it’s just animation and no real animals died, “Jungle Emperor Leo” is mainly entertaining for its sharp animation and similarity to “The Lion King,” a fact that Disney has all but managed to stomp out of existence since 1994.

All hail glorious ruler Mickey of Disney.

“Jungle Emperor Leo” can be now be seen on Cocoro, a free, ad-supported streaming platform available on most streaming services.