The Gospel According to The Lion King (by Jeffrey Totey)
One of Disney’s most successful and popular animated movies, The Lion King, has made its way from its den to theaters beginning September 16th. For two weeks, the classic film will be shown in a 3D version.
Back before home video devices were invented, Disney used to re-release their animated movies into theaters about every seven years. It was a brilliant plan. Disney would spend a small amount of advertising for a movie that had already been paid for and had already made a profit, only to do it again for the next generation of viewers. Now that nearly every home owns a Blue-ray or DVD player, movie companies have to come up with new gimmicks to find a reason to re-release their films. Last year, Disney tried this new plan out with a double bill of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in the 3D format in preparation for the release of Toy Story 3. Next up – Beauty and the Beast. With today’s new technology, 3D home versions can’t be far behind. It’s the circle of life I guess.
It’s interesting to see how Disney markets a story said to be inspired by biblical stories and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to various audiences. I recently saw a promo on the Cartoon Network that features all and funny and cute scenes of the movie but none of the scary stuff. Parents of small ones that want to see this film (and haven’t seen the film themselves) should note that even with its G rating, the film has some dark moments. At one point, we see two lion cubs singing about how they “Can’t Wait to Be King” in a bright technicolor background and the next we’re taken to a dark cave where hyenas are chomping on parts of a zebra. You would never find THAT in a Winnie the Pooh movie.
Since the original version of The Lion King came out in 1994, this isn’t actually a review of the movie itself but rather a commentary on biblical truths (intentional or unintentional) that can be found in it. Some will argue that the film embraces reincarnation or new age thinking and that can be valid as well if you choose to look at it that way. The film also had its share of controversies over the years including a cut of the original VHS and LaserDisc release of the film. In it, it appears as if the word “SEX” might have been embedded into the dust flying in the sky when Simba flops down. This made headlines as some activists alleged that the this was a subliminal message intended to promote sexual promiscuity (as if sex needed any help promoting itself). Disney animators stated that the letters spelled “SFX” a common abbreviation of “special effects.” At any rate, read into to movie what you will, but the following are some similarities found in the Bible that one might share with their family members:
The Birth of Christ
The opening sequence, it appears to be a re-telling of the nativity story. It’s a beautiful scene that still brings tears to my eyes. The music, (written by Elton John and musical score by Hans Zimmer), starts out calm as the images show the early morning in Africa with animals awakened to the news that a new lion prince has been born. All animals great and small make their way to Pride Rock for a ceremony. Mufasa, the reigning king, is standing there alongside his mate Sarabi, the Joseph and Mary of the story. The mammals on land represent the shepherds, the birds or the air represent angels. Rafiki, the wise baboon, represents the wise men. Rafiki blesses the cub and lifts Simba up for all to see and worship. The music swells. The crowd bows down in obedience and honor. Black out. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
God and Man
The relationship between Mufasa and his son Simba can be seen as a representation of our relationship with God. In this sense, we are Simba, Mufasa is God. Like Simba, we tend to follow the rules of our father one minute, and then go down the Elephant Graveyard on our own the next. We know that we are born of royalty but struggle with the boundaries that keep us in line. Whenever Simba wanders off the “straight and narrow path,” his father finds him and leads him back home.
Later in the film, Simba find himself in the middle of a stampeded of wildebeest. Just like Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins, Mufasa risks his own life to save his son. Even later, an older Simba feels that he is all alone, but the voice of Musfasa again speaks to him through the stars above. He tells Simba to look at his reflection in the water. As he does so, he realizes, for the first time, that he looks like his father just as Bible tells us that we too were made in the image of God. Simba is also assured by Mufasa, that even though he cannot see him, he is still with his son. We are never alone and God speaks to us with a still small voice.
Scar, Mufasa’s jealous brother, is much like Lucifer, the former archangel in the bible before being tossed into hell. Scar hates Mufasa and his “little brat.” Like Satan, Scar befriends the friendless and speaks lies to them. He makes promises he has no intention of keeping. His is evil through and through. Shenzi, Banzai, Ed and the other hyenas represent Satan’s demons who do much of his dirty work.
In the scene where Mufasa risks his life to save Simba, it is revealed that Scar is responsible (spoiler alert) for Mufasa’s death, much like Satan is said to have rejoiced when Jesus died on the cross. Mufasa also convinces Simba that it is the cub’s fault that his father is dead and that he should run away. But at the end of the movie, Mufasa is attacked by his own henchmen and is thrown into his own hell.
The Good Samaritans
Convinced that he caused Mufas’s death, Simba takes flight and meets Timon, a meerkat, and Pumba, a warthog. Seeing that Simba is still a small cub and not able to take care of himself, the two embrace their enemy and take care of his needs, much like the Good Samaritan story in the Bible. Unfortunately, the well-meaning fiends teach Simba the phrase, “Hakuna Matata” which is interpreted as “no worries” and stretched to mean “no responsibilities.” When Simba’s childhood friend, Nala, finds him and tells him how the Pride Lands are falling apart under Scar’s leadership, Simba chooses to follow the new mantra and not get involved.
Rafiki can also be seen as the apostle Paul, who warns the Christian churches where they were going wrong in their ministries and allowing sin in their congregations. Rafiki, like iron sharpening iron, reminds Simba whose child he is and what his true responsibilities are. Between the words of Nala, Rafiki and Mufasa himself, Simba realizes his true calling and comes back to the Pride Lands to assume responsibility for his father’s tribe, much like we are called to do.
Jeffrey Totey is a pop culture enthusiast, a contributing writer for Examiner.com, a future screenwriter (aren’t we all?) and former director of Acts of God Drama Troupe in Everett, Washington. He is a student of television, movies and more. He has written six full length plays and numerous sketches. Follow Jeffrey at writerofpop.blogspot.com.