Rhetorical question: Who saw The Lion King last weekend?
We all did.
Who cried all the way through Circle of Life?
Who still doesn’t care about Beyoncé?
Me, again. Still don’t care. She did fine, but no better than anyone else in the cast.
If you ask me, besides James Earl Jones, the only crossover from the original animated film, the best casting goes to Zazu, played by John Oliver. Honestly, if he wasn’t Zazu, I don’t know who would have been. They would have just had to call back Mr. Bean.
Ok well maybe like…a John Cleese or Steve Coogan could have worked…
Or could you imagine if they’d called Russell Brand in for the job…
But no. John Oliver was perfect, followed by the impeccable pairing of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumba.
I’m no movie critic, but I like movies. I took a whole course in college about interpreting movies as literature where we watched thought-provoking and critically-acclaimed films such as Independence Day and First Blood.
Seriously. That’s what I did with my undergrad.
In actual seriousness, though, the class was eye-opening in the sense that movies tend to reflect the sentiments of the time – the fears, the priorities, the changing social constructs, etc. While that in and of itself isn’t a groundbreaking claim or discovery, it was interesting to examine none-the-less.
Up to that point, I had thought of movies as I had thought of art – stand-alone works that reflected the inner workings and machinations of the writer. It was how he or she interpreted the world, or what was going on inside that one person’s mind.
Sure, that’s a part of it.
But for a movie to truly resonate with the public, whether they’re conscious of it or not, the movie has to speak to greater, relevant, and timely themes. As the creator is a product of their society and environment, however they perceive it and however they perceive themselves within it, the work inevitably reflects more than just the artist themselves.
So with a film like The Lion King, which was originally released in 1994 and remade and re-released in 2019, how can the movie stay relevant beyond capitalizing on nostalgia and a catchy catchphrase that never really went out of style?
The Lion King, as far as my childhood memory serves me, was one of, if not the first movie I saw on the big screen. I also saw it on Broadway when it first came out. Growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, I had seen my fair share of Broadway shows at that point, but The Lion King? I had never seen anything like it.
You know what? Even now, I’ll say that I’ve never seen anything quite like The Lion King on Broadway. I still remember the awe and horror of the stampede. I still remember how excited I was when Big Simba swung out, landed smack in the center of the stage, and exclaimed, “It means no worries!” in the middle of Hakuna Matata. And the costumes?! Get outta here.
With all of this, though, can we even really pinpoint why The Lion King was the huge success that it was, especially when you consider that the story is actually hundreds of years old and was originally released to an entirely different demographic in a different country in a different time?
The Lion King was successful because it had beautiful bright colors, funny, complex, and original characters (before a lot of these stereotypical roles had actually become stereotypical), and a lot of heart. The Lion King is peak Disney, surpassing by a long-shot the Disney movies of the modern era, if you ask me. Maybe I’m biased, but Frozen can’t touch The Lion King.
The Lion King gave us hope, which is probably the best thing you get from a movie.
Hope…hope, hope, hope…
Why does that sound familiar…?
What – or who – does that remind me of…?
OH YEAH OBAMA.
Let’s take a trip back to the 2000s when George W. Bush was our president and we thought he was the worst thing that had ever happened to the country. Nearing the end of the decade, we were faced with the prospect of John McCain as his successor, who at the time, seemed like more of the same, just maybe a little less duncey. It was also pretty terrifying that someone like Sarah Palin, in all of her idiocy, had ascended to be a presidential candidate’s running mate.
And then…Barack Obama was elected president.
That night The Daily Show, which was hosted by Jon Stewart at the time, did a whole Lion King-themed montage with Obama being held for all to see above Pride Rock. He was the promise of a brighter future. He was going to restore civility to the office of the presidency. He was going to govern with positive intent, diplomacy, and righteousness. He represented a new era in American politics and society.
He was Simba.
Watching The Lion King in 2019, though…
Obama was Mufasa. When he left, “Scar” took over his kingdom, ran it into the ground and dismantled many of the things Mufasa had put in place, and then…Simba came back to restore the kingdom to its former glory.
So, who’s our new Simba?
We’re still waiting to find that out. There are still a ton of players in the field, none of whom, in my opinion, inspire the same level of hope that Obama did coming out of the Bush-Cheney era.
While the new film stayed pretty loyal to the original version, there were some key changes that were made. For instance, Beyoncé’s Nala was given a whole extra and unnecessary scene, but at least John Oliver was in it. That helped.
In the “Everything the light touches…” scene, there was an exchange between Mufasa and Simba that I’m glad was added in (though I’m not 100% sure it wasn’t in the original). It’s a popular scene. Mufasa is showing his young son their entire kingdom, which spans everything the light touches. Simba marvels at it, understanding that one day, he’ll be the king ruling over the land.
He asks his father if all of it will one day “belong” to him, and his father clarifies that the land doesn’t belong to anyone, but it is our job to protect it.
When the entire world is facing the existential and shared threat of man-made climate change, pollution, deforestation, poaching, etc., this is a message that resonates across the board. With power-hungry and avaricious corporations and CEOs drilling too deeply into the land, cutting down trees, spilling oil into our seas, and generally destroying the environment in the name of a profit, the notion that we are responsible for protecting the land is more important now than ever.
The whole movie highlighted how beautiful an untouched ecosystem can be when it’s allowed to grow and thrive without the influence of man. Perhaps in the real world, Mufasa would have gone the way of Cecil the Lion rather than dying in a stampede. The only threats the animals face are within the circle of life, or as Timon and Pumba call it, “the meaningless line of indifference.”
Let’s talk about Scar for a minute, though.
Scar is Mufasa’s brother who claims he’s smarter than Mufasa, though not stronger. He resents his brother being king and he resents Simba for overtaking him in the line of succession. He believes the throne to be his destiny, but he wants it for purely selfish reasons.
He joined forces with the hyenas, a notoriously overlooked group in Mufasa’s kingdom. They dislike Mufasa because apparently, he’s never done anything good for them. He had, however, managed to keep them in check, not allowing them to run rampant across the lands and disrupt or attack the other animals. In so doing, Mufasa was keeping the peace. The hyenas were not a peaceful group.
So, Scar appealed to them, presenting himself as one of their own, even though he had little to nothing in common with them. After all, Scar is royalty. He promised them full bellies and a kingdom where they were on even footing with the lions if they could first put him in power.
With that, the hyenas helped Scar kill Mufasa. With Scar as the new king, the hyenas overtook Pride Rock.
Sooner than later, the hyenas and Scar had managed to “over hunt” the lands, killing the majority of animals that had once roamed the plains or forcing them to flee. While Mufasa had preserved and managed the balance of life, Scar had “perfected the kill.” He was well-fed while the others in his kingdom either starved or were eaten – that is, except for those who were loyal to him.
By now, I’m hoping you can see the parallels I’ve been laying out, but in case you missed them all, Scar is Trump. The hyenas are the “forgotten” Rust Belt workers that he targeted during his campaign, somehow managing to convince them he was one of them (even though he was a billionaire playboy who’s never done a day of hard labor nor been impoverished in his life) and promised them jobs and job protections if they got him elected president and remained loyal to him.
Taking it a step further, the hyenas could alternatively be representative of the neo-Nazis, KKK members, Proud Boys, and general racists and nationalists who had never felt as though they could spew their garbage publicly. They had become the least sympathized for “marginalized” group. But now that their leader has invited them into the White House and all but blatantly aligned himself with them at his rallies and in the press, they suddenly have clout and influence on a national level.
Or maybe the hyenas are the corporations and CEOs who now more or less have free reign over the land and its resources because regulatory standards that were once in place to prevent environmental abuse have been or are being rolled back.
And their “bellies are never full.”
While the United States is not a socialist nation, we have certain institutions and regulations in place to maintain a semblance of balance amongst our people and our resources. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps more than it hurts.
In Scar’s America, capitalism is at its worse. The wealth gap is widening. Billionaires all but dictate how the government is to be run. They keep grabbing for more and more money, snatching from those who actually need it and leaving them with shrugged shoulders and sentiments of “Survival of the fittest! What can you do?”
At one point, when confronted by Sarabi about his overhunting, Scar confessed that since there is no one to challenge him, he can take whatever he wants.
That “no one to challenge him” is Congress, specifically the Senate. The reason we have a president who says and does the things that Trump says and does is because he never has to face any repercussions or answer to anyone.
And so…can we even really blame him for being such a vile and reckless human? He already was vile and reckless, but those we once relied upon to implement the checks and balances that promised to reel in dictatorial leaders have failed us.
When reflecting on his presidency, Barack Obama once said that one of the most surprising things he learned upon taking office was how little power he had.
Really, though…that was a good thing. Granted, Obama was fighting an extra petty Mitch McConnell the whole time he was in office, but that’s another story.
Here we are, the lions, elephants, birds, and giraffes, all watching our land being taken over by hyenas, unsure of what we can do to reclaim our home.
Short of Nala’s “Lions! Attack!” line that actually made me laugh out loud in the theater during the major battle scene, our best option is to vote in the next Simba.
Or maybe, just as Scar’s downfall was the hyenas finally realizing that he had fooled them and never respected them before turning on him, maybe Trump’s base will clue into a few things between now and November 2020.
Oh, and for all of you Timons and Pumbas out there who try to live a carefree life as though the goings-on in the nation and the world don’t affect you? Well, even they showed up to fight in the end.