Reviewing why those theories don't make sense to the canon.
I originally published this to Fanpop's TLK club as bendaimmortal.
No, I don't think those theories make sense to the canon. And as canon I now mean the sequel movie The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride because it's the main source for those theories.
It's true, they can't show every little detail about crucial plot parts in a film. But what they can do is refer to everything crucial. Like, in this case, if there had been another cub before Kiara, they could've and would've said so in the film.
In example, they could've had Simba and Nala briefly discuss it instead of how much Kiara reminds them of Simba. Or, combined the two topics.
Nala: "She's just like you when you were young."
Simba could've replied "Exactly! Remember how our son Kopa was just like me and he disappeared/got killed by the outlanders! And remember all those danger we got ourselves into!"
I mean, Kiara was far away by that point--the discussion was free to be about anything in the world--and adding that one line would've taken less than five seconds of their minuete limit. And instead of having Nala be careless, they could've had her walk away worried/sorrowful indtead of walking away carelessly.
But no, instead they have him only remark about their personal childhood dangers and Nala poke him about it and carelessly state that Kiara will be fine. Because there was never a son at all, not to mention a murdered son.
...Kiara's protection and supervision is left in the hands of a tiny meerkat and a warthog. Creatures that are easily killed by a lion, not to mention numerous lions. If someone really wanted to kill the princess, they would bear a warthog's stink for a little while. Especially as it would stop stinking after it's dead or at least couldn't follow around. As in if Kiara's parents had a child who'd disappeared or been murdered, they would have their second child much, much better supervised and protected. Especially as she is eveidently just like Simba who himself used to manage ditching unreliable babysitter.
...Zira is an evil psycho who takes pleasure in blood spilling and war. Yet she doesn' brag about how she succeeded in killing the prince and revenge Scar's death by it. Instead she whines and complains about how unjust the exile was and how she is about to get her revenge for Scar. Obviously she hadn't done anything to deserve the exile and the very least anything that gave her pleasure.
...Nala is completely carefree and light-hearted about Kiara. Doesn't seem like a loving mother who has lots a child.
Simba never succeeded to put Mufasa's death completely behind him judging by how he had nightmares and tears in his eyes about his father's death even years and years after the event.
What makes you think he'd succeed any better with a loss of an only son?
Especially as there was always something to remind him of it: Kiara. And Kovu, as he was Zira's son. Leading me to how the nightmare was only about Mufasa and Scar and Kovu becoming Scar. If there was anything about a lost/dead son in Simba's inner life, they would've had it in that dream sequence.
And in the end of TLK he put his own guilt behind, not Mufasa's death. Scar; "I wouldn't want to be responsibly for a death of a family member. Wouln't you agree, Simba?" Simba: "It's not gonna work, Scar. I've put it behind me." The guilt. Not the death.
If Simba only thought Zira killed Kopa, she might as well have. It would affect Simba's inner life the same or even worse actually, as Simba could not be absolutely sure and it would cause him worry and doubt about if his child is at peace in death or being tortured/slowly dying somehwere.
A tragic loss like that would not go away just because "it's over". Having your child murdered... And especially if the child's fate was uncertain, it naturally wouldn't be over. And again, the film makes no references whatsoever to any other trauma than Mufasa's death.
Sometimes I wonder if people who support those Kopa theories, have ever had a close family member disappear or die? Those loved ones are with you every waking moment and especially in your dreams. The pain of the loss, the worry if it's just disappearence, and the joy of good memories. You don't get over it so completely that you stop dreaming and talking about them. Even if you don't talk about how they died or disappeared, you talk about how they lived. You don't just forget about them just because you have other/new family members. Not even with the rest of the family there for you. On the contrary those who are still with you, inspire you to remember the lost one.
Even Simba says it in the film: "Even those who are gone, are with us as we go on." If Kopa was one of "those who are gone", he would've been mentioned by his family or even shown in Simba's dream. No parent can ever be so much in denial that the lost ones would be completely ignored in both practical and emotional level.
You might say that it's a kids' film that doesn't necessarely make the characters react realistically. But they made Simba react realistically to Mufasa's death and Kovu and all, I see no reason why they wouldn't in a lost child case too. Because the point and the theme is exactly the same.
Some say that "the film works if you put Kopa in it and it works without him". I STRONGLY disagree. The film does not work if you put Kopa in it as a disappeared/killed child. I believe this article so far has very well shown why.
There's even more to it. There's also the outside appearence problem.
Kopa and Kovu appear the same age, while in the books Kopa is still with his family and eager to become king. The cub at the end of TLK is at least three months younger than Kovu because lion cubs don't pop out of thin air, their mothers remain pregnant for a time.
Thus if Fluffy was Kopa and grown up to the age he is in the books which is at least nine months of growth, then died or disappeared, then Kiara made, carried, born, grown up some time... Kovu in the film would need to look much older than he does because he'd be over two years old at the movie's time. There is no way lack of good food can make a lion lack that much in growth--especially as Kovu apprently did grow up to a normal adult size in the end, so they apparently didn't lack that much food all the time.
Anyway, Kopa and Kovu would appear exactly the same age which is why Kopa's existence as a lost cub in SP's story would be impossible because Kovu was born when Scar was still alive and Kiara in the film is such an old cub while she isn't in the books at all. And the Outlanders are not in the books in any way while they should be as they were there in the film's backstory all along.
Hence, if the film makers wanted an older brother of Kiara to exist, they'd just simply written a story where's a place for him to exist and then included him in. That's the whole point of story writing: you write a story so that everyone you want to include in it, has a place in it. They didn't include Kopa in any way and wrote the story so that his logic existence is impossible--thus they didn't want him to exist.
And as they used the cub from TLK as baby Kiara in their official movie trailer and right here one of the animators has literally confirmed the cub at the end of the first film is Kiara, it seals that Kopa never existed in their story.
The only way to logically connect Kopa into the movie universe is to first ignore the fact of the official trailer and the animator's words and then have him born after the sequel's events and write Kiara and Kovu out of Pridelands. But even so it would be partially a logic fail with how the books don't explain why all the sudden Kiara and Kovu aren't the future queen and king but Kopa is, and why wasn't Kiara shown at the end of the first film even though the sequel made clear that she was to be the next ruler after Simba.
There is no completely logical way to connect Kopa into the movie universe because officially he was never meant to be part of it. And the killed/disappeared theories are downright impossible or at least utter nonsense. It's wonderful that all those theories make many people happy, but for the sake of clarity and fair chance to those new in the fandom, I don't think they should be claimed as official and the truth when they in fact are not. :)