Disney’s protagonists have always had to leave home. This is true from Snow White to Belle and even characters in Disney movies that are outsourced from Pixar like Wall-E and the gang from the Toy Story series. But unlike these debutantes and adult inanimate objects, The Lion King‘s Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) an actual child, and a change of environment at such a young age demonstrates how precarious the idea of home really is. He delightfully gasps when he sees the untouched African jungle where Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) live, a place ripe for adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) to be too content to to live. But there is something to be said a carnivore adapting to eating bugs, Fear Factor style.
The jungle didn’t look like emeralds, outdoing that scene in The African Queen in showing how luscious and verdant it could be. The jungle isn’t the only landscape feature here, as we also have the African veld pre and post-Scar, and within desert dunes where Simba does some slow motion running. All of those have the Dinsey glow even though its animators were still working in 90’s technology.
Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) sings “It’s a Small World” to the chagrin of the regicidal and decadent lion Scar (Jeremy Irons) , Simba’s uncle. When Simba and his unlikely crew attack Scar, Poomba does his part, goes on a Travis Bickle rampage and exclaims ‘They call me MR. PIG!’ before doing a number on two unfortunate hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings). Pop cultural humour happens when a movie allows the supporting cast to talk, and I’m constantly surprised how our generation didn’t invent it. Movies or populist artistic expressions in the turn of the twenty-first century has this insecurity about itself that it references earlier work. Everything else before it seems like a solid text that I forget that these works have their own pasts, and that the people who are behind these older texts might, a bit, have felt the same way. Or that these references exist so that the kids will know that the world they’re watching isn’t exclusive and is actually relate-able to them.
Africa is in new and rougher hands because of Scar and while that is not untrue, it’d be more right to see that outside forces equally let destitution happen and no, hyenas don’t count as outsiders.
Timon sings the first and last verse of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight.” If only he’s more famous than Elton John, or maybe his already and I just don’t know it yet. During that musical number Simba and Nala grow from friends and much more. Nothing around Timon and Poomba’s jungle would have pushed him to adulthood, but finding love should.
Hakuna Matata – no worries. It seems like an alien concept in a worry-centric world. But this laid back feline only becomes victorious because of two inherent things, his royal lineage – which contributes a lot to his physical prowess, even with eating all those bugs – and his goodness. He doesn’t have a Rocky-esque montage where he trains to beat Scar (Jeremy Irons) and instead, he looks down on a pond to see his father Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) but as himself.
This means two things. First, that there’s a difference between becoming and being and that, despite how Simba makes it looks easy to kick his Claudius-like uncle’s butt, that we have to believe in ourselves first. Although with this interpretation, what’s stopping the Claudius-like Scar from thinking the same way, grumbling to Zazu and the other animals that he IS the king.
The second involves adolescence as a state and the different responses towards becoming an adult. Some of us might be anxious to get the process of growing done already, but Simba partly gives up on it because he’s lost the proper environment to do that. The movie has Timon and Poomba harmlessly yet deliberately laughing at Simba’s interpretation of what stars really are. This shows adolescence as a state when we can be derailed and when our childhood narratives of destiny can be crushed. At least he learns kindness and acceptance towards creatures whom he would have eaten had things gone differently, even if they’re jokey and a bit passive aggressive towards him.It’s not cool to think you’re the king. But on that note their jokes are nothing compared to what would have happened if he stayed in Pride Rock – Scar would have probably subjugated him. Somehow the time off works, as the pressure to be and to have lost the throne is cagier than him slacking off, attaching himself to swinging vines all over the jungle and looking at the stars. Or let’s compromise and say that both suck.
Nonetheless, Simba in the jungle symbolizes a tendency within many of us to be oblivious of our own growth, that we need a good support group like Rafiki, Nala and a mirror to tell us what we can do. Broderick’s voice work as Simba has the gravitas with the roles he’s taken half a decade earlier, but he still has Bueller’s reputation and a boyish demeanour that he could easily switch on, even at thirty-two. He eventually finds himself snarling at Scar as if he’s just learning how to do so, as if he’s surprised that he can do it. It may seem like a compromise to show that he can only reclaim to his kingdom or as his old self but not do both. But he’s returning home because he’s a different being and that greatness is deserved through change.