Japanese get animated over Disney cartoon

Terry McCarthyin Tokyo
Saturday 13 August 1994 23:02

JAPANESE cinema-goers are protesting that Disney's record- breaking film The Lion King owes much to a 40-year-old Japanese cartoon.

Forty-two professional cartoonists and 116 other fans of Osamu Tezuka, the country's most famous animator, have signed a letter of complaint to Disney. It claims that The Lion King borrows heavily without acknowledgement from Tezuka's Janguru Taitei (Jungle Emperor) of the 1950s.

But the company that Tezuka founded before his death in 1989 has said it has no plans to sue Disney. The cartoonist's daughter, Rumiko, said: 'My father would have been pleased if his work influenced Disney. So we wouldn't think about a lawsuit at all.'

On the surface, the similarities are remarkable. Inboth versions, the father lion is killed, the young son runs away, comes to terms with his responsibilities, returns and ousts the usurping lion on the throne. The good lions rely on the help of a wise old baboon and a talkative bird, while the bad lions make allies of the hyenas. The young lion is called Simba in the Disney version: in the Tezuka story he is called Kimba. Even the posters promoting the Disney film, showing a lion on top of a jutting rock, are similar to images drawn by Tezuka four decades ago.

When Disney's Don Hahn gave a press conference in Tokyo last month, a Japanese reporter asked: ''Have you ever heard of a Japanese cartoonist called Osamu Tezuka?'

Mr Hahn replied: 'We are aware of him andother talented animators around the world. We respect his work very much.'

Mr Hahn would make no further comment on resemblances his film might have to the Japanese story. Including merchandising of toys and other products related to The Lion King, Disney is expecting to make about dollars 800m ( pounds 525m) in pre-tax profits from the film over the next three years.

Mr Tezuka began the Janguru Taitei in 1950 as a serial in the Manga Shonen comic. It ran for five years, and then in 1965 it was televised once a week by Fuji TV for another four years. In 1966 a version was made for US television.

'We have made a decision that as a whole, The Lion King is Disney's original story,' said Takayuki Matsutani, the president of Tezuka Productions, which is responsible for the copyright of Tezuka's works.

'Although there are some similarities in the characterisation of the animals, it cannot be helped,' Mr Matsutani said. 'For example, a monkey appears as a smart animal in both stories. But when you think about the monkey's cleverness in real life, it is natural he would be clever in the film also. And we remember Mr Tezuka's personality very well: he hated all kinds of quarrels, disputes and controversies. . . I am sure if he were still alive he would not take any legal action against The Lion King.'

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