The hyenas in The Lion King have very distinct personalities for comedic effect, yet their three personalities subtly portray three minorities. Ed, played by Jim Cummings, has a small head and large ears which have bite marks on them. His eyes are always wide open and crossed, and his tongue often hangs out of his mouth. He constantly holds a crazy smile, and his famous for his uncontrollable laughing and drooling. On top of this, Ed does not talk. In short, Ed closely resembles a derogatory portrayal of someone who is mentally challenged. Banzai, Cheech Marin, is a grey hyena with black features and yellow eyes. He gets injured a noticeably large amount throughout the film and has a constant hunger. Shenzi, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is the last of the three hyenas who obey scar. Like Banzai, she is a grey hyena with black features, and she plays the role of “boss” with her sassy attitude. Cheech Marin is a Mexican-American man and Whoopi Goldberg, and African-American women. Interestingly, these actors’ races can be depicted in their dialect. Banzai’s and Shenzi’s dialect represent “the jive accents of a decidedly urban black or Hispanic youth,” while everyone else in the movie speaks in perfect British-English. Shenzi also symbolizes the “sassy black woman” stereotype. Furthermore, all three hyenas are ultimately indentured servants to Scar, dirty, uneducated, and living in an inferior environment from those in the Pride Lands. They are also seen as the evil characters. Ultimately, they represent three minorities--mentally disabled, African-American, and Mexican--for comedic effect. However, this “comedic effect” only perpetuates racial and minority stereotypes, allowing children to label those who hold these stereotypes as bad and amusing.
Racist undertones also lie in the producer's choice of visual representation of the animals. The antagonists, Scar and the hyenas, happen to be dark animals, with black fur, eyes, and ears. The protagonists, on the other hand, have much lighter fur and features. Because there are no humans in this film, we subconsciously parallel the animals to humans, and consequently, dark fur to dark skin and light fur to light skin. Throughout the film, the producer’s use the dark and light colors to evoke fear and delight from the audience. Unintentionally, the producer’s are perpetuating the idea that those with darker skin are “scarier” and “bad.”