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. However, that hasn't stopped people from creating fan theories to supposedly explain what's going on. Some are more plausible than others, but these Lion King fan theories are all trying to make sense of the same 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.
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 consume him. 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 quite the 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.
When Mufasa appears to his son in the clouds, the two have a heartfelt conversation about Simba's responsibilities and destiny. Afterwards, Rafiki approaches and mentions the strange weather. The movie plays this off as Rafiki knowingly joking about Mufasa's appearance, but according to Redditor /u/attackonyourmom, Rafiki may have witnessed Simba talking to himself.
The notion that a grief-stricken Simba hallucinates this pivotal discussion is further underscored by the fact that Mufasa doesn't attempt to expose Scar's heinous act. If Simba really is hallucinating, Mufasa only possesses as much knowledge as Simba himself and therefore can't inform his son of Scar's treachery.