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The Lion King: A Detailed Analysis
In The Lion King, released in 1994 by Walt Disney Feature Animation, there are many different historical components, roles, and ideologies that influence people who view the film. Though intended audience of the film is predominantly children, the easiest demographic to influence, it is loved and impacts people of all ages. The children of our nation are the future of our nation. There are many historical, cultural, and idealistic components of the film that influence viewers without them realizing it.
Lion King Synopsis
Much of the film takes place in the Pride Lands of Africa. The main character is a young lion cub, Simba, who is the son of the king, Mufasa. Simba is first in line to become king, making his uncle, Scar, second in line for the throne. Throughout the movie, Simba comes of age, battling against the evil forces, the hyenas and his own uncle, Scar. Simba wonders off to Pride Rock after speaking to his father about the lands he would one day rule. Mufasa had just warned Simba to never go to the shadow land. Scar, knowing that Simba was young and full of curiosity, asks Simba about the shadow land. He told him that only the bravest would venture over to the shadow land. Simba then meets up with Nala, another young female lion cub. They tell her mother they were going to the water hole, but they went to the shadow land instead. The cubs find themselves at the Elephant Graveyard, soon to be surrounded by three hyenas. Mufasa comes to the cubs rescue. Scar is angry that the hyenas couldn’t get rid of Simba, so he comes up with a plan. He lures Simba off by himself, getting him to practice his roar. One is loud enough, sending out a loud echo, triggering a stampede of wildebeests. Scar warns Mufasa, knowing full well he would do everything to rescue Simba. Scar pushes Mufasa down the hillside into the stampede. Simba tries everything to find his father. Once the dust clears, he finds him dead. Simba is then chased by hyenas trying everything in their power to kill him. Scar returns to the Pride Lands to announce that both Simba and Mufasa have passed. Scar is now the ruler of the Pride Lands. He reduces the Pride Lands to a land full of death and despair. Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa, joining them as a fellow outcast. One day, as Simba is messing around with Timon and Pumbaa, Nala jumps on him, unrecognizable at first. Nala tries to convince Simba to return to the Pride Lands to help and takeover as the rightful king. Simba goes back and confronts Scar. Scar is taken back by fear, thinking that Simba is Mufasa. Scar and Simba get in a scuffle, where Scar admits that he killed Mufasa. Simba spares Scar, leaving him to the enraged hyenas. Rain falls, and the Pride Lands are restored, with Simba as the rightful king.
Cultural Perspective about the Lion King
“The Lion King” raked in an incredible $986,214,868, meaning it reached millions upon millions of people, both young and old. It is no question that this movie reached a wide variety of people with different views on life, politics, religion, etc. Given the number of people who have seen the movie and the amount of money it generated, you would think it was universally loved. Many enjoyed the setting, the story, and the music without giving the themes much consideration. Others have shared concerns about the representation of status, gender, and race in the Lion King perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes with respect to all three.
Hierarchal Status Within the Lion King
Mufasa is the dominant male leader and patriarch in the film. His wife, Sarabi, serves a much more “behind the scenes” role, as women are typically depicted to have. Scar is characterized as a middle aged male, cast out by his family, and is extremely envious of Mufasa’s power. He so driven by envy that he is willing to kill Mufasa to usurp his power. You often see examples of this jealousy on smaller scales in day to day life and the importance of status is clearly seen in social media circles. The impact of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, seems to increase the amount of jealousy towards others by enabling people to present only the very best of their lives while often hiding the real struggles they may be facing. Status is often based on the number of followers a person has or how many likes/shares/retweets a photo or post receives. The platforms provide a false sense of status and false security where people feel free to lash out at others because they are not responding directly to someone’s face. People are willing to sabotage others in order to achieve a higher social status, slandering them with words. On a larger scale, politicians are vocal and will do just about everything in their power to usurp one another, sometimes using extreme methods to do so. There are those that are envious of the president’s power and will do everything in their own power to ensure the downfall of those that they deem to hold more “success.” This opens a whole other can of worms, what really is success?
Where They Stand
According to John Morton from the School of Sociology and Anthropology at La Trobe University in Australia, class plays an important role in the movie, “The Lion King.” The lions are the top of the social order, while the hyenas are at the bottom of the social order. The hyenas and where they live is compared and equalized to “America’s urban poor” whilst the lions are high class, some of them being royals (Morton). Morton states that “corruption is endemic to the system and not simply restricted to a particular location” as portrayed by the film (Morton). Wherever Scar goes, the darkness and corruption follows. Once Scar kills Mufasa, he gains power, and that power is likened to a regime, drawing politics into play in the movie. Simba is able to move to another location that is “bathed in light” where he leads his “people in a second revolution,” ultimately resulting in victory (Morton).
Gender Roles in the Lion King
Gender seems to play a controversial role in the film. It seems that Nala “is always shown to be dominant over Simba until he proves his patriarchal credentials” and defeats Scar. Nala is a young female cub that is a friend of Simba’s. Morton describes a “turning point of Simba’s masculinization” because Simba gets on top of Nala while they are wrestling for the first time. Interestingly, there is a bit of gender role reversal in the lowest status group, the hyenas. Shenzi is the only female in the group that is identified, but she is the leader of the group who conspires with Scar to take down Mufasa and Simba. Banzai and Ed are both male hyenas who are subordinate to Shenzi and follow her orders without question. Today, feminism is prominent and is still very much on the rise. Women are trying to become equals of men, not inferiors. Society still mostly accepts the dominance of males, much like the dominance of males is portrayed in the film. Men are expected to be dominant patriarchs, while the women take care of the children and the house. It is important to note that even though the women are now a part of the working class, they often perform the more traditional roles as listed above. Robert Gooding-Williams proposes that “Disney is playing a major role in the political formation of America’s children,” and influencing them in many other ways (Williams 1). There are many different beliefs and ideologies present throughout the movie.
Race in the Lion King
Racial stereotypes have long been issues in Disney films, and the Lion King is no exception. It is arguably the most sensitive to racial discrimination of the Disney films up to the time it was made, some problems are evident. The hyenas were all portrayed by black actors who were evil and at the bottom of the social structure in the film. Even the portrayal of Rafiki, a respected character in the story who looks after Simba throughout the movie, is presented as foolish and wacky at times. It is a common portrayal of African Americans in film and on television.
Ideology of the Circle of Life
Rafiki, the baboon, focuses on the “[preservation] and…[restoration] of the circle of life”, representing the spirituality in Africa (Williams). Africa is depicted as “a place of perfect harmony and every species of life performs a function useful to the others,” creating the so called “circle of life” (Williams). The circle of life is referred to as a series of natural events in an ongoing cycle. Mufasa speaks of the circle of life in the beginning of the movie when he is showing Simba the Pride Lands from Pride Rock, teaching him how to be a good king. During this time, the lands are thriving and lush and beautiful. Scar abandons the circle of life when he turns the Pride Lands over to the hyenas when he rules the land and it turns into a barren waste land. When Simba becomes king after defeating Scar, the lush lands return as Simba restores the circle of life.
The New Live Action Movie
It was recently announced that a new live action version of the movie is coming out in 2019. Instead of being a cartoon, it will be a photorealistic rendition of the original. It will be interesting to see if they hold to the original story or if they have updated the story to reflect some of the cultural changes that have occurred in society since its original release.
- Gooding-Williams, Robert. “Disney in Africa and the Inner City: On Race and Space in The Lion King.” Social Identities, vol. 1, no. 2, Aug. 1995, p. 373. EBSCOhost, ezp.tccd.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9510030042&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- Morton, John. “Simba’s Revolution: Revisiting History and Class in The Lion King.” Social Identities, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1996, pp. 311–317. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13504639652358.
- Ratiba, Matome Melford. “‘The Sleeping Lion Needed Protection’– Lessons from the Mbube (Lion King) Debacle.” Journal of International Commercial Law & Technology, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 1–10. EBSCOhost, ezp.tccd.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=79267678&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- Ricker, Audrey. “The Lion King Animated Storybook: A Case Study of Aesthetic and Economic Power.” Critical Arts: A South-North Journal of Cultural & Media Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, May1996, p.41 EBSCOhost, ezp.tccd.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9702202324&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- “The Lion King.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt0110357/plotsummary.
- Ward, Annalee R. “The Lion King’s Mythic Narrative.” Journal of Popular Film & Television, vol. 23, no. 4, Winter 1996, p. 171. EBSCOhost, ezp.tccd.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9604100798&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
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