Lion King’s a solid flick. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the film serves as an interesting riff on Hamlet with the pieces re-arranged to make it kid friendly and a superb musical accompaniment courtesy of sir Elton John that worms itself into your brain for years to come. But people misread the film. Specifically, the character Simba. Canon has it that Simba is a deeply sympathetic hero whose bravery and tenacity in the face of tragedy serves as model of virtue that we all should aspire to exemplify a daily basis. This interpretation is, in fact, misguided fallacy, a misappropriation of story resulting from the buoyant, cartoonish, and musical atmosphere of the film. If you look at the movie on an objective level, Simba turns out to be an entitled, self-involved asshole raised in to a culture of privilege and indulgence by a father whose sole moment of proper parenting was dying.
At the start of the story, Simba’s a young lion. He’s a boy acting in boyish ways: a tad immature, overly adventurous, and a disrespect of authority. It’s understandable because boys will be boys. You don’t slip out the womb full of wisdom and insight. Mufasa knows this and early on trues to implore upon Simba the virtues and requirements of a leader and, to an extent, of any halfway decent human being (Or lion, whatever, you know what I mean). But these type of ideas take a while to ferment within a personality, so Simba’s still off being a rambunctious little lion that he is.
Uncle Scar, the film’s agent of chaos and evil, tells Simba about this cool forbidden elephant graveyard. Simba, of course, wants to go. Zazu, being they kind of guy who, likes his King’s kid being alive and stuff, tells Simba not to venture off. Simba goes anyway, roping his innocent friend Nala along for the shenanigan. Disobedience, especially within small children, is if not forgiven, than understandable as long as it is the exception to their behavior, not their general mantra of behavior.
But before they take part in their disobedience, they need to get rid of Zazu. And they do so with a musical number called “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”. Simba riles up all these Pride Land animals (Who no doubt were enjoying their afternoon perfectly fine before Simba came along and brought his little song and dance routine, I’m sure) and performs this big musical number which subdues Zazu by pure chaotic force. Their handling of Zazu is not really the issue here though. What is bothersome is the lyrical content of Simba’s song. He sings about how he cannot wait until he will not have to bow down to authority. He is a power hungry crown chaser who wants to be in charge just so there’s no one above him telling him how to act. This mindset is not necessarily role model material, but one chalk it up to the pitfalls of boyhood I suppose.
Simba and Nala get to the elephant graveyard and, what do you know, it turns out to be dangerous and they nearly get eaten by hyenas! Like Zazu warned them! Mufasa sweeps in and saves the two children at the last minute. Now this is an opportunity for true parenting. If Mufasa handles this moment properly, a stern yet not entirely unsympathetic approach, this could become a real character forming moment for Simba that clearly defines for him the line between right and wrong. This line could go on to guide Simba years later during his time as king. Precision is necessary in this moment.
Instead, Mufasa has about thirty seconds of glaring and grimacing before tussling his son’s mane and basically saying, “Hey, just don’t do that again.”
WHAT THE FUCK.
NO! Just no! This style of parenting, the type where your kid messes up and you let it slide just this one time because he definitely learned his lesson and will NEVER act like this again because you told him not to and it’s different then when you told him earlier not to do that thing because you, as a parent, really mean it now, breeds the absolute worst type of person. These are the type that not are not only unable to understand the nature of consequence, but are also unaware of its very existence. Such a force has never been a presence in their life because their parents excuse them of it. These people act in a reckless, selfish manner because that’s all they’ve ever known. And it is not as much that Simba is a horrible person in this particular moment, but that he would have grown to become one had everything in his life not gone to shit. Had Mufasa been able to keep up his parental style of fostering a privileged and consequence-free environment for his son, then, to draw a parallel to our world, Simba would have become that jock asshole in high school that got a brand new 50,000 dollar Porsche for his birthday and purposefully crashed it so he could get a new one, this time with the correct plush interior. Which is why Mufasa’s was at his best as a parent when he died.
Mufasa’s death is tragic on a variety of levels. Drawn beautifully, evocative voice acting and fantastic sound design, it’s a powerful moment that sits inside the viewer long after the movie’s over. But the situation Simba is put in may be that part that hits hardest. Simba’s childish ways end up leading to his father’s death (Or so Scar leads him to believe). Losing a father is hard enough, but having to bear the emotional brunt of responsibility for it as well is a form of psychological baggage so complex and weighty that I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. (Actually, I probably would on him, but probably not my third or fourth worst ones.) From a removed perspective though, this is an important and beneficial moment for Simba. There is no one there to excuse him for his actions this time. No one to say it’s ‘All okay.’ (Yet.) Simba’s forced to confront his personal flaws and deal with them. Hopefully, this will shock him out of his boyhood ignorance and thrust him into adulthood.
NOPE. After a brief period of angsty though really understandable period of moping, he runs off into the forest with Timon and Pumba and becomes the Disney animation equivalent of a stoner, preaching apathy and hedonism while munching on an endless amount of edibles. For years, he lives for the sole purpose of escaping the pain and guilt of his actions. If nothing else, as a kid, Simba at least had ambitions of leadership, no matter how egotistical and selfish they were at their core. But now he just sits on his ass all day thinking about the latest ways to please himself. Presented with the chance to move past his flaws and embrace the basic emotional requirements of becoming a mature adult capable of leadership, he doesn’t as much say no as ignore the opportunity all together.
Guilt, regret, shame. These emotional bedrocks are what ultimately carry us from childhood into adulthood. We confront these emotions after an array of mistakes, big or small, and deal with them, making promises and pledges to ourselves to not make these types of mistakes again. And in the process of fixing the ills and foibles of our personalities, we turn into better people. (Which is why the axiom “No regrets” is, pardon the vulgarity, utter bullshit.) Without regret, you have no reason to grow as a person because you are utterly content with the one you are today. So why bother trying to fix it? Simba makes that choice of apathy every day of his life for years. Sympathy for his tragic upbringing aside, this is not someone I aspire to become.
Simba, after years of indulgences escapism, is forced to confront his past during a chance encounter with Nala. After some passionate cuddling and nose rubbing, Nala asks him to come back to the Pride Lands and assume the throne because only he can stop Scar from making such a muck of things. (Nala, despite all of her other fantastic personality traits which we will get to later, clearly is not skilled in the art of character assessment.) Simba being Simba, he does not want to confront the emotional burden of his father’s death and refuses, angrily running off into the forest. All his old friends and family, even his mother, are in danger of dying out due to this egotistical tyrant. But hey, Simba comes before everyone else.
Simba eventually changes his mind though after encounters with floating flower petals and a monkey that’d get psychiatric help if he knew what was good for him. He goes back to the Pride Lands and fights off Scar, has a baby with Nala and rules over the Pride Lands. After basically an lifetime rife with moments basically calling out to him “Hey, get your shit together!”, he finally does. And you know what, kudos to him. Seriously, well done. It’s not easy changing, but we’re all glad he did. And so he ends the film as a fairly noble king and everyone likes him. But he should not be given all that much credit for this. Simba has been given such a dearth of opportunities to change himself, and he only acts upon them once everyone he loves pesters him to do so, as opposed to finding that change within himself through introspection and revelation. I’m not saying he is the worst person ever, but he’s not all that great, and he’s definitely not role model material.
Even as he grows up, Simba is not the leader the Pride Lands deserves. Nor is Scar (A man too enraptured in the thralls of jealousy and selfishness, despite his clear tactical qualifications and cunnery, to ever benefit the masses. Also, he’s just a big jerk). Nor is Mufasa, (Too naïve and kind hearted to make the types of decisions that need to be made as a king, i.e. Ned Stark). The leader the Pride Lands deserves is Nala. Look at this girl. Powerful, smart, yet not without compassion. She is a gentle soul who is not cruel yet knows what needs to be done for the kingdom to thrive. But can she be the ruler of the Pride Lands? No. She’s a girl.
Lion King ends up being about the faults of a society that empowers and breeds male egotism as well as the consequence that such institutional bias births. Scar, Simba Mufasa, none of them are fit to rule. Nala, the best candidate for leader, is relegated to being nothing more than a muse, a mere inspiration for passion and fortitude for Simba when he needs it most. And it’s a god damn shame that it works like that.