Last time month I talked about my younger self choosing a favourite Disney Animation film growing up. And why I had a hesitation to go back into that space again earlier last year.
The answer has multiple layers. The first and most obvious one is that when we grow older we tend to like other things. We choose to consume other media and evolve our taste and the way we watch films.
A next layer deals with nostalgia. And nostalgia is a dangerous thing when not handled consciously. As humans, we tend to overlook certain things when dealing with nostalgia feelings. For example: I will always recommend people to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. But the truth is, there are some episodes in the first season that do not quite hold up to the rest of the show. A part which I may easily overlook in recommending it to others.
The same goes for the Lion King. I must admit that I sometimes have a hard time watching films because I notice certain flaws in the story or shots that could have been done better when done slightly different. At least, in my humble opinion.
So why I stopped favoriting the Lion King lies with the lessons it taught me: Ownership.
This is something I reintegrated into my life over the last 2 years. It also clearly shows that shit happens and that you cannot prevent it, only deal with it when it comes.
This is the part the film didn’t show me:the reality of our world and how it is painted in shades of grey, not in black and white.
You see, the film shows us that Simba loses everything when he flees. He caused the tragedy so no one would want him back in their lives. That’s what Scar makes him believe, leaving the cub with an extreme sense of guilt.
So why would Simba return to the Pridelands to fix everything. Just because Nala told him to do so?
The basic answer to this question is no, but it also lies a little deeper. I will elaborate on this further below.
Before I explain we need to set the stage: The Pridelands are in a mess, and Scar’s reign caused the herds to flee, leaving nothing to eat. He apparently spiralled into a state of madness which has Zazu locked up in a cage and caused a paranoia about anything related to Mufasa. In think the madness should have been more evident to the viewer. We only get snippets of it, which is not enough to fill the gaps of the story. As nostalgic adults who have seen the film multiple times, we can fill the gaps the story leaves about Scar’s mental state and why Nala decided to look for help. But if you look at what is shown on screen, we are missing vital information. Information that would make the story much clearer to the viewer.*
This is one of the aspects of Beauty and the Beast that I personally like. It shows the story arcs of both characters. From start to finish. And it slows down to show pivotal decisions on screen. We know from the first part of the film that Belle is kind, caring and intelligent with a natural curiosity. This eventually leads her into the West Wing, where the room of the Beast is.
We also know from his expression that Beast respects Belle for taking her father’s place. And with a little help and insight given by his servants, he tries to work on their rough relationship, which fails because he has the wrong approach. Which consequently irritates him greatly about himself. I must admit I’m reading a bit between the lines here but hopefully you have followed my thoughts until now.
Both their attitudes and choices start a chain of events which leads us to the wolf attack.
Though it is not shown on screen when Beast decides to follow Belle, we see his reaction of regret and shame when he chases her away. This is clever tension building, because we do not know he probably chased after her when he heard the wolf’s howl.
The release of this tension comes when Beast saves Belle. And the next pay-off for the viewer is that we actually see the realisation on Belle’s face that Beast saved her and that she can’t leave him there, wounded. It is a long build up between these characters which comes to this moment of pay-off where her decision to tend to his wounds turns their relationship around, towards a more kinder and loving situation with the big pay-off at the end of the film.
This detailed character development is something that is missed in the Lion King. And it probably has to do with runtime and choices made along the way to tell the story. If the creators went full Hamlett mode (which the Lion King is based on) it would have been a better told story. But probably also a much darker one with a longer runtime. Now we are left to watch it carefully and read between the lines to see what’s going on beneath the surface which leads to Simba’s return.
The next header: Stages of Return is the part where I further elaborate on this. Please note this is completely optional to read.
Stages of Return
To make it easier, I will divide this into three stages and try to explain as best as I can. Bear in mind, that much of the things I will mention below are probably not seen by a casual viewer of the film*.
This is the scene with question of what the stars are. Simba’s reluctance to share his father’s lessons and the fact Timon makes a joke about it might make you forget that Timon’s comment is quite below the belt because Simba just shared something from his past. Something really personal. Things these guys probably don’t talk about. Probably because it hurts to much and they want to stay in their self induced state of happiness and not care about anything.
Now I previously interpreted Simba’s reaction on a casual watch as sadness and shame.
Upon closer look, I see also guilt and the shame towards his father of what he has become and how he chooses to live his life.
We don’t know if he has similar moments in his life with Timon and Pumbaa, but I might expect so. Situations where he didn’t share his father’s wisdom because he was afraid of what they would say. I assume now he felt comfortably enough to share, but was backstabbed by his friends for it. Leaving him sad, guilty and shamed of what he’d become.
This starts when Nala wins the fight with Simba.
Though this entire chain of events speeds up the story, it doesn’t show the emotions as clear as they could. To be honest, this part really feels as rushed character development. We see the internal conflict, but only if you look hard enough you see all the emotions running: regret, shame, happiness and the kid who is scared to take responsibility because he doesn’t exactly know how or what to do (indecisiveness). He has nothing to show for himself and the long term empty feeling of his lifestyle can be deduced only briefly in his conversation with Nala.
If you want more in-depth analysis on what’s going on beneath the surface, please watch this video.** Psychologist Jordan Peterson is far more versed in this and I support his stance on the character’s mental state. But because there is so much going on from the fight over Pumbaa until their argument which leaves Simba alone, so much information displayed through emotions, I argue again that this entire segment is rushed.
This starts just after Simba’s argument with Nala. He left her and is alone in the grass. We again see the indecisiveness and finally in his darkest moment asks for help. Note we don’t exactly see Simba cry, we don’t see him go through the full wave of pain he’s experiencing. Which is a miss in my opinion, because it is an integral part in opening his heart and mind to suggestions from others.***
Those others being Rafiki and Mufasa. After the chase, which is a trope to work for something you want badly, he is asked to return to take his place as king by remembering who he is. Simba responds that he is not the same he used to be. Which is actually a good thing, since he learned how to handle himself in tough situations. Again, something not shown in the film, but probably a lesson taught by Timon and Pumbaa during their period together. He also learned to care and stand for his friends, as shown when blindly jumping into the fight with Nala.
But this experience and growth is not mentioned. He doesn’t have to be who he was when he was young, he has to be himself. With all the lessons learned along the way.
This is another miss and a severely underrated and under-showed lesson of the film. Al least, in my opinion.
This last stage should be the last push, but I feel that there are still some things that this character needs to work out before he can make the decision or collects his courage to return and stand for what he believes in to care and protect others. Especially this guy with the trauma he’s experienced.
Again, we don’t go all the way and don’t fully see this in the Lion King. Parts are there, and if you watch the events of the story unfold the decision to return is understandable. But if you watched enough movies with emphasis on characters and their decisions, you’ll probably miss a couple of these mental stages too.
A new favourite?
So now you know. A very elaborate text about why I stopped favoriting my favorite film growing up.
That leaves the question if I have found a new favourite Disney Animation film during this process.
I think I’ve made it clear my preference goes to a film with solid character development which continues in the last part/act of the film. And I’ve seen a lot of good character development in Disney films.
I like Treasure Planet’s Jim, a lot, and found Mulan to be a beautiful entry for taking things into your own hands. #notadisneyprincess
But ultimately the answer to the posed question is no. I’m slowly going down the Disney Animation film list and I’ve certainly found some fun ones, but none really stood out for me.
I also think that this doesn’t matter. We live in a wonderful time with access to media from across the world. And I intend to dig deeper into the animation field, to see what it has to offer. I’ve seen gems from other studios then Disney that really appeal to my love for animation, and even more to my love for good characters.
So favoriting is not necessary. Only enjoying good stories and try to capture their lessons for use in real life. Enjoy animation, it is a beautiful craft performed by dedicated people who love to share stories with us.
*What the film actually does is take your attention and bombard you with audiovisual magnificence so you have no time to think about these story gaps. You just take this for granted because of the pace of the story.
*** I understand that the shown image is Simba left alone in the world. That should be the viewers takeaway from that shot.