- “I, Madame, am the king's majordomo!”
- ―Zazu to Shenzi
Zazu has two conflicting histories as to how he became the King's majordomo:
In the book Friends in Need, Young Zazu is about to be cooked and eaten by the three young hyenas (which explains his cry of "Oh, no! Not the birdie boiler!" in the first movie) Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, when a adolescent Mufasa comes along, frightens off the hyenas and saves him. Zazu is thankful and hopes that he can be of service to the future Lion King someday. Mufasa is doubtful of this. Zazu follows Mufasa around and watches over him. Mufasa tires of this quickly as Zazu disturbs his hunts and his private time with his betrothed Sarabi.
One day, Zazu notices some vultures hovering. He asks Mufasa if he wants him to fly over and see what's happening, but Mufasa is not concerned and lies down for a nap. Zazu flies over to where the vultures are anyway and sees that Sarabi has fallen into a pit and can't get out. Zazu flies back to tell Mufasa who leaps up and runs to the gorge. But Mufasa can't find a way to rescue Sarabi. Zazu finds a tree trunk that Mufasa drags over to the pit, allowing Sarabi to climb out. Mufasa realizes that the little hornbill is useful after all and appoints him as royal adviser.
Although trying to appear proper and dignified, Zazu seems to be a nervous wreck. As majordomo to King Mufasa, his proper, dignified, nervous, and easily-rattled personality is the polar opposite in temperament of most of the rest of the cast. He tends to panic during emergencies, such as the wildebeest stampede. But it is implied that he can be brave when given the chance.
Zazu is also shown to have a sense of humor, as he was able to make a joke about turning Scar into a throw rug (to which he adds that Mufasa can "take him out and beat him whenever he gets dirty").
As King Mufasa's majordomo and close friend (he is one of the few who calls Mufasa by his name), he is very serious and always sticks to the rules.
He is first seen in the film during the opening sequence in which Simba is presented. He later confronts Scar on his absence from the ceremony and is almost eaten by him until Mufasa arrives. When Scar leaves, Zazu humorously suggests to Mufasa that Scar would make an excellent rug.
When Simba has grown into a cub, Zazu is often ridiculed by him, being the target in Simba's pouncing lessons. He is ordered to watch over Simba and Nala by Sarabi when Simba claims he wants to go to the waterhole with Nala. In fact, Simba had been lured by Scar to go to the Elephant Graveyard, and after the song "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", Simba and Nala successfully lose Zazu and go to the graveyard. Zazu later catches up with them, but they encounter the three hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed and the hornbill is put into the hyenas' "birdie boiler" geyser which rockets him up to the sky. Zazu manages to find Mufasa and lead him to the cubs, just in time to save them from the hyenas, although it is also implied shortly after the hyenas fled that, in addition to his being upset with Simba for deliberately disobeying him by going to the Elephant Graveyard, Mufasa was also upset at Zazu for failing to keep watch on them. Zazu is then ordered to take Nala home while Mufasa has a word with Simba.
During the wildebeest stampede engineered by Scar and his minions to kill both his brother and nephew, it is Zazu who leads Mufasa to Simba. As he watches the stampede, he wants to go back for help but is struck by Scar into a wall and rendered unconscious. After Simba runs away, Zazu is seen comforting Sarabi when Scar informs the pride that both Mufasa and Simba were killed in the stampede. He and the pride are then seen watching in horror as Scar allows the hyenas into the Pride Lands.
Zazu also briefly appears years later, in a scene after Scar has assumed the kingship of the Pride Lands. In this scene, Zazu is imprisoned and is being forced to entertain Scar by singing songs like "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen" and "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" (but not before briefly singing the lyrics of It's a Small World). When the hyenas come in to complain about the lack of food and water, Scar casually tells them to eat Zazu (although Scar also likely suggested to the Hyenas that they eat Zazu specifically as revenge for Zazu earlier mentioning Scar's brother in a favorable light compared to Scar under his breath), and he frantically insists that he'd be "so tough and gamey and eyugh!" although the Hyenas ultimately decide not to eat him, unknowingly agreeing with Zazu about Mufasa being better.
Later on, Simba returns to reclaim his throne. The lionesses, Timon, Pumbaa, and Rafiki battle the hyenas while Simba battles his uncle. Zazu pleads Timon to let him out of the ribcage he is imprisoned in, but Timon goes inside the ribcage instead as he is pursued by the hyenas. Pumbaa comes to the rescue and chases away the hyenas after Banzai accidentally insults him. Zazu is freed along with Timon, and joins the two in chasing them away and doing a victory yell. Later, Zazu is seen at Simba's ascension to the throne and during the presentation of Simba and Nala's newborn cub.
Zazu plays a minor role in the film, functioning mostly as a messenger. He is first seen at Kiara's presentation, signaling that everyone has gathered. He is next seen when Simba is lecturing Kiara before she goes out to play, and Zazu mentions the dangers of the Outsiders, calling them backstabbing and murderous. Years later when a wildfire starts, Zazu is sent ahead by Simba to find Kiara, who had been out on her first solo hunt.
When Zazu finds that Kiara is being rescued by Kovu, he reports the information back to Simba. After Kovu asks to join the pride, Zazu notes that royal protocol demands that debts (such as the one Simba owes Kovu for rescuing Kiara) must be repaid, though Zazu would be quite happy to make an exception and even suggests that Simba should make an exception, making it clear he didn't trust Kovu any more than Simba did. Later, after Simba is injured in an ambush by Kovu's mother Zira and the Outsiders, he is sent by Kiara to find help. Finally, near the end of the film, he appears in a panic, reporting to Simba that the Outsiders are preparing to attack.
In the end, Zazu is seen standing next to Timon and Pumbaa at the presentation of Kiara and Kovu's wedding to which Timon and Pumbaa start crying with happiness and Zazu covers himself from the wetness of their tears.
Zazu's appearances are extremely brief in The Lion King 1½. He is first seen at the presentation of Simba, talking to Mufasa. He is then seen going to rescue Simba from the hyenas with Mufasa. In the credits for this film, he is incorrectly listed as "Zasu".
Zazu appears as a recurring character in the series starring Timon and Pumbaa. Zazu appears in the episode "Once Upon a Timon" where he is researching the reasons that Timon became an outcast. He eventually learns the reasons from Rakifi, and the story becomes so engrossing, that Zazu forgets about a meeting with Simba. "Zazu's Off Day Off" has Zazu being forced to work on his day off when an elephant is blocking the flow of the river.
"Zazu's Off-by-One Day" shows that Zazu is responsible for taking a census of the animals. However, he is fired by the jungle inspector when it's discovered that he missed one animal. As a result, his job is given to his gopher assistant. In an attempt to regain his job, Zazu searches for the animal he missed, only to discover that it was himself.
In this midquel to The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Zazu is presented as a crucial part of Simba's life as King of the Pride Lands, serving as the lion's advisor and mentor, of sorts. Though they share a healthy relationship, now that Simba is an adult, their interactions occasionally echo that displayed during Simba's childhood, with Zazu giving words of advice to the lion, only to be met with a response of childish annoyance. This is prominently displayed throughout the episode "Can't Wait to be Queen", where Simba, Nala, and Zazu travel to a funeral being held for an elderly elephant who was a good friend to Simba. Zazu, throughout the events of the episode, is shown to have become far more patient and optimistic, though still pompous and talkative, much to Nala's amusement. Simba often looks to Zazu for guidance and sees him as a confidante, which the hornbill prides himself as.
Zazu makes a brief appearance in The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, where he leads Simba, Kiara and Tiifu to Kion after Kiara told Simba that Kion had chosen Bunga to be part of his Lion Guard. After Simba scolds Kion for treating his role as leader of The Lion Guard as a game, Zazu leaves with his King.
In "Runaway Brain", Zazu makes two cameo appearances.
Zazu also appeared in the series House of Mouse. In the episode "Donald's Pumbaa Prank" he was kidnapped by Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed and nearly eaten. He also makes a few cameos in Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse seen alongside Rafiki and the others from the film.
In the mini-series, It's a Small World: The Animated Series, Zazu makes a brief, non-speaking cameo in the episode "One Golden Sun".
In The Lion King musical, Zazu is a puppet controlled by an actor dressed in blue striped clothes and a bowler hat much like a stereotypical butler. Zazu's blue feathers have been replaced with white and the puppet is partially constructed from parachute silk with a slinky contained in the neck for ease in movement.
Zazu, like in the Platinum Edition of the film, sings the song The Morning Report before being pounced on by Simba. The musical version of the song is longer than its film counterpart (in the Spanish version of the musical, "Morning Report" is deleted).
In certain English productions of the show (and in the Spanish one), Zazu breaks the fourth wall. In the original Broadway production when, being blocked by curtains at the beginning of the "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" number, shouts out "This didn't happen in the movie!" or "These look like shower curtains from Target!" (Ikea in some productions) and also, at the end of the number, the puppet is taken from his head and he cries out "Give me back my bird, Zazu!" The Memphis tour changes the curtain reference to "Graceland"; the London production "IKEA", and the Hawaii production "Hilo Hattie". The Toronto production had him make references to Honest Ed's, the original business of the theater's owner, Ed Mirvish. Zazu also attacks his puppeteer, stating, "This is your fault!"
In the Spanish production uses: "this didn't happen in the movie"; "this is your fault!" and (speaking to the conductor): "stop this!".
Zazu takes part of the jungle-themed unit in Mickey's Soundsational Parade.
Also in the park, Zazu makes a cameo in Mickey's PhilharMagic during Simba's "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" sequence.
Zazu is featured in The Legend of the Lion King stage show in Disneyland Paris, where he reluctantly assists Timon and Pumbaa in creating a reenactment of the film in honor of Simba. He was also in Disney's Once Upon a Dream Parade, as part of the jungle themed float's decor.
In the Hong Kong park, Zazu is featured in the Flights of Fantasy Parade.
In Shanghai, Zazu appears during the performance of "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" in the Ignite the Dream fireworks show.
- The name "Zazu" means "Movement" in the Hebrew language.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge's first Abyssinian ground hornbill chick is named after Zazu and dubbed his cousin.
- He is the only major character from The Lion King who does not appear in Kingdom Hearts II.
- Zazu has shown the ability to remain in one spot mid-air, a very difficult flying ability. The only real world birds capable of that are the hummingbird and certain birds-of-prey like the kestrel, the latter doing so to pinpoint prey; birds-of-prey also cannot do so indefinitely.
- Zazu is voiced by Rowan Atkinson, an already well-established British actor and comedian, in The Lion King. Whilst admonishing Scar for not attending Simba's presentation ceremony, Zazu states that the King is "as mad a hippo with a hernia". This is a possible nod to Blackadder, a long-running British historical comedy in which Atkinson played the leading role, and who has a strong tendency to use simile in this manner when being sarcastic. However, it is unlikely that many younger viewers, especially outside the UK, would realize this.