I’m listening to the soundtrack CD for Disney’s The Lion King right now. It’s got to be my favorite movie. I’ll always have a place in my heart for Simba, although I know he’s a fictional character and a villain.
Yeah, I think Simba – the main character of the story – is actually the villain. It all started some time ago, as I was watching The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (relatively good for a Disney sequel). In that movie, Simba is almost as evil as a character can get. He’s basically the Hitler of the lion world. I’m not making that comparison just because of Godwin’s law; there are real parallels to be drawn. At the end of the first movie, Simba inherited a country in dire economic condition. The phrase “money to burn” is said to have come from post-World War 1 Germany, where it supposedly was cheaper to burn money than to buy firewood. Disney’s lions don’t have money, but if they did I’m sure they would have said something similar. Simba rose to political power in part because some believed he had inherited the throne from his father, not unlike Hitler’s Third Reich inheriting power from the Holy Roman Empire (“First Reich”) and the German Empire (“Second Reich”), and in part because he gave his Aryan/lion subjects the perfect scapegoat: the Jews/hyenas. He concentrated the hyenas into camps, which he called “the bad lands”. This portrayal of Simba as evil did not fit with my recollection of the first movie, and it didn’t make sense until I re-watched the first movie with that in mind.
Going back in time to the first movie, we see Mufasa doing exactly the same thing as Simba did in the second. I guess that’s where the similarity to Germany ends, as I don’t remember reading about concentration camps before the Nazis came to power. So there’s Mufasa enforcing racial purity, and there’s Simba who’s just an innocent little kid. Then there’s Scar. Scar, whose entire identity – whose very name – is based on the fact that he has sparred against Mufasa in the past. Scar, the freedom fighter. Yes, he’s greedy, he clearly implies that in his song “Be Prepared”. But in that same song, he promises long-awaited prosperity and justice for the hyenas (“Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!”)
Scar dethrones Mufasa. He takes over the kingdom. How does Simba respond? By shirking his responsibilities and bumming around the jungle for a while. And we’re supposed to root for Simba? He doesn’t go off to some far-away ninja dojo to hone his fighting skills like some incarnations of Batman. He just leaves, just gives up. Those hippies Timon and Pumbaa don’t help either; they just encourage him to
smoke pot eat roaches and stare at the stars.
One night, after spending several years doing nothing in the jungle, Simba gets
high hit on the head and hallucinates seeing his father in the clouds, who tells him to go take back the kingdom. So with no preparation whatsoever (except that he had met Nala and was not completely alone in his quest), Simba runs back home. Lucky for him, Scar was an incompetent ruler and the troops were literally starving under him, otherwise I’m sure Simba would have had no chance of winning.
At least Scar had good intentions as a king. Simba just took power because he thought it was his divine right to rule a country.
God Mufasa told him so.
So why did I say that I love this series, and Simba, so much? Simple: It’s masterfully done. It takes a real gift to write a story in such a way that you don’t even realize you’re rooting for the wrong team. The other aspects of the movie are also top-notch: the songs are memorable, the animation incredible, the voice acting amazing.