TOKYO, Aug. 18 -- A prominent Japanese cartoonist plans to send an open letter to Walt Disney Co. over the weekend charging it based much of its hit film 'Lion King' on the work of the late Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka. In her letter, Machiko Satonaka plans to urge Walt Disney to give Tezuka credit for striking similarities between 'Lion King' and a Japanese TV series two decades ago called 'Kimba, the White Lion.'
'The works are so similar, it cannot be coincidental,' Satonaka writes in her letter, which is expected to carry the signatures of some 50 other Japanese cartoonists. Disney has marketed 'Lion King' as an original work. The film has become the best U.S. performer this year, earning some $245 million in U.S. ticket receipts so far and drawing huge crowds in overseas markets as well. However, several reports have pointed out a resemblance between the movie and 'Kimba, the White Lion,' a TV series that was based on comics drawn by Tezuka and aired in the United States in the 1960s. In both stories, the father lion is killed. His son goes off into exile, struggles with the weight of becoming heir to the throne and returns to overthrow an evil lion that has taken over the kingdom. In both stories, the good lions are helped by a wise old baboon and a chattering bird. The evil lions in both have hyenas as their henchmen. 'No one is claiming the stories are identical,' Satonaka said. 'However, when my observations first reached Disney I was told abruptly that Disney has never heard of 'Kimba, the White Lion.' 'At least a sub-title to pay homage to Osamu Tezuka or a few lines paying respect to the origin of the story should be included,' she added.