This is a post written by Mcguev, who writes movie reviews at moncharis.com This time he wrote about the Lion King (1994). I thought all of you might like. So enjoy!
It is curious that what was deemed the lesser of two projects, turned out to be such a success. The Lion King stands as the highest grossing hand-drawn animation film of all time, and drops a measly two spots when all animation is considered. That’s quite a feat.
Back then, however, Pocahontas –a story rooted, even if loosely (after all, it is Disney), in American history– attracted most of Walt Disney Feature Animation’s best. In its shadow lurked another animal, a story not perceived as grand, a gamble even, that would fall in the hands of mainly new talent. But it paid off, handsomely.
Many things secure that lion’s reign. The careful study of place and creature translated very well, beautifully even, to animation. Anthropomorphic animals, of course, weren’t strange to Disney Animation; neither was a more realistic approach to their movement and going about completely novel (one could go as far back as Bambi for that, and could even make a case for the animals in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).
Here, however, that art was conquered, and fauna completely takes center stage; humans nowhere to be found. I a sense, they, the animals, embody our feelings, desires, regrets and struggles.
Sonically, from the tranquil ‘This Land’ to the rousing ‘King of Pride Rock’, Hans Zimmer’s first score for an animated film could not have been bettered upon. To this day it is one of his better and more melodic creations, only surpassed by his score to The Prince of Egypt. Elton John’s memorable tunes, a perfect math to Tim Rice’s lyrics, shouldn’t even be mentioned. They are not only highly entertaining; they help propel the story quite well.
The voice cast is also darn good. Two are of special note. The strongest performance stems from Jeremy Irons, whose voice distills villainy and not a small amount of corrupted regality, and artistically steals the show. The resounding bass of James Earl Jones’ voice lends itself perfectly to the necessary gravitas that one expects from a king. He makes Mufasa sound very authoritative when his role demands it, but also kind in the more understated moments.
The most beautiful thing, though, emanates from the simplicity of the story and its well delineated sense of morality; something sadly lacking from most, if not all, modern forays into animation and children’s films this days.
King Mufasa nurtures his son Simba, a lion cub destined to inherit the kingdom of the Pride Lands, transmitting him the wisdom of his forefathers –who “will always be there to guide” him–, so he may know how to face life when the time comes to take his place.
A king is not to do what he pleases; he is to recognize that the world exists together “in a delicate balance”, that require “respect [for] all creatures” in the sense of being good stewards of creation, as we, in our life, should be: “Every creature is […] the object of the Father’s –God’s– tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection” (Francis. Laudato si’. Paragraph 77).
Simba is stunned: “Don’t we eat the antelope?”. “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life”, Mufasa answers. Indeed, “God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other” (CCC, paragraph 340).
This stands in stark contrast of Scar’s view, distorted by envy, ambition and pride. That he is bent is well established from the beginning, when he is seen basking in self-pity and the unfairness of his predicament, which is not having his way. It is all about him: it is he who should be king, instead of that hairball. Scar longs to be “king undisputed, respected, saluted”, and above all to be “seen for the wonder [he is]”.
He doesn’t understand that “there is more to being king than getting your way”. And when he does get his way, it shows: “I’m the king! I can do whatever I want!”. Whatever… including sentencing all to death by forcing them to stay in the desolate land that now is Pride Rock, just because he can. “Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment. It is not easy to promote this kind of healthy humility or happy sobriety when we consider our selves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong.” (Francis. Op. cit. Paragraph 224). Truth, right and wrong, unlike what Scar tells Simba in the movies final act, is not in the eye of the beholder.
Even when his will has prevailed, Scar is not better off. He is still gloomy, perhaps more so. And although he has rid himself of Mufasa, he cannot bear the mere mention of his name. By delving deeper into his sinful ways, not only has he not achieved contentment himself but has made everyone’s life miserable in the process.
Those who bought into the promise that they would “never go hungry again”, shall also come to learn, much to their chagrin, that they “are still hungry”. So it is when we seek fulfillment only in earthly things, and worse yet when we pursue it with egotism and in that greatest of scams that is sin. At the very best, happiness –and a very shallow one, at that– will be fleeting and, in the end, will always elude us.
Amid Scar’s rise to power, Simba, being led to believe he is responsible for the death of his father, flees under threat of death. From the moment he meets Timon and Pumba, his life will elapse free of worries, adopting their Hakuna Matata philosophy: “No rules, no responsibilities”.
Such an “idyllic” life –one that we are tempted to endlessly pursue– is, however, truly a very impoverished form of existence. It means seeing days pass by, worrying (ironically) only about ones belly and comfort, and little else. And it comes at a high price. Forgetting who one is and what one is called to do in the service of others. Condemning to oblivion the truth that “each of us is the result of a though of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Op. cit.. Paragraph 47), and, therefore, not one is meant to go about life wandering aimlessly.
Seeing his childhood friend, Nala, again, kindles in his heart the flame of love. Perhaps, there can be existence outside one’s self. Still, having completely buried his meaningfulness in the past, it will take a lection from the priestly Rafiki and a strong rebuke from his father, in a vision, to correct his path.
Mufasa reproaches his son for forgetting him; Simba assures him he has not. It can be certain that he remembers him, as it is that he has not honored him with his works and his life: “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life”.
More often than not, problems in our own lives and neglect of others arise when we forget “who we are”. Like Simba, we are more than we sometimes care to acknowledge. Not sons and daughters of an earthly king, but of God himself by the grace of Baptism. In recognizing our true condition, we come to understand our dignity, and that we are more than we allow ourselves to become.
By the time Simba is climbing that rock to take his place as king, one is left with the impression that it is through virtue –through humility in admitting our errors, courage in facing evil and fortitude to make amends and come out of our stupor– , that we are victorious; for our own good and the good of others.
That so much can be drawn from The Lion King is truly remarkable. Ultimately, it is not a film about animals, but about us humans, and the triumph of virtue over vice. Those involved in its creation may not have even been aware of it, nor fathom its –for so many– unlikely success. And to those, our thanks, for a film of simple truths that speaks to the core and, on top of that, makes us cry, and laugh, and sing, and cheer.