The Wildebeests are minor characters in The Lion King franchise. Unlike the other characters of the film, they appear a little more than just non-communicative animals.
Wildebeest were first shown in the song "Circle of Life", heading toward Simba's ceremonial presentation. Later in the film, Scar had Simba placed near some shade on top of Wildebeest Valley and told him to "work on his little roar". Then, in the movie's most iconic and tragic scene, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed are near a wildebeest herd waiting for Scar's signal to release the herd into the gorge, which was part of Scar's plot to kill Mufasa and Simba. Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed attacked an ill wildebeest upon Scar's signal, thus triggering the stampede (Banzai, being the hungry one that he is, was about to kill one prematurely, until Shenzi stopped him and told him to await Scar's signal shortly before Scar arrived). Meanwhile, Simba practiced his roar on a small chameleon, which eventually scared it off, and noticed a massive wildebeest stampede hurling toward him. The wildebeest stampede chased Simba deeper and deeper into the gorge, while Zazu and Mufasa take notice of the stampede and Scar informed them that Simba was in the stampede. The two lions ran toward the stampede and saw Simba dangling on a dead tree, crying for help. Mufasa saved Simba in time, and placed him near a ledge while Mufasa struggled to save himself.
Luckily, Mufasa jumped from the stampede onto a cliff and climbed up. On top of the cliff, Mufasa requested Scar's help, but Scar latched his paws onto his older brother's paws and released them sending Mufasa to die in the stampede. Watching the final moments of his father, Simba climbed down the cliff and searched for his father. Simba later heard an approaching wildebeest which he led him to locate his father's corpse, to his complete sadness with tears in his eyes. Finally, some wildebeest were also later shown after Scar was killed by the hyenas and the Pride Lands were revived when Simba became the king.
A mother wildebeest was shown during "We Are One", assisting her calf on how to walk. The young calf eventually began to sprint and run, but its mother prevented her calf from running too far. The wildebeest that were part of the stampede that took place in the first film also appeared during Simba's nightmare, where he tries to save Mufasa from falling into the stampede, but is stopped by Scar, who turns into Kovu and throws Simba into the stampede after Mufasa.
Some wildebeest later briefly appeared when Simba exiled Kovu, driving him away from the Pride Lands along with the rest of the animals during the song, "Not One of Us".
When Timon and Pumbaa chose the gorge as their dream home, Timon complained about the gorge's searing heat, and the two friends noticed a wildebeest stampede racing down from the gorge. The two friends decided to run away, and eventually during the stampede, they landed on a wildebeest's bare back until Timon noticed the wildebeest was heading toward a cliff. The wildebeest halted at the edge, and dropped Timon and Pumbaa. They fell into a river (which they notice later on led to a waterfall), while a wildebeest herd was shown in the background grazing in the grass.
One appeared multiple times in the episode "Cooked Goose". Another named Herman had a prominent role in "Beauty and the Wildebeest". Unlike the other wildebeest, this one appeared to have the ability of speech.
Wildebeests were first seen along with the other animals attending Simba's presentation during the musical number "Circle of Life". They later appear in the background during the musical number "I Just Can't Wait to Be King". A notable difference is that during the gorge scene, wildebeests do not appear until Simba roars at a harmless chameleon because of Scar prompting him to roar like an adult lion. After a while, dozens of wildebeests begin stampeding across the gorge where the hyenas chase them but they fail to catch one. One scene shown in this film is where Simba hides behind a rock to avoid getting trampled by the wildebeests whereas in the original version, this did not occur. Later when Zazu arrives on the dead tree Simba is clinging on to avoid getting trampled, he tells Simba that Mufasa is coming to rescue him from the stampede. Mufasa then arrives and tells Simba to jump on him before the branch snaps. One of the wildebeests is then seen pushing the dead tree with Mufasa telling Simba to jump. After putting Simba to safety, Mufasa gets hit by one of them as Simba watches his father trying to seek for help. Like in the animated film, Mufasa has trouble escaping the stampede and tries to ask Scar for help, but he refuses to. Scar then decides not to help Mufasa, leaving him to fall to his death on the stampeding wildebeests. One last wildebeest is seen running across the gorge while Simba tries to look for Mufasa only to find him lying dead due to the fact that Mufasa got run over by their hard hooves.
Wildebeests were also seen briefly during the part where Scar is overhunting for more food when the Pride Lands are turned into a deserted wasteland, causing tyrannical destruction towards the Pride Lands. After Scar's death, wildebeests later appeared returning to Pride Rock after Simba becomes king with the Pride Lands revived.
The wildebeest made a brief appearance on the first visit to Pride Rock, which showed Scar murdering Mufasa as he did in the movie before it shifts to Sora, Goofy, and Donald's arrival at the present day.
- For the stampede, several distinct wildebeest characters were created in a 3D computer program, multiplied into hundreds, cel shaded to look like drawn animation, and given randomized paths down a mountainside to simulate the real, unpredictable movement of a herd. The whole process took almost three years to complete.
- In the first film, the wildebeests stampede to the right when Mufasa falls to his death. In the second film, during Simba's nightmare, they stampede to the left.