The Lion King

The Lion King

The Lion King came out in 1994, when I was a humble first-grader, just old enough to begin to process the concept of death and be truly traumatized by this film. And yeah, I don't think I watched The Lion King very often has a kid, because why the hell would I? Honestly, my most distinct memories about The Lion King were from this.

This game, this goddamn impossible game that was marketed to kids but required the Lionel Messi of seven year old gamers to beat it. Even hearing the music is enough to send me off into a rage spiral.

The Lion King, as many have rightly pointed out, is basically Hamlet with fur. A young, spoiled prince is forced to confront the reality of his father's untimely death (some may go so far as to call it regicide) and overcome his feelings of guilt and anger to save the kingdom from his evil uncle. Except, you know, instead of Danish humans, they're all big cats.

When I was a kid, Mufasa seemed like such a wise, sage-like figure. But watching it now, Mufasa is obsessed with his own mortality. Dude is crazy morbid. Like 80% of the conversations he has with his tiny tiny son revolve around the fact that he's going to die someday. And I get that he's trying to prepare Simba for the great responsibility that lies ahead of him, but enough is enough. Maybe one of their touching father-son heart to hearts could be about, like, baseball or something. It's almost like Mufasa was expecting to be betrayed and murdered by his own brother. (To be fair, he probably should have -- I don't see how anyone in the entire animal kingdom didn't see that coming.)

So you have this wise, moral, impossibly perfect (if admittedly morbid) king in Mufasa who has, it seems, only one major failing: the inability to see what's right in front of him. Namely that his sarcastic, malevolent, power-hungry brother named Scar, a lion with an evil-looking scar on his face and also happens to be voiced by Jeremy Irons, might have plans that don't necessarily involve a long and glorious reign of King Mufasa. Being SUPER EVIL (seriously, I cannot stress this point enough, because it's something that the characters in the film have a really hard time acknowledging for an unacceptably long time -- for the first first half hour of the movie, everyone just laughs his malevolence off, all, "That Scar, what a character!"), this comes in the form of luring his young nephew into the middle of a stampede that Mufasa will then have to rescue him from, then killing him and casually making Simba feel responsible for his father's death. You know, as you do.

There's this thing that Disney does where they go deep into the mind of a child and pick out the fears that they have but haven't even realized that it's something they need to worrying about. Like, for example, the death of a parent. Or specifically, helplessly watching a parent die and having a trusted adult tell you that it's your fault.

The stampede scene in this film is devastating, and if you think that it was traumatizing to be a six year old staring in shock at your television while all of this, imagine how Simba feels curling up next to the lifeless body of his seemingly invincible father. Pretty rough, yes?

But anyway, that's enough of Mufasa, because the movie is really about Simba and his wacky misadventures/crippling guilt that he indulges in as his kingdom burns. Because it takes him about five and a half second before he books, abandoning all of the people and places that he knows.

And OK, this sort of makes me feel like a terrible person for saying, but I have always found Simba to be...unlikable? He's a stuck-up little shit as a kid, then he just turns his back on his kingdom, leaving it to be taken over by a bunch of Nazi hyenas (don't worry, we'll get to them) so that he can go smoke pot with Nathan Lane and that other guy.

And it's like, I get it, I'm taking into account the trauma of watching your father die and then having a trusted adult tell you that it was your fault. And since he's the Hamlet figure, he's too busy being deep in the throes of an existential crisis to be of much use to anyone. But it takes him so annoyingly long to realize that yes, he does need to go back and fix shit. Like the one thing that his dad taught him is how to be a leader and he can't even get that right. Dude, that's your home. Your family. Pull your head out of your ass and stop whining.

Nala, though...Nala was my girl.

Because you see, here's the thing. Unfortunately for Mufasa, Simba, and all of the little people who inevitably seem to suffer in these sorts of dynastic squabbles, Scar is inept in every possible regard other than having a certain penchant for goose-stepping hyena parades that might as well be taking place in 1930s-era Odeonsplatz and followed by a ceremony burning all of Bertolt Brecht's plays.

And speaking of these hyenas: I often think about this film and wonder if there was a conversation amongst the animators about how they could make a thoughtful, understated allusion to Hitler in their portrayal of Scar. Then they hit a deadline and someone was just like, "Fuck it, let's just put in a bunch of goose-stepping hyenas." Because seriously, subtle that is not, even by Disney standards.

Sometimes, however, understated is overrated -- like Jeremy Irons' performance as Scar. He's not even trying to hide the fact that he's the villain of the piece, every world that he utters dripping with malevolence and barely concealed contempt for those around him. But there's something about his remorseless plotting and wry sense of humor that makes him incredibly engaging as a bad guy, and it's understandable that he has something of a following as a fan favorite.

By the way, while we're talking about Jeremy Irons, we need to acknowledge how phenomenal these voice actors are. I mean, you've got James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, all people with iconic, rich, memorable voices. It seems like one of the first movies of the Disney Renaissance that used well-known celebrities rather than traditionally nondescript voice actors. You see it start in Aladdin with Robin Williams, but it really comes to fruition here.

So anyway, as everyone already knows, The Lion King is a great Disney movie, with an incredible soundtrack from the genius mind of Elton John and a solid story ripped straight from the pages of Shakespeare. So why didn't I watch it more as a child?

Enough said, right?

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