‘The Lion King’ isn’t as regal the second time around

Film review

Is the effeminate, swarthy-looking, villainous Scar gay? Muslim? Or even both?

It was in late 1989 that Disney redeemed itself in the animated film department with “The Little Mermaid.” After a string of animated films in the 1970s and 1980s that were lackluster at best — that are not considered to be Disney classics — with “Mermaid” Disney finally got its mojo back, and followed it up with such other instant classics as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.”

I probably would have gone to see any of these re-released four films (with the possible exception of “Beast,” which never was a great favorite of mine), so when Disney brought back “Lion King,” I was there. In 3-D, no less.

Alas, so much has happened since a much more innocent-feeling 1994, when “Lion King” was released, and today. Things that didn’t bother me much — if I noticed them at all — in 1994 practically scream out at me today.

The symbolism that is contained in “The Lion King” — wow.

The good king must be a fairer-haired lion, apparently. Protagonists King Mufasa and Prince/King-to-Be Simba, with their fair-haired manes, apparently are physically and morally stronger than others — because of their fair-haired manes, pretty much.

The villain, Mufasa’s brother Scar, of course, has a black mane and is swarthy-looking, as opposed to the Aryan-looking good guys.

Of course this difference is more pronounced in the post-9/11 world than it was in 1994. Today, “The Lion King,” in my book, unwittingly reinforces the oppressive, white supremacist myth that fairer-haired individuals are morally and physically superior to the darker-haired.

The villainous character of Scar is different from the fair-haired monarchs, and thus he is, pretty much by definition, evil. Hell, Disney could have made Scar a Muslim — surely Mufasa and Simba are great Christians (in one scene, the Earth-departed Mufasa appears to Simba in the night sky in a very grand, dramatic, even celestial, manner, as though he were God Himself [which, I suppose, would make Simba Jesus Christ…]) — but instead, Disney more or less made Scar into an Adolf Hitler character, replete with troops of hyenas that, in one quite memorable scene, march in lockstep just like Nazis.

Add to all of this Scar’s rather effeminate manner. The British accent of the voice of Scar, Jeremy Irons, as opposed to the deep and robust American-English accent of Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, for fuck’s sake), adds to the characterization of Scar as being different and effeminate.

In at least a few scenes Scar bemoans the fact that although he possesses (at least in his own estimation) an intellect that is superior to Mufasa’s, Mufasa is king primarily because of Mufasa’s physical superiority. And Scar probably is correct — he probably is Mufasa’s intellectual superior, and Mufasa probably is king primarily because of his physical strength (and his lighter-colored mane, of course).

In “The Lion King” Scar is presented as just being bad to the bone — which is how the “Christo”fascist hypocrites of today depict many if not most Arabs and Muslims (and other non-Aryans) — but was Scar born evil or did Scar become evil over time because of the unjust way that he was treated by his supposed moral superiors? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Scar is “just” a Disney character, I know, but the kiddies in the audience sure the fuck pick up on this kind of shit: Light hair good. Dark hair bad. Masculine good. Effeminate bad. Different bad. And, perhaps worst of all: being smart is bad. (Which pretty much is the presidential campaign platform of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and which no doubt has gained him millions of mouth-breathing fans.)

So “The Lion King,” in my book, (most likely) unwittingly reinforces Aryanism (in which I include white supremacy and “Christo”fascism, since those who subscribe to this sick belief system themselves conflate being white and being “Christian”), anti-intellectualism, heterosexism, gender conformity and homophobia, as well as posits that rulership by birth — monarchy — is an acceptable form of governance (King Mufasa and King Simba are, after all, the film’s heroes).

And don’t let me forget the feminists: The lionesses in “The Lion King” play primarily supportive roles to the male lions. I mean, the world of “The Lion King” is a patriarchal monarchy, of course.

These just aren’t cultural symbols and therefore cultural messages that I’d want any child for whom I had responsibility to consume as “entertainment.” Just sayin’.

Not to say that “The Lion King” is a total failure. Of course it isn’t. The characters of Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa still give us comic relief, the character of Simba (voiced first by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and then by Matthew Broderick) is likeable enough (although he is, let’s face it, privileged by birth, is favored by his DNA), and the hyenas (two of them voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin*) are still good, and I think that I’d watch “The Lion King” for the character of the monkey mystic Rafiki (voiced by Robert Guillame) alone. (Rafiki adds some depth to a movie that needs it — otherwise, “The Lion King” would remain pretty much only a tale of genetic privilege, a tale in which the good-by-definition fair-haired defeat the evil-by-definition dark-haired.)

Unfortunately, “The Lion King’s” animation is not as great as I had remembered it to be. (Odd how we can remember things to have been better than they apparently actually were, isn’t it?) The newly added 3-D adds a little bit of spice to the old film, but there are long stretches of the film that don’t appear to be in 3-D, or the 3-D effects in these segments are so lackluster that you don’t really notice them at all.

I suppose that the kiddies would like “The Lion King’s” visuals, vocals and songs, but again, if I were a parent or guardian I’d be concerned about what toxic cultural messages my littlun almost assuredly were picking up by that curious form of cultural osmosis that children possess.

My grade: B-

*Lest you think that no one else on the planet picks up on symbolism, I seem to recall that at the time of “The Lion King’s” original release, some blacks and Latinos weren’t pleased that a black woman and a Latino man provided the voices of two of the evil hyenas.

However, one could, I suppose, counter-argue that James Earl Jones is black, and the character of Mufasa certainly strikes me as a Great White Hero.

Also, I don’t remember any widespread complaints from the gay community that the character of Scar, the intellectual, effete, effeminate “bachelor,” apparently is gay — and that he is Adolf-Hitler-level evil.

Too bad. There should have been. 

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “‘The Lion King’ isn’t as regal the second time around

  1. You my friend are reading way too much into an animated movie.

    • Robert C.

      To those who under-think, I’m sure that I appear to over-think.

      I’m just glad that I’m not your kid is what I’m sayin’. Our children get a plethora of cultural messages, such as through “innocent” avenues as “animated movies.” Kids don’t grow up to be haters spontaneously. They are exposed to the messages, often if not usually subtle and even unintended/unconscious ones.

      Our culture is so omnipresent that it’s like a fish that never notices the water, I understand, but I stand by what I wrote.

  2. Jay

    I myself, LOVE the lion king.. ever sine i saw it in theaters as a child. I am now 21 years old, and just recently brought the 3D Blu-ray (even though ive watched both the VHS and DVD to death).

    However it wasnt until now (watched it yesterday) that i noticed the EXACT same symbolic references intertwined within the movie. Although growing up in the 90’s/pre 911, being a child we weren’t really aware of such stuff to the extent that children growing up post 911/2000’s face from both entertainment and the media.

    However, back then, as a child going into my teenage years, it really helped me realise how innocent and naive we can be as children and how much we need to grow and mature (in reference to Simba growing up). Additionally it helped me through the tough time of my grandpa passing away in the 90’s when i blamed myself for him passing away as a child (I didn’t know any better when i was 7 and didn’t understand what cancer was), thus the Lion King holds deep meaning to me and always will.

    However i still do think the animation is fantastic! the bright colours look crisp in Blu-ray with the pencil like sketches of the characters really popping out from the vibrant and vividly painted background scenery.

    So while i disagree with you that its lost its charm, i do understand what you mean with all symbolic references that stick out from the lion king (Superiority, Hitler, Aryan, Religious) and see your point of view.

    Sorry for my ramble… i still love the movie, an instant animated/disney classic along with Dumbo, Bambi, Jungle Book, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Tarzan (people always forget Tarzan, its actually a really good Disney film! lol)

    Cheers Jay

  3. Jesse

    Also the bizarre fact that Simba was voiced by a white child but Simba’s singing voice was of the black Jason Weaver.

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