Man, you would have thought Disney smeared poop on celluloid and sent it out to theaters for its loyal public to view when it released in 2019 the live-action version of the animated classic The Lion King (2019). I did not see it, so I would not know. Nor do such things stir me to any kind of emotion one way or the other. The only reason why the reaction does not surprise me in one sense is because I am familiar with the original’s fanbase, and call many among them as close, personal friends. What worries me is when I write reviews for movies that these people love because my reaction to them so often is not what they want to hear. For better or worse (and it comes up worse more times than I would like), I am a non-confrontational person. I will stand up for my beliefs, particularly my Faith, but I do not like to do so in a manner that upsets people. People love The Lion King. I can do without it. Maybe it is because it is a musical? Then again, I did like Encanto. At any rate, I apologize ahead of time if any of what I am about to put in this review offends anyone.
We all know who is the king of the jungle. So, too, do the animals in The Lion King as they come to Pride Rock to view the offspring born to Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), their ruler, presented by the baboon shaman (I guess?) of the kingdom, Rafiki (voiced by Robert Guillaume). This is Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and one day he will be taking Mufasa’s place. His position is not without its perils, particularly as Mufasa’s brother Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) has designs on the throne. Would you believe, with a name like that, that he is the villain? At any rate, Simba “just can’t wait to be king,” and while loving his parents, is a bit headstrong. Scar takes advantage of this attitude, daring Simba and his best friend Nala (voiced by Niketa Calame) to explore the forbidden elephants’ graveyard. Mufasa is able to rescue his cub this time, and explains how their ancestors watch over them from the night sky, just as he will one day. There is a foreshadowing alert if I ever heard one. Scar looks for his next opportunity to strike, and makes a deal with the hyenas to help him overthrow his brother. It comes when Scar is able to lure Simba into a wildebeest stampede. Scar alerts Mufasa, who once again comes to his son’s aid. This time, though, Scar is on hand. Simba is saved, but Scar ends up ensuring that Mufasa is trampled by the heard. After the dust settles, Scar says that it is all Simba’s fault, and proceeding a touching scene with his father, runs off into the desert. Scar is now the ruler. A close-to-death Simba is found by our comedic relief duo, a wise-cracking meerkat named Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and a cheerful warthog called Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella). They take the young cub in, hakuna matata the crap out of him, and get him to forget about his worries. Simba grows up (voiced by Matthew Broderick) to adopt Timon and Pumbaa’s carefree attitude. Still, he is a lion at heart, and is able to save his friends from a hungry lioness prowling about their area. As chance (or the script) would have it, this turns out to be Nala (voiced by Moira Kelly). She informs Simba about how bad his home has gotten under Scar’s cruel reign, and requests that he come home and take his rightful place. Simba refuses, not seeing it as his problem. What changes his mind are two things. The first comes with a chance encounter with Rafiki, who reminds him of his father’s words after Mufasa saved him and Nala from the elephants’ graveyard. Specifically, the young lion is told that Mufasa’s spirit lives on in Simba. Naturally, this leads to a dream where a ghostly form of Mufasa urges his son to return and confront Scar. Resolve renewed, Simba returns to Pride Rock where he has his showdown with his uncle. As expected, Simba emerges victorious, and Scar begs for his life by blaming everything on the hyenas. The hyenas, who overhear this betrayal, then end up doing the awful business that the noble Simba could not do. We then jump ahead to Simba and Nala having Rafiki present their new cub from Pride Rock. So, the movie ends as it begins because, you know, the great circle of life, or whatever.
My description of The Lion King is shorter than usual for two reasons. First, it clocks in at under an hour and a half, which is great for my purposes. Secondly, it is a musical. I have said it before, but it bears repeating particularly when a movie is this short: musicals are repetitive. Take perhaps the most famous song from the movie, “Hakuna Matata.” The concept, which means “no worries” in Swahili, is defined by Timon and Pumbaa within minutes of meeting Simba. I find this ironic given that if this were real, a meerkat and a warthog would have a whole heck of a lot to worry about with hanging out with a lion. I digress. Okay, so I got it, they have their “worry-free philosophy.” What happens next is several minutes of them singing about it over and over. Maybe if I enjoyed the music a little more I would not be as bored. Ultimately, the whole sequence strikes me as an excuse for the animators to stretch their, um, fingers. And I understand, this is the true point of the movie. So, if you like it, please have at it. It simply is not my cup of tea, but it is not aimed at a grumpy old man like me.
It is the song, or philosophy, or whatever you want to call it, on which I would like to focus my Catholic energies. What I find puzzling does not so much pertain to the song as to the cultural and societal reaction to it. In the movie, it seems clear to me that the lesson is that Simba cannot actually live the rest of his days without a care in the world. In this vein, this Catholic applauds Simba for honoring the responsibilities of his birth to restore good tidings to his home. Practicing the Catholic Faith places responsibilities on a person, too. You are expected to get to Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, to Confess your sins regularly, and to be an upstanding citizen in your community. These are not meant to be burdens. On the contrary, if everyone followed them a little more religiously, I feel the world would be a better place. What I do not fully understand is the way the idea of hakuna matata has become a virtue unto itself, forgetting what the movie is really trying to tell people. I know of some who have literally had the Swahili tattooed on themselves. There is a line between worry and being carefree, though the two are obviously often conflated. The Bible does say that there is a place and time for every emotion, including worry. It can be a grace from God, too, if you do not let it consume you. Worry for someone else’s welfare can lead you to helping a person in need. The point being is that it should not be avoided, and I feel that is where Simba ultimately lands, no matter what society thinks.
Okay, so there you have my review of The Lion King. Honestly, I would recommend it to anyone with a family. It can keep kids occupied for hours. I have seen it happen. There is a lot worse material they could be consuming, anyway. It is just not for me. I prefer my cinematic lessons in more serious, or adult formats. At the same time, I can at least acknowledge that it has some value. So there.