In the summer of 1994, right in the middle of its Renaissance, Disney added another beloved film to its roster when it released the Serengeti-set animation The Lion King. Featuring the voices of many celebs of its day, animation that hadn’t been seen before, and an incredible soundtrack, it was an instant hit with audiences.
Nearly 25 years later, the film has been given new life with its remake for a new generation of Disney moviegoers to enjoy, including James Earl Jones reprising his role from the original movie as Mufasa as well as new voices lent from Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, and (gasp) Beyonce!
But as many pour into theaters to see this newest reboot, I became interested in taking a deeper look at the original film with my adult eyes — and, in doing so, came to realize a few things I never noticed as a kid.
1. Not so much diversity in a diverse land: The Lion King was modeled after the safaris of Kenya and the Serengeti of Africa, yet only four characters were voiced by actors of the African diaspora — Shenzi the hyena (Whoopi Goldberg); Sarabi, the alpha lioness (Madge Sinclaire); Mufasa, the alpha lion and Simba’s father (James Earl Jones); and Rafiki, the wise baboon (Robert Guillaume). Of the four, only Rafiki is prominent throughout the film’s entirety, as the others are either secondary or dead. This, I presume, may be the reason the film almost did a 180-pivot for its new adaptation.
2. Nala and Simba’s naughty connection: While watching this film as a kid, it was almost impossible not to see Nala and Simba ending up together — that is, until you become an adult and realize that Mufasa was the alpha male of the pride. That means there’s a high possibility Nala is, in fact, Simba’s half-sister and their daughter is also his niece. Can you feel that love tonight? It’s incestuous.
3. Younger siblings get a raw deal: As a kid, it was only natural to look at Scar as the villain everyone wanted to see trampled by Simba. As an adult, I’m more aware that Scar is, in fact, a victim of the patriarchy. Everything is given to the eldest male heir and his family; thus Scar was well aware that he would never be able to inherit anything as a second, younger sibling. He may have even had to fight to be deemed “alpha,” and since he wasn’t, he was the outcast, the younger brother of Mufasa, with that stigma following him everywhere he went. He probably would never amount to being the alpha male of his own pack, and so he had to resort to hanging with the other scavengers, aka the hyenas. With those family dynamics and power struggles, wouldn’t you harbor some resentment too?
4. The Lion King is Hamlet in disguise: Most people don’t elect to take Shakespeare in college, but I did, and since then I’ve come to look at The Lion King as a wonderful spin on the classic tragedy Hamlet. The similarities are staggering, complete with a usurping uncle, a young prince distancing himself from his family, an abandoned betrothed princess, and two comedic sidekicks. Clearly, a lot of the death, depression, and turmoil had to be cut, since it is a children's movie, but it’s basically the same.
5. A reduced-meat diet does the body good: One thing everyone seems to forget (or brush aside, rather) is that for the most formidable years of his life, Simba was on a high-protein, low-fat untraditional diet — and still survived! Despite being taught how to hunt traditional prey by his father, Simba was content and nurtured by the insect-based meal plan, meaning he still received the same nutrients and calories from eating grub that he would have from taking down a water buffalo. Granted, we will never know how Simba’s “meat-free” diet affected the circle of life in the jungle (since his eating habits may have disrupted a few ecosystems dependent on those bugs), but I still wonder if he was ever able to eat meat and enjoy it or if he brought his customs back to the pride lands.
6. The Lion King is a subtle lesson in politics: I never realized it before, but The Lion King, while simultaneously entertaining, is also a lesson in politics. The film starts out with the “Circle of Life” being realized with the birth of Simba, who is essentially the crowned prince of this monarchy. He is the heir and son of a benevolent king who understands the balance of nature and does not seek to abuse his power as king but uses his throne to maintain the checks and balances of the land. However, when Scar orchestrates a coup d'etat, he overthrows the regime and instills a harsh dictatorship — something which is even depicted in the Nazi-like march of the hyenas during the “Be Prepared” musical number. “Yes, our teeth and ambitions are bare, be prepared,” he sings, reiterating the ruthlessness of his order wherein no one will have a say other than he. Even as he rapidly plunders all the resources the land has to give, he maintains his word as law despite the suffering of those around him. His power has corrupted everything and everyone, and I didn’t know it then but this movie was giving me insight into the kinds of the notorious dictators the world has seen.
7. Did "Hakuna Matata" mean more for Timon and Pumbaa? So this final point (for now) is less observation and more of a question — were Timon and Pumbaa a couple? I have to ask, as it doesn’t fit with the "Circle of Life" model for two male animals to live in the jungle by their lonesome. Sure, they’re joined by Simba at some point in their self-imposed exile from the norm, but even Simba wants some lioness lovin’ when Nala tumbles with him, licks him on the face, and gives him those sexy eyes while “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” plays in the background. Where was the love for Timon and Pumbaa? Did they not want to contribute to the circle, or did that “Hakuna Matata” also apply to their untraditional relationship?
I could go on with other thoughts, questions, and feelings about The Lion King, but I’ll retreat and get back to enjoying this movie like I did when I was a kid and allow you to come up with some observations of your own.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.