Jungle Emperor Leo (2009 Remake) Review

Jungle Emperor Leo soundtrack
AKA: Jungle Taitei Leo (2009), Jungle Taitei (2009), Jungle Taitei Leo: Yuuki ga Mirai wo Kaeru, Jungle Emperor Leo: The Brave Can Change the Future
Genre: Adventure/Sci-Fi/Coming of Age
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: Discotek

Origin: Japan
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG

Related Films/Series: Kimba the White Lion, Jungle Emperor Leo (1966 Film), Leo the Lion, The New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion, Jungle Emperor Leo Symphonic Poem, Jungle Emperor Leo (1997 Film), Jungle Emperor Leo: Hon-O-Ji

For Fans Of: The Lion King, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Kurogane Communication, Patapata Hikousen no Bouken

-For those who have seen the original Kimba series, the characters will be addressed by their Japanese names. They are as follows…
Roger Ranger=Kenichi Ooyama

-This remake takes place in an alternate future and is unrelated to any other Kimba/Leo TV series or films.

-Kenichi is a child in this iteration and Coco is female in this film.

-Update: This film is streaming on RetroCrush after Discotek licensed and dubbed it.
Fun Facts:
-Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) is the 2nd remake of the Kimba/JEL series or two and a half if you count Jungle Emperor Leo (1997).

-This remake was made to commemorate what would’ve been Osamu Tezuka’s 80th birthday. What also makes this remake a bittersweet in hindsight is that it was released twenty years after his death. The last thing Tezuka worked on before he died was directing The New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion which he didn’t live to finish.

 Also, if Tezuka was still alive, he’d turn 90 this year.

-Coco is voiced by Rie Kugiyama. That’s right. This version of the original Zazu is played by the same person you know from being Al from Full Metal Alchemist, Taiga from Toradora, and Shana from Shakugan no Shana.

-Goro Taniguchi directed this remake whom you might know from Planetes, ID-0, or a certain popular anime called Code Geass.

 Maybe this explains the sci-fi bent in this film.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: I know this version of Toto/Cassius wasn’t from Africa in this version, but it’s hard not making Wizard of Oz jokes or thinking about the song “Africa” from Toto.

-I’m surprised that I didn’t mention this in previous Kimba/Leo reviews, but did you know that The Simpsons name-dropped the title character in an episode? There’s an episode called “‘Round Springfield” with a jazz musician named Bleeding Gums Murphy that Lisa looks up to. After he dies, Lisa looks to the night sky to see him and other characters associated with James Earl Jones next to that musician (SEE WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS?!). One of them was Mufasa saying “Avenge my death, Kimba! I mean…Simba!” That’s right Disney fans, even the creators of The Simpsons knew about this controversy.

Let’s talk about this annoying trend in movies: remakes. Seriously, why is there a severe lack of originality and creativity going on in both American and international cinema? You have so many movies from older franchises that are being rebooted regardless if they needed to get that treatment or not. One particular trend that can’t be ignored is the live-action remake. Anime wasn’t safe from this fad. Just look at Full Metal Alchemist, Alita: Battle Angel, Bleach, and Death Note (which has both Japanese AND American remakes!) to name a few. Of course, there’s that other obvious aspect with live-action remakes. I mean, it’s pretty stupid how bad things are getting when you have movies with realistic CGI instead due to a lack of human characters that are being hailed as “live-action”. Yes, that last sentence was a blatant potshot to a certain upcoming film, but it perfectly segues into the remake I’m looking at.

Unlike that other remake, this one is still animated and it involves the one true king whether certain fans want to acknowledge that IP that’s been around since 1950 with the original manga’s creation.

This remake of Jungle Emperor Leo takes place in a future where the environment is degraded, but there’s an artificial island known as Neo-Jungle. It houses several animals from around the world in a controlled environment that is clean and has plenty of food, but it’s under constant surveillance from the conglomerate known as Perfect Earth. It’s led by Dr. Kenzo Ooyama who is the creator of this island and wants to bring nature to the next level. His son Kenichi is sheltered by the underground city away from the animals, but he has an uncanny ability to communicate with them. He finds Leo, who’s afraid of heights and is cowardly where other animals bully him and his father Panja for not being strong enough. Kenichi tries to have an understanding of the animal world and the human world, but things get heated when some animals are taken away against their will by Perfect Earth soldiers, and the panther Toto is going around killing any human who trespasses into the artificial animal kingdom. How will everyone survive in Neo-Jungle?

I will say I wasn’t expecting this take on Tezuka’s famous lion, but I was a bit intrigued. Seeing these new versions of these characters gave me some mixed feelings although there were some iterations better than previous incarnations. Seeing Panja and Eliza getting far more screen time than in previous versions was a nice touch as it allowed for more character development between them and gives them time to show their personalities. This alternate continuity take involves a timeline where those parents stay alive for this long (I’ll expand on something like that later) in regards to Leo’s life. Panja just looks majestic and he’s able to show strength without resorting to fights unless he has no other choice. That was a great touch with this character that shows a lot of maturity as expected from the Kimba/JEL series. Eliza does much more as she rescues Kenichi and is able to help save multiple animals in the final act. One pleasant surprise was Toto. Kimba fans will know him as Claw’s snarky right-hand crony and the only non-hyena henchman (do I need to explain why I had to bring up that fact?), but in this version, he’s WAY more threatening. Toto has this hatred for humanity which might make him look like a Shere Khan wannabe at first, but he’s way more complex than that since he’s able to kill multiple people in seconds, he gets legitimate character development, and his backstory makes him an extremely sympathetic character. That backstory scene alone has to be one of the saddest moments in Kimba/JEL history and I wouldn’t blame most people if they shed a tear. Besides that, I liked some of the background music. The usage of some African instrumentation like hand drums and thumb pianos was a nice touch for that movie. The concept of the human/animal dynamic carries over in a sci-fi way which was great and I liked how Ooyama and Toto represent the extremes of both sides of the argument with the former declaring that humans need absolute control while the latter thinks all humans are willing to kill what they create. The philosophical elements were quite fascinating in their display.

I know what you’re thinking right now for those who’ve read my older reviews on this anime series before. For those who haven’t, I suggest you read my previous reviews involving Kimba in the Related Series list above to see why. Now, let’s get to the part of the review where we talk about connections between Tezuka’s lion work and Disney’s lion work that came out decades later. Ooyama at one point in the movie tells Kenichi “Son, one day Neo-Jungle will be yours.” Come on, try NOT to think about that one scene where Mufasa and Simba are talking on Pride Rock when that comment happens. It’s ironic because Ooyama is one of the villains in this movie. There’s one scene where Leo envisions his dad standing on a cliff which is both a recontextualized scene from the Japanese opening footage from Kimba the White Lion and a potshot against an identical scene in The Lion King. Toto has part of one of his ears missing and I can’t be the only one who was reminded of Zira from The Lion King II (I know Toto existed long before that evil lioness, but still…). There are only four returning Kimba/JEL characters that have Lion King clones, I mean counterparts with Leo (Simba), Panja (Mufasa), Eliza (Sarabi), and Coco (Zazu). One scene that I thought was funnier than intended was where Leo is making a giant mess in the shower when Kenichi takes him to his room. There’s a huge mound of bubbles around and when Leo comes out, he has a “full mane” of bubbles around his head and neck. Kenichi claims he looks like an adult lion and Leo responds by roaring. That’s right. Leo was working on his mane AND his roar! Congratulations! You officially have “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” stuck in your head right now. Remember how I said that the parents are alive for longer? This alternate take would be like if Mufasa never got killed and Simba became much more cowardly during his father’s presence which could be a deconstruction for both him and the Leo character. I hope they didn’t rip that concept off for other media such as The Lion Guard or that upcoming remake.

Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) does feel less than royal in this go around. For starters, I wasn’t impressed with the animation. Besides the fight scene where Panja and Toto temporarily team up against the carnivorous locusts or the scene where Leo is forced to jump across those towers, I thought everything was average. That’s a shame since Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) was far more impressive with the animation quality that’s still high-caliber, dare I say sakuga-caliber to this day (especially the Blu-Ray version). There was too much CGI that has aged quite poorly. While some changes I liked, some I didn’t. I was not a fan of Coco getting a gender change or her having a crush on Leo. The latter was way too bizarre and I do not need to see any shippers out there like other naughty fans from certain fandoms including other media involving anthropomorphic animal characters which also falls on the aforementioned rip-off movie (BOOM! ROASTED!). I also wasn’t a fan of Leo’s 2009 design which made him look incongruous and more childish in my opinion compared to the other characters. I wasn’t a fan of the ending theme which I thought was too perky and poppy for this movie. There was also a plot hole as to how Kenichi is able to talk with animals, but no one else can. What is a science experiment or just magic? They never explain it. One of the biggest things that I had an issue with was the fact that Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) actually ripped off something which is sad. Think about it, an aspect of Kimba the White Lion/Jungle Emperor Leo…the series best known as “The anime that The Lion King stole from” and is a go-to reference for Hollywood plagiarizing things did something unoriginal. Since this iteration has more of a post-apocalyptic bent which gives it a much darker storyline has Kenzo Ooyama…a father with brown hair, a beard, owns a major company with high-tech things, does experiments on living things, and constantly claims that he will be a god. Ooyama is the PG version of Gendo Ikari. Their first names even rhyme! I don’t need to see Evangelion mixed in with Kimba, okay? He’s definitely a threatening villain, but it’s a shame how similar he was to Shinji’s dad of all things.

This remake of Jungle Emperor Leo was fine, but I did wish things could’ve been better. The storyline is certainly intense even if I thought it got too dark and brutal for its audience. This version of Toto was very fascinating in how complex of a villain he was and his getting some character development was awesome as he’s no longer a second banana to Claw. I wasn’t a fan of some of the other changes or the fact that it still isn’t part of previous canons which is my biggest gripe with Kimba/JEL as a whole. The post-apocalyptic thing surprisingly worked better than expected even if I didn’t agree with everything with that aesthetic. Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) isn’t as good as the original Kimba TV series or even Jungle Emperor Leo (1997), but it’s certainly not a bad watch.

P. S. I wouldn’t mind another remake of Kimba with one unified canon. I would rather watch that than some so-called live-action remake of that copycat movie. Man, Tezuka and Kimba deserved so much better and they deserve to get credit after twenty-five years. Sheesh…

P. P. S. If someone decides to go the live-action route, Kimba would have more human characters than let’s say anything Jon Favreau has remade with Disney and it would be a real live-action film. Think about it for a second.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a Kimba fan or just like Tezuka’s works.
Add 1 point if you like darker forms of animation while still being family-friendly.
Subtract 1-2 points if you can’t stand post-apocalyptic sci-fi elements in anime.
Subtract 1 point if you prefer animation for older audiences.

-The 2009 version of Toto/Cassius
-Great usage of the human/animal dynamic in morality
-Surprisingly well-handled dark sci-fi elements.


-Ooyama being a Gendo-clone
-Some changes didn’t work at all (see 2009 Coco/Pauley)
-Average animation with dated CGI

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) is still a family-friendly watch like the other examples involving that white lion, but this is one of the most chaotic ones out there. The violence gets bloody at times. Characters get shot, electrocuted, crushed, and mauled (both humans and animals become victims here). One very disturbing scene involves the carnivorous locusts swarming over a flock of birds and skeletons raining down. Ooyama calls Toto a “bastard” when looking at the footage of the panther killing his soldiers. There are some dark themes such as animal experimentation, abuse, extinct species, and severe environmental damage where the “old jungle” that some of the adult animals remember involved a wasteland that’s implied to have been caused by mankind and several animals died in their exodus.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Jungle Emperor Leo (2009) is property of Goro Taniguchi and Tezuka Productions. The soundtrack image is from Amazon UK and is property of Tezuka Productions


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