The hyenas are gray in color. They have pale underbellies, black paws, black outer ears, and coarse, black hair. Some have spots along their back. Most have rounded ears, though some have pointed ears, such as Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed.
- Shenzi: "You know, if it weren't for those lions, we'd be runnin' the joint."
Banzai: "Yeah. Man, I hate lions."
Shenzi: "So pushy."
Banzai: "And hairy."
Shenzi: "And stinky."
Banzai: "And man, are they...."
Shenzi and Banzai: "UuuugLY!"
- —The hyenas complaining about lions
Although only three are important to the plot, the hyenas are mainly perceived as being crazy, greedy, and dim-witted servants of Scar. They resent the lions for being "at the top of the food chain," and are willing to work for Scar to gain hunting rights in the Pride Lands. In The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, they are shown to have no respect for the Circle of Life.
- "Oh, young master, one day you will be king. And then you can chase those slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers from dawn until dusk."
- —Zazu to young Simba about the hyenas
The hyenas are first mentioned when Mufasa is showing Simba the Pride Lands. Zazu learns from a mole that hyenas are in the Pride Lands and he quickly relays the message to Mufasa, who rushes off to deal with them.
The hyenas are first seen in the Elephant Graveyard. Simba and Nala wander into their territory and the hyena trio climbs out of an elephant skull and surrounds the two cubs. They immediately recognize Zazu as "Mufasa's little stooge," and later find out that Simba is the future Lion King. Under Scar's orders, they chase the cubs in an attempt to kill them, but are frightened off by Mufasa.
They are later seen in a different part of the graveyard, in which most of the terrain is littered with geysers. They complain about lions, but are rebuked by Scar, who appears on a ledge above them. Although disappointed in their failure to kill Simba, he gives them a leg of meat; this either shows that the graveyard is barren or the hyenas are poor hunters. Scar then goes on to sing "Be Prepared," in which more hyenas join the trio and they pledge their allegiance to Scar.
Later on, Banzai, Ed, and Shenzi help Scar carry out his plan to kill Mufasa by triggering the wildebeest stampede. Immediately after Scar tells Simba to run away and never return, he commands the hyenas to kill the young cub. But Simba eludes the clumsy hyenas by jumping into a thorn hedge in which they can't follow. They agree that Simba "was as good as dead out there anyway," and that if he came back, they'd kill him. It is assumed they lie to Scar about Simba's death, as Scar later announces his nephew's death to the lionesses.When Scar is accepting rule as king, he tells the lionesses of "a new era, in which lion and hyena come together in a great and glorious future." The hyenas swarm Pride Rock and reinforce Scar's corruption of the pride.
Years into Scar's reign, they complain about a lack of food in the Pride Lands, but Scar ignores them. Unconcerned by their hunger, he rebukes them sharply and does not allow them to complain nor compare his tyrannical reign to Mufasa's.
When Simba returns to overthrow Scar, the hyenas join the fight against the Pridelanders. The main enemies of the hyenas in the battle are the lionesses, Rafiki, and Timon and Pumbaa. Shenzi and Banzai are ruthlessly beaten up by Pumbaa for calling him a "pig," and Zazu is initially freed from his bone trap.
Simba eventually corners Scar on the edge of Pride Rock, and the hyenas overhear the helpless king telling Simba that the hyenas were the enemy and that the invasion was their fault and their idea. When Scar is thrown of the cliff, they furiously turn against their master and give in to their hunger. Together, with the aid of the other hyenas, they corner Scar against the rock face and close in around him. Scar tries to explain himself, but the hyenas refuse to listen and their shadows are seen leaping on him and devouring him amongst the flames of a relentless fire.
Although it has been confirmed they survived the fire, it is unknown what happens to them after this; dialogue between Nuka and Vitani in the second movie suggest that after Scar's death, the hyenas left the Elephant Graveyard.
In the spin-off TV series, the hyenas have a much larger role, serving as one of the main antagonists. There are four episodes centering on Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, showing what they did after killing Scar and running away from the Pride Lands. The three hyenas also appear in three Timon and Pumbaa-centered episodes, which are "Doubt of Africa," "Once Upon a Timon," and "Space Ham."
Besides the trio, other hyenas are seen throughout the series, with some of them resembling Shenzi, some of them resembling Ed, and others resembling Banzai. Those hyenas notably appear in "Don't Wake the Neighbear," "No-Good Samaritan," and "Guru-Some."
- "Yeesh. This place is even creepier since the hyenas ran off."
- —Nuka to Vitani
In the direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, the hyenas are briefly mentioned by Nuka as he and his sister, Vitani, arrive at the Elephant Graveyard to collect fire. Nuka comments that the graveyard was even creepier since the hyenas ran off, suggesting that the clan may have dispersed or fled completely after Scar's death.
- "I see carnivores."
In The Lion King 1½, the hyenas have a much larger role, despite being considered minor characters in the original film.
The meerkats in Timon's colony are constantly on the lookout for hyenas, their most common predator. One day, when Timon is on duty, the hyena trio catches him daydreaming. They infiltrate his colony, but fail to catch any meerkats. The incident drives Timon to leave the colony and find where he truly belongs.
When Timon and Pumbaa are in the Elephant Graveyard, they overhear Zazu telling Mufasa that the hyenas were after the cubs. The hyenas' shadows are later seen in "Be Prepared."
The hyenas make an appearance again during the film's climax at Pride Rock. Timon and Pumbaa distract anonymous hyenas with a Hula Dance and a chase instigates where it is revealed they scared those hyenas away when Pumbaa gassed them. Timon and Pumbaa try to stray the hyenas' attention from Scar so Simba can have a chance at the fight. The two make an insulting joke about the hyenas and another chase instigates. Eventually, Timon and Pumbaa are cornered. They try many different distractions to keep the hyenas occupied and Timon even proposes to Shenzi as a desperate move to buy time for his mother and Uncle Max to dig a tunnel beneath the hyenas. When the trap tunnel initially fails, the hyenas close in on Pumbaa, Uncle Max, and Ma. But Timon bravely jumps in and completes the tunnel, causing the hyenas to fall through the ground and roll to the bottom of Pride Rock in time to confront Scar. After this, however, they are not seen in the film again.
Hyenas are set to be antagonists in the 2015 television film The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar and its 2016 inspired television series. These hyenas are led by Janja and reside in The Outlands. They will fight against the Lion Guard, led by Simba's son, Kion.
A group of hyenas attempts to elect a witch doctor for their clan. Their first choice fails to lead them, though their second leader helps them with their timed hunts.
- Shenzi: "Do you know what we do to kings who step out of their kingdom?"
Simba: "Puh, you can't do anything to me."
Zazu: "Uh, technically they can. We are on their land."
Simba: "But Zazu, you told me they're nothing but slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers."
Zazu: "Ix-nay on the oopid-stay."
Banzai: "Who you callin' oopid-stay?"
- —The hyenas defend their territory
- Banzai: "Hey, boss!"
Scar: "Oh, what is it this time?"
Banzai: "We've got a bone to pick with you!"
Shenzi: "I'll handle this. Scar, there's no food, no water...."
Banzai: "Yeah, it's dinner time and we ain't got no stinkin' entrees."
Scar: "It's the lionesses' job to do the hunting."
Banzai: "Yeah, but they won't go hunt."
- —The hyenas complaining about the shortage of food in the Pridelands
- Timon: "Hey, Pumbaa, what do you call a hyena with half a brain?"
Pumbaa: "Beats me, Timon. What?"
- —Timon and Pumbaa attempt to distract the hyenas with a joke in The Lion King 1½
The Lion King Wiki has a collection of images and media related to Hyenas.
- Originally, the hyenas were going to be Cape Dogs.
- Despite the fact that hyenas are more related to cats than dogs, they bark, growl, yelp and pant like dogs while they still laugh like real hyenas in the films.
- Originally, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella were going to voice the hyenas, but they ended up voicing Timon and Pumbaa.
- Even though most of the hyenas seen in the franchise are portrayed as antagonistic, there is a hyena character named Asante who genuinely befriends Simba's son, Kopa.
- In reality, female hyenas control the clan, but one hyena named Fisi controls his own clan of hyenas despite being a male.
- All the hyena concept sketches were developed by Thom Enriquez.