The Lion King – Apparently this movie did a lot better than expected, originally being considered by Disney as sort of a lower-tier project, but emerging as the highest-grossing animated film of its time (it’s since been surpassed by Toy Story 3). I guess you could say it had the momentum and power of a wildebeest stampede. The story is largely original, but takes a lot of influence from Hamlet, with its theme of a prince avenging his father who died at the hands (or, in this case, paws) of his uncle. Other characters also have parallels, like Zazu to Polonius, although obviously they don’t run THAT deep, or Zazu would have been Nala’s father. Actually, while unstated in the movie, Simba and Nala are probably half-siblings. If Mufasa is the head of the pride, who else is going to be her father? There’s even sort of an implication that Scar has taken the cue from Claudius of marrying his widowed sister-in-law, but it’s obviously not explicitly stated. I understand that an earlier draft of the script had Scar coming on to Nala, thus changing that dynamic entirely. And considering the recent comments of Scar’s voice actor Jeremy Irons, legalizing gay marriage would presumably result in Simba and Mufasa getting married. Moving on from that, it’s also a popular accusation that Disney ripped off an anime series called Kimba the White Lion. I couldn’t say for certain, not having seen Kimba, but the description of it doesn’t sound like it’s all that similar other than its featuring a lion prince coming of age, and it’s not like Kimba invented the idea of the lion as King of Beasts. Apparently the main bases for the accusation are the similarity of names (although “Simba” comes from the Swahili for “lion”) and the similar images of a lion on a ledge.
As the main characters in the movie are carnivores but we also see herbivores talking, it pretty much has to take on the age-old cartoon question of how a society where some of the members eat others can function. Mufasa explains to Simba that this is the circle of life, and it’s okay because their dead bodies will fertilize more grass for the antelope to eat. While he has a point as far as nature goes, I’m inclined to think a predator would be somewhat biased in this respect. Besides, it’s not like the grass feels pain when it’s killed.
It also kind of undermines his point when he implies that the hyenas don’t deserve to fit into this whole deal.
Is Scar’s idea to have lions and hyenas cooperate really such a bad one? Obviously it doesn’t work out, but isn’t that more because Scar is a power-mad despot who’s only looking out for his own interests than because this particular notion is terrible? And can Scar really be blamed for the deterioration of the climate?
It’s not his fault if it doesn’t rain! Well, that’s true on a purely logical level, but I get the impression the writers were going for the old idea of the king affecting the state of his land, as seen in the legend of the Fisher King (although there it was the King’s PHYSICAL condition that resulted in the land’s deterioration). As soon as Simba defeats Scar it starts raining, so I seriously doubt the symbolism here was unintentional.
While the death of a parent is certainly nothing new for these Disney animated films (and, indeed, the story as a whole bears some clear similarities to Bambi), the death of Mufasa does come across as darker than most of what we’ve seen in other ones of the same era. Besides, it’s not like Bambi blamed himself for his mother’s death. There’s plenty of comic relief in the movie as well, with Timon and Pumbaa as the main jokers.
Much of their humor is based on sarcasm and puns, but I’m pretty sure this is also the first time a Disney cartoon movie included fart jokes (although Timon stops Pumbaa from actually saying the word “fart”). Speaking of these two characters, we know Pumbaa is an outcast because of his smell, but the verse of “Hakuna Matata” explaining Timon’s back story was omitted for some reason. From what I’ve read on the Internet, The Lion King 1 1/2 explains that he left his home because he was a lousy digger and preferred the outdoors to tunnels, not to mention that he failed at sentry duty and let hyenas attack his home. I don’t know if this is what was originally intended to go into the original movie, but it might have been. For what it’s worth, the film sparked an interest in meerkats, but I don’t think it did the same for warthogs. There’s a scene where Nala tries to eat Pumbaa but stops when she learns they have a mutual friend, and it looks like Simba’s pride goes on to afford Timon and Pumbaa the same protected status as Zazu and Rafiki. Whether they eat OTHER meerkats, warthogs, hornbills, or monkeys is never stated. By the way, Timon dressing in drag and doing the hula is known to have been based on an ad-lib from Nathan Lane, but it’s pretty similar to what Baloo does to cause a diversion in The Jungle Book.
That’s all I can think of to say for now, but I do think this movie deserves the accolades it’s received over the years. Disney was definitely at a high point during the past few films, but would this trend continue? That’s not entirely a rhetorical question; I’ve only seen the next three in the series once each, and beyond that there are some I haven’t yet watched at all.