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Scar's Surprising Backstory in "Lion King"

Jeremy enjoys reviewing cinema and television when not working as a chemist.

Mufasa and Scar

Mufasa and Scar

Scar in "Lion King"

Lion King remains one of Disney's best animated films, and it highlights a villain—Scar—who actually wins, reigning as king for years before Simba's return. He seems nefarious, killing his elder brother Mufasa, attempting to murder his nephew, and blaming his hyena minions for the whole plot.

And yes, that's wicked, no doubt about it. But Scar's spirit returns in a segment of the animated Lion Guard television series (starring Simba's son Kion), revealing a past that show a more sympathetic side to the character. So, is Scar as evil as we thought, or is he tragically misunderstood? You be the judge as we explore Scar's origin stories and (arguably) redeeming qualities!

Mufasa and Taka

Mufasa and Taka

Scar's Original Backstory

No, Scar's parents didn't name him Scar; in his original backstory, they named him something worse: Taka, which in Swahili translates to waste. Wow, King Ahadi was kind of a jerk (or Rafiki, or whoever names the cubs).

Anyway, in this version of events, Scar's attempt at a prank backfires and he gets injured by buffalo before Ahadi saves him. Interestingly, Scar asks to be called Scar following these events—perhaps a sort of penance for his role in the prank.

Much as I like this backstory, Scar's new origins make him even more sympathetic...

When I Became Scar (Song from "Lion Guard")

Scar's New Origin Story (From "Lion Guard")

Scar's spirit returns in an episode of Lion Guard and recites his retconned past through the song "When I Became Scar", which has surprising depth for a Disney Junior program. Here's a quick overview followed by a full analysis:

  1. A mysterious lion plants the seeds of rebellion in young Scar's mind
  2. The lion's snake ally injects Scar with personality-altering poison
  3. Corrupted and betrayed, Scar kills the snake and lion
  4. Mufasa dismisses this encounter, enraging Scar
  5. Scar destroys the Lion Guard and plots to overthrow his brother

Scar Leads the Guard
Young Scar (originally named Askari, meaning soldier) leads the Lion Guard, the defenders of Mufasa's kingdom, showcasing his willingness to support his brother. On patrol, Scar encounters a strange lion, who suggests Scar's superior power should put him in charge (at this point, Scar carries the "Roar of the Elders", an ancient ability that Kion later receives), and Scar ponders the idea.

Scar's Personality Morphs Via Poison
But Scar is ambushed by the mysterious lion's snake ally, who inflicts Scar's trademark wound and poisons him. The lion tries to blackmail Scar, saying he'll provide antidote as long as he obeys, but Scar instead destroys them using the Roar.

It's worth noting that Scar keeps the Roar after using it against the lion and snake, only losing it after he turns it on the other lions in the Lion Guard. So destroying the lion and snake didn't count as evil (at least by the Roar's magic), making Mufasa's nonchalant reaction all the more unfortunate.

Mufasa Fails to Appreciate Scar
Scar then approaches Mufasa, seeking appreciation for eliminating two big threats to the kingdom, but Mufasa dismisses his brother's accomplishments and nicknames him Scar. This fuels his drive for revenge (and gives new meaning to film line "Oh no Mufasa, perhaps you shouldn't turn your back on me").

But here's the thing: the venom that Scar suffered (and was never cured of) twists one's personality, making them bitter and violent, like the Horcrux did to Ronald Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even Kion has to go receive treatment after getting bitten to avoid turning evil, but Scar never got the help he needed—his jealous and bloodthirsty persona is partially due to the poison.

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Scar and the hyenas (live action)

Scar and the hyenas (live action)

Scar's Unification of Lion and Hyena

Scar actually had a solid idea about joining the hyena and lion clans, turning rival predators into allies, giving the kingdom a stronger defense and sharing food between species. It goes south when Scar allows the hyenas to overhunt (which itself shows Scar rewarding their assistance in the coup), resulting in lack of prey, but the idea itself was strong and could have benefited Pride Rock had it been properly implemented.

Scar also feeds the hyenas (right before singing "Be Prepared") even when they fail to kill Simba, another smidgen of mercy. Sure, he blames them when confronted by Simba, but remember this is right after he learns they had lied years ago about Simba dying; I'd be mad too. I'm not saying Scar treated them perfectly, but their interactions subtly showcase some of his positive aspects even after his poisonous affliction.

Scar and Zira

Scar and Zira

Scar Tells Zira About the Roar

As revealed in Lion Guard episode "Lions of the Outlands", Scar told Zira (the villainess from Lion King 2) about his lost Roar power. We don't know much else about this interaction, but it evidently shows Scar doing something nice (albeit subtle), telling others about a power they could potentially receive.

That's a dangerous move, as a lion with the Roar could potentially turn against him, perhaps hinting that a part of Scar cares more about his clan's overall strength than his individual power.

Scar kills Mufasa

Scar kills Mufasa

Lion King and Hamlet

Many fans recognize the numerous plot similarities between Lion King and Shakespeare's Hamlet: good father killed by bad uncle, challenged by young son. Fair enough, but it's worth noting that Claudius (Scar's equivalent in Hamlet) has some redeeming qualities, genuinely believing his reign would benefit his country.

As noted on the Lion King wiki, Scar also carries similarities to Shakespeare's character MacBeth (from the play of the same name), starting off well-intentioned but becoming influenced by outside forces to stage a bloody coup.

Scar's Morality

Scar may initially harbor a few seeds of resentment—how would you feel if only your sibling was promised a kingdom?—but his active role in Mufasa's reign shows his commitment to the realm. Scar dutifully patrols, removes dangerous intruders, and looks to his brother for praise—which Mufasa fails to provide, picking a terrible time to joke about Scar's new wound.

Scar is far from faultless, but his poisoned mind and Mufasa's arrogance turn him from loyal brother to resentful usurper, making him more victim in need of help than irredeemable monster.

I'd love to see a "what if" scenario where Scar is treated and cured, but as we await more details on one of Disney's biggest villains, share your thoughts on Scar's tragic past and I'll see you at our next review!

© 2020 Jeremy Gill


Liz Westwood from UK on March 24, 2020:

This article puts Scar in a whe new light. It's a little like the changing in attitudes to Richard lll in the UK.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on March 21, 2020:

Interesting. An enjoyable read, Jeremy. Scar is one of Disney's most intriguing characters.

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