By Chlo Hickson

The Lion King is one of the best animated films that I have seen … up there with Beauty and the Beast. It is highly moving and one of the most emotional  films that I have ever seen. The animation is just beautiful. It holds up so well after 30 years. Even in an age where 3D animation is getting better and better, the classic hand drawn look of the film never ceases to amaze me.

The brutal death of Mufasa probably traumatised us all. We rarely see the actual deaths of the parents of Disney characters. In The Lion King Mufasa’s death is even more shocking due to the immersive experience we take in from the eyes of Simba, who until now, thought his dad was invincible. Then as he is still processing the unbelievable, the horror is doubled by the psychological torment Scar inflicts by persuading the poor cub that he’s to blame for his dad’s death. After this point the journey that follows for Simba is about learning how to understand the role of pain and injustice in our lives. This is actually something Simba’s society has failed to do too. The Pride Lands don’t acknowledge evil, wrong doing, or ill intentions. All this badness is ignored and pushed out of sight, as Simba explores the Shadow Lands that are rejected by his kingdom, Mufasa doesn’t explain what this place is or why it isn’t part of their kingdom so Simba is poorly equipped to deal with it. Just as he later responds to tragedy by running from it and suppressing his feelings. He’s been given no means of addressing the unpleasant apart from pushing it away. As perfect as Mufasa seems as a king, his failing isn’t recognizing the role of darkness in the kingdom. He’s aware of his brother’s ill will but doesn’t think too deeply about it. He minimizes the seriousness of the problem. This refusal to face the ugly truths makes the kingdom weak. Eventually Scar brings literal darkness to take over the Pride Lands, now to return and take his rightful place, Simba has to understand the evil in the Pride Lands in order to vanquish it and by confronting the darkness as Mufasa never did he becomes an even stronger king. His time away and his suffering make him able to defeat Scar when Mufasa couldn’t. It’s also no coincidence that Scar is one of the most vicious and terrifying Disney villains. The ‘Be Prepared’ visuals compare Scar to Hitler. Scar’s darkness makes the Lion King’s light shine all the more brighter.

It has a deceitfully simple plot, but once you unfold it more, you can see the extra layers to it. The story has been interpreted in many ways, but the way I see it is a metaphor for trauma.

We can see the story of the Lion King about trauma and the road to healing and self-realization. Simba’s name translates to lion in Swahili so he is the lion, the self of this story. The physical state of the Pride Lands reflects the state of Simba’s self at any given time. As the name Pride Lands suggest a strong self relies on taking positive pride in your actions and the group your responsible too like a pride of lions. But when selfish, vain, ego, the negative version of pride is in charge  the space of the self is ravaged becoming a gloomy graveyard. The villain of this story is called Scar so he represents that bitterness of holding on to resentment or hardships that you’ve experienced. And within the story we can read this character as embodying Simba’s scar, the festering, guilt, infesting wound formed by his dad’s death becomes so powerful it takes over the whole Pride Lands. The visualization of his inner self, and kills off all growth there. Simba runs away from that land, ie from himself, and starts acting like a different animal then he really is. Simba’s behaviour matches the textbook behaviour of a trauma victim. He shows symptoms like shock, denial, withdrawing from others, feeling sad/hopeless, disconnected and blaming himself. When Simba sees Mufasa in his reflection but denies this, in one way he’s saying he’s not worthy of being a king even if he looks like one but others see that he is a king and that’s why they mistake him for Mufasa. Rafiki, a name that means friend, represents wisdom. He reminds Simba of Mufasa’s guidance so he can become a fully realised self and what this requires is for Simba to confront his past which means battling the scar that, all this time, has been telling him the bad thing that happened to him was his fault. Once he’s free of the burden of the lie, Simba is finally able to destroy the wound that has terrorized him for so long. The closing scene of Simba looking over a thriving land is an image of a healthy complex self, connected to the friends and family who are a key part of him.

The music is perfect. Several songs are performed by Elton John. Tim Rice wrote the lyrics. While the songs are praised, the musical score by Hans Zimmer is one of the best in movie history.

Simba’s ‘I just can’t wait to be King’ song tells us that he wants to be king, and he doesn’t want to wait. What he doesn’t realise is that with these words he’s actually wishing for the death of his dad, because for Simba to become king Mufasa must pass away. Later on, his fear that he did unconsciously will his dad’s death might be part of why Simba continues to feel guilty. On closer inspection what Simba is looking forward to with being king is actually being an adult.

Like ‘I just can’t wait to be king’, ‘Be prepared’ is there to inform the audience of Scar’s motivations/wants of the movie. The genius of this is they made Scar the rhyming character – this is a character that mirrors the protagonist in some way, either them being their complete opposite or a different version of the character – in this way ‘Be prepared’ shows us how Scar is a perfect reflection to Simba. ‘Be prepared’ is literally just a sinister version of ‘I just can’t wait to be King’, in fact the two songs are back to back because for most of the movie Simba is a horrible person. There’s not just one or two similarities to them either, what is ‘I just can’t wait to be King’ really about? It’s there in the title. I understand he probably isn’t considering what he’s saying on a deeper level but without realising it Simba is wishing for Mufasa’s death but there’s a lot more than just this motivation, there’s lines expressed in the song that ties the two together.

Both Simba and Scar bully their inferiors, specifically by pushing them off a ledge in a similar way. They also both do it twice, and it’s not just these visual similarities either. There’s also the lyrics and how they express the exact same sentiment:

Everybody look left,
everybody look right.
Everywhere you look
I’m standing in the spotlight.

The cage of denial is simply
while I’ll be king undisputed,
respected, saluted
and seen for the wonder I am.

That’s not all though, if you look at the final shot of both songs both of them are standing on a tower with everyone else in the same position with the other animals beneath them. Both Scar and Simba throughout the majority of the film are very similar and ‘Be prepared’ serves as a warning for what could have happened to Simba if he hadn’t become a better person.

For the best example, let’s look at the characters side by side:

Scar is arrogant, petty and lazy. Simba is arrogant, petty and lazy.

There’s significant evidence throughout the film to support that Simba wouldn’t have grown up to be a very good leader. Outside of his behaviour as a kid, his personality as an adult isn’t much better. Simba abandons his responsibilities to live a life of laziness while the real problems are getting worse because of his absence. Ultimately the main theme of The Lion King is personal responsibility. Simba’s main challenge is to get over his laziness and unwillingness to take up the responsibility of ruling his kingdom. Who else has the same problem? Scar. Scar’s problem is that he’s so lazy and unwilling to perform his duty as king and the entire kingdom falls apart because of this.

Ultimately, they share the same views and motives. ‘Be prepared’ is a great song because it shows this theme, but also shows how these two characters are extremely similar and that Simba would’ve become like Scar but without malice. If Simba hadn’t taken responsibility for himself and done what he needed to do then he’d be the same lazy, selfish person that his enemy was. Luckily though Mufasa’s ghost came to Simba and told him to save the kingdom which saved him in return.

The Lion King is an animated master piece. It is Disney’s greatest achievement. Animation, storyline, voice talent, music, characters, this film has it all. There are no cracks whatsoever in what has to be a perfect movie. Some have criticised the portrayal of certain animals like the hyenas and the movie doesn’t depict life in the African savannah accurately, the correct response to that is, its only a story and isn’t a nature documentary. This is a timeless classic.