When The Lion King hit theaters in 1994, it was a box office juggernaut and a critical hit. It remained Disney's highest-grossing movie until the Pixar era began, and the film eventually wove itself into the social consciousness through its own success and numerous spin-offs, which include the animated TV show Timon & Pumbaa and a spectacularly successful Broadway adaptation.
For some viewers, particularly those who were young when the film was released, The Lion King shaped expectations for what entertaining stories should accomplish. This can lead many to forget that the movie is kind of messed up.
Many have pointed out the stranger elements of the film: Simba and Nala are likely related, the hyenas resemble WWII SS troops, and the society is ruled entirely by a tyrannical aristocracy. Like any movie with The Lion King's popularity, the film has garnered many fan theories attempting to decode its strangeness. Some are more plausible than others, but these Lion King fan theories are all trying to make sense of the same bizarre, lovable movie.
This theory is likely true - it's fairly clear that The Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet. The Lion King contains many parallels to Shakespeare's tragic play, as outlined by Redditor /u/miffy303. Most significantly, Hamlet features the uncle of a young prince slaying the king so that the uncle himself can ascend to the throne. After a period of distant self-reflection and growth, the prince returns for vengeance. Disney mirrors this plot exactly in The Lion King.
Many Lion King characters even have direct Hamlet analogs: Simba represents Prince Hamlet, Scar represents Claudius, and Zazu represents Polonius. Other characters, however, have no clear analogs, such as Timon and Pumbaa - though one could argue the duo is a loose adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
While this theory is one of the simplest, it's also one of the most disturbing. Given that Scar and Mufasa are the only male lions in the pride, it is very likely that Simba and Nala are cousins at the very least. This is worsened by the fact that they have a child in the sequel.
What's more, their child struggles with basic instinctual traits, such as hunting. While this theory from Redditor /u/brianayonce doesn't explicitly state that Simba and Nala are genetically related - and that this genetic relation resulted in a birth defect in their offspring - it doesn't deny it, either.
No one would believe the hyenas are The Lion King's heroes, but according to Redditor /u/James-Sylar, they're more than just Scar's henchmen. The hyenas are the actual evil in the land, and they use Scar to take over Pride Rock and consume everything in sight.
This theory is backed by the fact that the hyenas are the ones who really benefit from Scar's reign. Furthermore, when Scar is defeated, the hyenas eat him alive. If the hyenas act as an uncontrollable force of pure evil, they're simply obeying their true nature.
When Simba returns to Pride Rock to confront Scar, the young prince is a teenager. He has spent his formative years lazing around the forest, eating bugs and never learning to hunt. Scar, whose namesake disfigurement seems to indicate a brutal history, should be able to easily defeat his young nephew. So why doesn't he?
Redditor /u/Pepearenas claims the answer is simple: Scar is physically weakened by his lack of access to food and water. His troops are depleted and morale is low. While Scar still puts up a good fight, the inexperienced but well-fed Simba has the upper hand given the conditions.