She appears as the careful mother of Simba and mate (later widow) of Mufasa. As the queen of Pride Rock, she is shown to be in charge of the lionesses and their hunting parties. She is depicted as being wise, courageous and strong, but gentle and humorous at the same time.
In the Lion King book Friends in Need, Sarabi is shown as an adolescent, and it is stated that she is Mufasa's betrothed. In the book, Sarabi falls into a deep pit, from which Mufasa rescues her after being alerted by Zazu.
Sarabi is described as a supportive mother and queen. Throughout Mufasa's reign, she displays herself as being a fierce encouragement to her family, viewing her son's presentation with pride and later motivating him to learn kingly duties from his father. Unlike Mufasa, who is gentle but firm in his guidance, Sarabi is softer, shown to be especially affectionate when dealing with her son, whom she is especially patient with. Not only is Sarabi gentle and soft-spoken, but she is also a doting mother who is not afraid to tease. Through her son's many kiddish complaints, she keeps a smile on her face, proving herself willing to embarrass him if she believes that she is serving his best interests.
Despite her joking nature, Sarabi is wise enough to keep her family safe, willing to put barriers on Simba in order to keep him from harming himself and his friends. Her easygoing approach to parenting is not of an overly lenient nature but strict enough to keep Simba on the right track, rendering her just as protective of her son as Mufasa.
When faced with Scar, an overbearing and unfair leader, Sarabi keeps her head held high, unaffected by the intimidating presence of her abounding enemies. Even when blamed for problems that are not her fault, Sarabi keeps her temper, remaining fair by refusing to take the blame for Scar's doings. She even goes so far as to suggest something radical for the good of her pride. Though her temper typically remains cool and under control, she does let angry words fly when Scar refuses to take action in order to save his pride. In her rage, Sarabi reveals herself to be defiant and sharp-tongued, able to expertly hit Scar's weakness by comparing him to Mufasa. Sarabi proves herself to be a fierce fighter, being the second lioness to leap into battle after Scar's admittance to killing Mufasa.
A seeker of justice, Sarabi fights for the rightful ruler of the Pride Lands and proudly accepts him as her new king.
Sarabi is first seen with the infant Simba, at Simba's presentation, and watches as the sun shine down upon the new prince and illuminates the kingdom. She later makes an appearance when an excited Simba awakens his parents before dawn. She wryly tells Mufasa that his son is awake, while Mufasa responds that Simba is Sarabi's son before sunrise. She then watches with a smile on her face as Simba is led to the summit of Pride Rock by his father to be shown his future.
She appears to be friends with Sarafina the mother of Nala, as her next appearance is with them, sleeping on a rock when Simba arrives to convince Nala to accompany him to an elephant graveyard that his uncle told him about, but waking up and snatching her son before he can escape from his bath. She is shown to be quite intuitive. Knowing that her son was possibly up to mischief when Simba and Nala wanted to go to the "waterhole," she sends Zazu along with them to keep watch for any danger.
When Scar informs them of the death of Mufasa and Simba, Sarabi is nothing short of devastated at her status as a widow and losing her only child as Zazu makes a vain attempt to comfort her. Left destitute, she can do nothing but watch in horror as Scar allows the hyenas to overrun the Pride Lands after giving his oath to protect everyone. In reality, the hyenas serve as Scar's strength as king.
Many years later, after the Pride Lands have been destroyed, the lionesses lose faith in the new king, though it is unclear whether or not Sarabi still serves as queen. Even the hyenas lose faith spending time bugging Scar who lives his life lying on his bed doing stuff and throwing tantrums when nobody obeys him or when he does not get what he wants. It has become clear that the lionesses including Sarabi now have a dislike for Scar.
One day, Scar furiously summons Sarabi, who strides past the hyenas with her nose in the air, refusing to allow them to intimidate her even as they snap and snarl at her heels. Scar demands to know why there is no hunting taking place. Sarabi informs Scar that the herds have moved on due to the drought and that if the pride is to survive, they must leave as well. Sarabi is angered at Scar's refusal, because it essentially sentences them to death, and begins telling Scar that he is less than half the king Mufasa was. Before she can finish her statement, Scar strikes her in anger, knocking the old queen to the ground. When Simba appears from the shadows, she mistakes him for Mufasa at first. However, she is overjoyed when Simba identifies himself, though she is confused as to how he survived. As Simba confronts his uncle, Nala arrives with the remaining lionesses to support Simba, while Sarabi is helped to her feet by Sarafina and another lioness.
When Scar forces Simba to reveal his belief that he killed his father, Sarabi is shocked into disbelief and begs Simba to tell her it can't be true. But when Scar reveals the truth of the matter, Nala is the only lioness faster than Sarabi into the fray against Scar and his minions, with Sarabi fighting furiously to avenge her murdered mate and devastated kingdom. She watches on proudly after her son defeats his tyrannical uncle and assumes the throne of Pride Rock, roaring with him as he announces his status as the rightful king. Though she is not seen at the end, she is likely present at her new grandchild's presentation.
Sarabi makes a cameo appearance in the episode "Safety Smart Goes Green", where she arrives to claim back baby Simba after Timon uses him as an example of a CFL (which Timon though was short for cute fluffy lion cub, but is really a lightbulb).
Sarabi's voice actress, Madge Sinclair, and Mufasa's voice actor, James Earl Jones, have played African Queen Aeoleon and King Jaffe in the live action film, Coming to America, which was released six years prior to The Lion King. In both films, Jones and Sinclair's characters were both king and queen of an African country and the parents of their films' protagonists (Akeem for Aeoleon and Jaffe, Simba for Mufasa and Sarabi).
Her granddaughter, Kiara, bears a striking resemblance to her.
According to a 1993 script to The Lion King, Sarabi was meant to be present at Simba and Nala's cub's presentation at the end of the film.
In the early drafts of the film, Sarabi had three sisters named Naanda, Diku and Dwala. She would also have been Nala's aunt, due to the latter being Naanda's daughter. However Nala's relationship with Simba would have been considered as incest. Because of this, Naanda became Sarafina and was Sarabi's friend rather than her sister, whilst Diku and Dwala were written out.