?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Looking Back at Childhood Favorites: The Lion King Revisited

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet




"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Looking Back at Childhood Favorites: The Lion King Revisited

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
yavanna earth
Friday night, Bobby and I shelled out the arm and leg required to see the re-release of Disney's The Lion King in 3D, despite the fact that I avoid 3D movies on principle. (The Real Country Movie Theater* did have it in 2D ... at 12:55 in the afternoon. We couldn't quite fit that one in.)

* So called because, shortly after moving up here, Bobby and I went to the movies in Westminster--and it is a normal Regal multiplex theater located in the Westminster Towne Mall--and while standing in the lobby, a woman walked by, gazing about herself pie-eyed, and breathed out in wonder, "Wow ... so this is a real country movie theater!" Bobby and I have known it as "The Real Country Movie Theater" or just "Real Country" ever since then.

Normally, I don't dig re-releases either, but The Lion King was hands-down my favorite movie for a significant portion of my childhood, so I gave in to the sentimentality and nostalgia of seeing it again on the big screen. In the summer between 8th and 9th grades, I watched the video just about every day. Eighth grade, I had a posse of girlfriends who were also writers like me, and we gave each other Lion King code names based on our personalities. I was Ed, after the laughing hyena, because I was the crazy one. The nickname Ed stuck for many, many years after, with my sister calling me that into college.

Rewatching childhood favorites is always an interesting experience. What made this particular movie so special to me, as I stood on the threshold of adolescence? In the one sense, it was interesting to see echoes of the ideas that I would toy with through adolescence and young adulthood, and fully embrace by the fusty old age of 30, related to the so-called "circle of life" that is such a key theme in the movie. Listening to Mufasa intone about how the antelopes eat the grass, and the lions eat the antelopes, and the lions go back to the grass, I could have been listening to myself explaining the concept of "grass farming" central to sustainable agriculture. I have to wonder how subtly influential The Lion King was in putting into words the ideas that I had always observed and grappled with in my wanderings in nature as a child.

But there is more peril than an elephant graveyard in going back to those childhood favorites too, when one is older and wiser. Even then, at the age of 13, I had a soft spot for the bad guys; falling in love with the intended heroes seemed the easy way out, and I scoffed at that. I liked to imagine what life lurked for the so-called villains, behind what we were allowed to see from the perspective of the hero. The hyenas were my favorite when I was a kid; I was Ed and my best friend at the time was Shenzi, perhaps for no better reason than that I wanted her to be on my side and one of my own kind. I remember looking up hyenas in the encyclopedia and finding them attractive animals, no matter what the movie said.

Thirteen-year-old me knew that it was the nature of most stories to sort the characters into good and bad guys; older me sees something more sinister in it. The Pridelands, as seen through The Lion King, is a world of trickle-down economics: The lions reap the wealth of resources and leave literal scraps for the hyenas to barely sustain themselves on. What's worse, the lions disdain the hyenas for the appetite with which they gobble up what the refined tastes of the lions will only allow them to discard. The hyenas are banished to veritable ghettos, a world without light or green, living things, and we the viewers are expected to believe that they are somehow deserving of this. Maybe even that their own actions are the reason for the desolation in which they are forced to live. (Certainly, this is reinforced when the hyenas come to the Pridelands and quickly render it unlivable. When the first hyena lurks over a rock at Scar's command, one can almost imagine the stunned lionesses tossing their hands into the air and saying, "There goes the neighborhood!") When the hyenas try to come into the Pridelands during Mufasa's reign, they are just as quickly driven back to their bone-strewn ghetto, much in the way that the haves have used obvious and implied means to keep the have-nots in their place.

And here--perhaps most bothersome to me, since I have always liked the ecological message of the movie--the movie contradicts itself. Mufasa exhorts Simba to learn and respect the place of all living things in the "circle of life." All have a purpose, and in a healthy ecosystem, this is true. Yet, at the same time, a part of that ecosystem is banished and disdained. Depicted as scavengers (which is only partly true)--an essential component of any ecosystem--the hyenas are hated for their habits. How, I have to wonder, do the lions go back to the grass, in Mufasa's wonderful parable, if not by the actions of scavengers? So we are taught to embrace the workings of the natural world and the cycles of life and death while simultaneously loathing and fighting against parts of that natural world that are unpleasant or icky. Sounds familiar.

I did also see a positive ecological message that I missed as a youngster: what Bobby phrased (as we talked about the movie yesterday) as the "problem of peak": of too many people wanting to use too many resources and driving the world to desolation as a result. But the solution isn't for all to moderate their consumption but for the fortunate few to drive the less-fortunate majority back to the Elephant Graveyard and look down--literally and figuratively--on any role they have to play.

On a lighter note, I also enjoyed watching Disney gloss over the sexual structure of a lion's pride in order not to startle the Christian children of married, monogamous parents by pointing out the sexual perversions of most of the rest of the animal (including human) kingdom. There is one male in the pride--Mufasa--and yet a young, seemingly fatherless lioness named Nala, whom Simba eventually "marries" and has a cub with. Whee. If I wrote Lion King fanfiction, I'd craft an epic-length novel in which Nala challenges her right to the throne of the Pridelands over the physically and intellectually inferior Simba, her half-brother. The Lion King meets The Silmarillion!



This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

http://dawn-felagund.dreamwidth.org/280862.html
  • You aren't the only one who noticed the "incest" in TLK this time around:
    http://dailytrojan.com/2011/09/18/classic-sports-a-new-look/
    • Teeheehee. When I was on the IMDb page for TLK (to nab things like the original release date), one of their forum posts also inquired about the relationship between Simba and Nala. I was 13 when I saw the movie and in the throes of dirty-minded pre-adolescence; I can't believe I overlooked this all these years.

      I also agree with the above link that the 3D did absolutely nothing for the movie. Most of it, I couldn't even tell was in 3D since the animation (as the reviewer notes) was flat, intended for 2D.

      Thanks for the link--I enjoyed it! :)
      • It was one of the "weekly round-up links" from fanthropology in which are posted any mentions of fan fic in mainstream media. I always get a kick out of checking some of the links out!
  • It's in theaters?! For how long? (I love that movie. Always have.)

    I, um, didn't see any of the ecological things aside from the "circle of life" speech. But it's never been a top interest of mine, so that's unsurprising.

    When I rewatched it a few years ago, I was in the midst of a political philosophy class, so that's the lens I saw it through. And oh boy was there stuff I missed when I was a kid. (I nearly wrote a paper on it. I chose Star Wars instead.)

    There is one male in the pride--Mufasa--and yet a young, seemingly fatherless lioness named Nala, whom Simba eventually "marries" and has a cub with.

    o.O I… I, um… I think I'll ignore that. Yes. Ignore it. *nods frantically* (My childhood! Up in flames!)
    • Don't quote me, but I think it might only be through this coming weekend. I think it had a two-week run. It's in 3D, of course, but most theaters have it in 2D as well, or so I've been told.

      And oh boy was there stuff I missed when I was a kid. (I nearly wrote a paper on it. I chose Star Wars instead.)

      It's really amazing, isn't it? I was a fairly socially conscious 13-year-old, but I never saw anything unsettling about the movie, even as I embraced the hyenas as my favorite characters. (The equivalent of the Feanorians to my older, grouchier self! :D)

      (My childhood! Up in flames!)

      Ack! Sorry! *wields fire extinguisher* :D
      • Ah. I doubt I'll see it, then. Two weeks is ridiculous. Money-making ploy. (I can't fault them-- in a way, it helps keep my sister employed. But when it's so transparent…)

        It is! (Though Simba's always been my favorite character. I adore coming-of-age stories.) But I was young enough I didn't even catch the Nazi parallel when the hyenas were marching by Scar. So the political stuff was astounding.

        *giggles*
        • I think I was vaguely aware of the Nazi parallel, but not in any way more profound than "the filmmakers are using this to show that Scar and the hyenas are bad guys." I actually found the Nazi parallel irksome on rewatching, as it didn't seem fully deserved (I don't recall Scar or the hyenas committing genocide? theirs was more a land/power grab of the sort extremely common in history but not particularly ... inhuman, if that makes sense), and so it seemed to trivialize the actions of the Nazis. Overthinking = my specialty, it seems. ;)
  • I was also 13 when The Lion King was my favorite movie. This was back in the day when one of my pipe dreams was to be a zoologist and another of my pipe dreams was to be an animator, so the film was like crack to me. I managed to get myself thoroughly sick of it in the end, largely through participation in a fandom with mostly people I wasn't overly fond of, but it was a magical thing for me when it first premiered.

    I am going to have to echo your sentiments on the hyenas. That didn't sit right with me so I began doing research on hyenas: I promptly found them fascinating--and pleasant to look at, again flying in the face of convention--and was at some point writing a fictional story about hyenas to try and address the misconceptions. I was also planning to write an epic fanfic about Scar's origins, which was to include his and Mufasa's father screwing the hyenas over, but that didn't go further than a chapter.

    I recall thinking something like, "Scar is pretty cool, but that Mufasa guy is kind of annoying." Which was pretty much the same reaction I had to the Ainulindalë 5 years ago, regarding Melkor and Manwë.
    • Another hyena fan! Woo! *high five*

      Wow, if I'd known there was a TLK fandom when I was 13 ... hell, if I'd known there was such a thing as fandom ... We probably would have known each other a lot sooner. ;)

      I guess that even as a naive youth, characters like Mufasa didn't sit well with me because, in real life, I'd already seen the "dark side" of those golden people whom everyone adored and thought a picture of perfection. I even found myself relating to Scar this time around--and he was not a character that I found sympathetic when I was 13--because he was an intellectual, where Mufasa had the physical prowess. We also hear that Mufasa is a great king but never actually see that in action, unless bossing around "lesser species" counts for that ...
      • Well, I was compressing the tale a bit. I actually didn't figure out the whole existence of fandom until age 17, when I had a resurgence of Lion King obsession thanks to the musical having its pre-Broadway premier in my hometown.

        I guess that even as a naive youth, characters like Mufasa didn't sit well with me because, in real life, I'd already seen the "dark side" of those golden people whom everyone adored and thought a picture of perfection.

        Well-articulated, and I probably had something of the same sentiment.

        I think I would find Scar's persona a bit over-the-top now, but he did set the precedent for most of my favorite characters since then: he did have that intellectual, elegant, beleaguered air that hooks me to this day.
  • TLK was one of those movies that I heard a bazillion times on tape while babysitting, so I really didn't think much about any 'message' it might have been sending. More like "oh I have x amount of time to get stuff done now." I guess I should have been paying more attention, eh? :) But then, Disney is very... strange when it comes to marketing things. (And now I wonder what other hidden messages the B'way show might sending. Huh.)
    • I haven't seen the Broadway show yet, but it's coming to Baltimore this fall, and my family is already making tentative noises about going to see it.

      But then, Disney is very... strange when it comes to marketing things.

      As I was writing this, I was thinking, "Dawn! It's Disney!! It's not like they don't have a very strong reason for advocating for pro-corporate/capitalist messages!"
  • I remember listening to the soundtrack over and over, trying to learn how to say the words in the beginning...Ai! Sepenyai!...and learning that simba = lion in Swahili and such. As for the 'deeper meaning', I remember a conversation in high school about how The Lion King was basically Hamlet - evil brother kills the king and marries the queen, only to be avenged by the absentee prince. Though admittedly fewer people die in this version!

    Hyenas have the strongest jaw of any canine. Much stronger than a wolf. They can snap your arms, no problem. Don't know how they compare to lions, but I think they might beat them. Silmplistic representations of 'bad guys' always bothers me, but what bothers me more is when 'good guys'...fail to act like it. It probably would bother me more in this story now than it did the first time around, but I haven't seen it recently.

    Thanks for sharing your reaction!
    • If I do Hamlet with my seniors, maybe we'll have to watch TLK afterward! :D

      Don't know how they compare to lions, but I think they might beat them.

      Bad 'gund ... I was reading the Wikipedia entry on them. It claims that they kill 95% of their food for themselves and often run off lionesses from a carcass. I didn't check where those references came from, but it seems possible that the "king of the jungle" might not actually be the lion after all! ;)

      what bothers me more is when 'good guys'...fail to act like it.

      Hmmm ... like the sainted leaders in another book we both know and love?? ;)
      • Well, leaving aside the Silmarillion for a moment (*grin*) I would say that Tolkien handled this 'good guys ought to *be* good if they are to have that name' quite well in LotR. Aragorn decides at the river to chase after Merry and Pippin not because it is wise or expedient, but because to do anything else would be...callous and cruel. Faramir doesn't have a clue who Frodo is, but he would not snare even an orc with a falsehood. Etc. The good guys are constantly put into situations where they have to choose, and if they fail to choose the 'good' option...someone calls them on that. But of course Tolkien was writing this story to be all full of high nobility and such, so...of course he got that right.

        Most fantasy I've read fails this test miserably. The 'good guys' do just as many despicable things as the bad guys, but are mysteriously let off the hook because they're fighting for the right side. Harry Potter is notorious for this - Dumbledore has no qualms lying to Harry and using him all along, and by the end of the last book, our heroic trio have been using 2 out of the 3 aptly-named Unforgiveable curses. I mean, if you're going to do that...then why not just become a Death Eater and be done with it? I don't care if there's a war on...there's more to that than which side you're on!

        But I shouldn't be ranting offtopicly on your journal, so I apologize!
        • OME! Please don't apologize! I find so much interesting to think/talk about in your comment. :)

          (We <3 "OT" on the Bag of Weasels! ;)

          The 'good guys' do just as many despicable things as the bad guys, but are mysteriously let off the hook because they're fighting for the right side.

          I approach it from a different perspective, I think. While I enjoyed LotR, it's not a story I can ever really imagine myself writing about. But The Silmarillion had me--heart, soul, and mind--from my second reading. (I hated it the first time I read it! :D) It had me because I immediately started imagining stories about it and could not stop thinking about it.

          The reason for this was because "good guys do bad things" was so often the rule of the day. Feanor was the most beloved of the Noldor; he must have done something to earn that honor--so what made him turn around to become a kinslayer? Or the moral gray areas: Was his willing exile a good thing or a bad thing ... or a little of both? From the opposite perspective, the Valar are nominal "good guys" whose actions set off a whole cascade of really bad things. LotR didn't speak to me like that because the characters so often make those "right" decisions in a way that human beings generally don't.

          I've seen other Tolkien fans argue convincingly for the power of perfect goodness in Tolkien's writings, so I definitely understand that perspective but just tend to find myself attracted to fictional worlds, stories, and most importantly, characters whose behavior mimics what people do in the real world. It becomes a way for me to better understand people or to explore perspectives that I find too uncomfortable to attempt to assume in real life. Storytelling, for me, is ultimately a way to come to terms with the world in which I live.
          • Fair enough...I agree that 'consistently good' characters aren't nearly as interesting as tragically flawed ones. After all, I *love* Snape ;).

            I guess my point was that I appreciate a storyteller who recognizes these flaws as bad things rather than excusing them. I'm fine with Feanor being 'greatest of the Noldor' and a kinslayer....but I expect everyone to recognize that kinslaying is not a good thing! Now, in very few stories is there no awareness of this at all, but often enough the misdeeds of the 'good guys' are silently overlooked. Like the lions chasing off the hyenas to starve in The Lion King. (Back on topic! *grin*) No one ever acknowledges that, hey, you know...maybe this wasn't the best thing to do.

            I don't expect authors to blatantly tell anyone off or have an explicit moral to their story. Just maybe the occasional guilty conscience!
            • Now, in very few stories is there no awareness of this at all, but often enough the misdeeds of the 'good guys' are silently overlooked.

              I'm totally with you on that. It reminds me of what I jokingly called the "War of Telerin Aggression phenomenon" when I first started in fandom: The people who couldn't wrap their brains around the notion that their beloved Feanorians were also kinslayers and so somehow twisted Alqualonde to be the fault of the Teleri.
  • Your revisit to TLK has me wanting to watch it again. I always try to enjoy movies I watch with my children and try to take them for what they are on the surface, but I also find it fascinating to delve into the various subtexts.

    I, like you, cannot stand 3D. I thought it was because of being 'old', but though I might be old, I am usually enthusiastic about new technology. Not 3D, though! I hated it as a child when it was popular once upon a time, mostly because of having to wear the stupid 'glasses' but also because I felt something was being thrust upon me that I didn't have a choice about.

    The Lion King meets The Silmarillion. Good one! :)
    • I always try to enjoy movies I watch with my children

      I openly admit to loving children's movies! :D Well ... good children's movies. Movies like The Last Unicorn and TLK I have seen over 100 times and will probably watch 100 more times before I die without getting tired of them.

      TLK succeeds, in part, I think, because it has a story simple enough for kids and bright colors, snappy music, and fart jokes to keep them entertained, but there are deeper stories and meanings for the more ... *ahem* ... seasoned of us. ;)

      I felt something was being thrust upon me that I didn't have a choice about.

      Yes--exactly! It's so obviously a money-making ploy. 3D tickets at The Real Country Movie Theater cost $13 a pop (compared to $9 for 2D), and Real Country has the cheapest movie tickets I know of. I cringe to think of what they cost at the theaters located closer to Baltimore, where prices are higher. When our movie cost more than our dinner? Yeah. Not cool.

      Also part of it, for me, is that 3D doesn't do anything for me, even when it's well done (like Avatar, for example). If anything, it's a distraction. While visuals can enhance a movie (Secret of Kells, Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline ...) what makes a movie good, to me, is the story and the characters, and paying extra money when I'm not guaranteed I'm going to get that? *pfffft*
      • I get headaches when watching 3D movies. I think it's probably because I wear my own glasses under the 3D glasses (I *have* to see, ya know), and the 3D glasses screw with my astigmatism.

        But, I "suffered" gladly through Avatar. ;-)

        Ironically, IMAX 3D is fine. When I went to see Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D, I didn't have even a suggestion of a headache. Weird. And Tron: Legacy was my favoritest film until I saw Tangled. Yet another Disney film I love.

        Oh! And I like The Princess and the Frog, too, but not nearly as much as Tangled.

        More to comment on later. On-topic, even! LOL! ;-)
  • And here the movie contradicts itself.

    Not really. That is, it literally does, but not unrealistically so, considering how status things often work in real human societies. Consider the ancient Egyptians, among whom mummy-making was a hugely important part of preparing people (particularly kings) for the good after-life, and yet they disdained the people who made the first cut. Or consider the many cultures in which people who come into contact with the dead or with refuse - whether they be undertakers, tanners, street-sweepers or the like - are ostracised and shunned! It's not nice, but it's certainly common. I guess you can fault TLK for not painting a better society, considering all the "Circle of Life" talk... but I suppose that's humanity for you. Ever hypocritical, or alternatively thoughtless. ;)

    There is one male in the pride--Mufasa--and yet a young, seemingly fatherless lioness named Nala, whom Simba eventually "marries" and has a cub with.

    Technically, Nala could be the offspring of a rival of Mufasa, whom he killed when he took over control of the tribe. Wasn't it that lions only killed their rivals' male offspring, but not the females? (Presumably nature knowing the value of an at least vaguely diverse gene pool?)

    If I wrote Lion King fanfiction, I'd craft an epic-length novel in which Nala challenges her right to the throne of the Pridelands

    Considering the Hamlet-offspin nature of TLK, Nala is already lucky in not meeting Ophelia's fate! I'd totally read your novel, though. :D
    (We all know that the lionesses are the true rulers, anyway. Without them, the male lions would starve, lazy buggers!)

    • Whether it's common in human societies or not doesn't mean that it's not contradictory. Insisting that one see the purpose in all parts of the "circle of life" and then disdaining and refusing to see the purpose of the scavengers--one of the most essential links in that circle--is contradictory to me, period, end of story. :) But, yes, humankind is delightfully and frustratingly contradictory, which is probably why it's admittedly easy to shrug at the treatment of the hyenas as just how things are in the world.

      Wasn't it that lions only killed their rivals' male offspring, but not the females?

      I'm not sure. I kinda got the impression that Mufasa had been king for a while, and Simba and Nala are close in age ... oh noes, TLK fanon! ;)

      I'd totally read your novel, though. :D

      Too bad I only write Tolkien fanfic! :D
      • That's what I meant by "literally it is". :)

        Too bad I only write Tolkien fanfic! :D

        Bad? Bad? I see no bad. I read that, too. :D
  • Okay, I was 17 when TLK came out in theaters, and I remember going back to see it 3 more times during the original release, and once more when it was re-released (not this recent re-release - this isn't the first, LOL!)

    I remember really liking the music, and not ever zeroing in on a favorite character. I loved them all! I even had fun picking out who was doing which voice (the first time I saw the movie).

    TLK is probably not my favoritest movie, currently, but it still ranks up fairly high in Isil's Faves. It's been nudged out by Tangled.

    You know what, though, I guess I'm probably one of the few who never looked further into the movie than just being entertained. Basically, I really don't go to movies to "think." My head would hurt.

    ;-)
    • I'm the opposite! :) I just finished typing a long-winded comment to mithluin in which I attempted to explain how the most comfortable way for me to experience reality is through fiction! :D I love using stories to explore concepts, ideas, perspectives that are uncomfortable or even impossible for me in life.
Powered by LiveJournal.com