I love The Lion King. It has without doubt been my favorite Disney movie ever. It has cats. Big fluffy cats. Not only that. It has a little fluffy cat being raised into a big fluffy cat by a gay interracial couple. It can’t get much better than that. Nevertheless, I recently – while karaoke singing “be prepared” with my sister, to be exact – started thinking about The Lion King more critically and have since come to the conclusion that it has some quite questionable messages.
Let’s start with Scar, because this is where my thoughts began as well. He is evil. You know that straight away because a) he has a black mane and we all know that black means evil and b) he is quite effeminate and we all know that effeminate men are all evil as well.
Why is he evil? There are a number of potential reasons. The first one, which the movie focuses on is the fact that he is jealous of his older brother who so happens to be the king because he happened to be born first. I don’t think we need to discuss whether being born first or not makes someone more suitable for leadership positions. Other than that, there is not much evidence presented as to who would make the better leader had they both been treated equally in their childhood. If anything, Scar seems more intelligent as evident in his cunning plans to seize power as well as his rich vocabulary. So, for rather random reasons, one of the brothers is strongly favored over the other. Quite a good reason to be jealous, if you ask me.
But there is more to this. Scar is named after a scar on his face. The fact that this is his name implies that he has had it for a while, which suggests that he had to suffer physical violence at a very young age. This might have been inflicted by family members (likely) or, if he got the scar in some other way, his family was still cruel enough to remind him of this experience every day by calling him Scar.
Moreover, Scar is extremely skinny. This could have two reasons: He either does not get enough food – in other words, the other lions not only ostracize him but also let him starve – or he chooses not to eat, likely due to some form of disorder (e.g. eating disorder, depression) which is likely a result of being ostracized.
To sum this up, he has basically been treated like shit since he was a fluffy little cub while his older brother has been pampered and spoiled and told how very special he is. No wonder he is bitter.
Then there is the hyenas who are not allowed in the Pride Lands. There is never really any explanation for this other than the fact that they are dirty scavengers (which isn’t even true). They are therefore forced to live in poverty beyond the border of the Pride Lands and are shot at immediately when trying to cross the Mexican American border… ahem, attacked when crossing the border of the Pride Lands, I mean. When meeting the hyenas, they don’t seem all that bad either until Scar uses them for his plan to seize power. On the contrary, they seem quite cool. Although one of them (a woman!) is clearly the leader there is much less status and prestige bullshit associated with that position. There is much less of a hierarchy and they seem to form one quite close group.
Nevertheless, they are of course the bad guys because they, a) are matriarchal, b) live in poverty and aren’t okay with it and c) don’t honor weird traditions like gender roles and succession of the throne.
For my next point, let’s go back to the bit about Scar for a second. As I said, there is no real explanation as to why Mufasa is better suited for being a king (other than the fact that Scar has, understandably, turned evil). One thing that is mentioned a couple of times and is implied throughout the film, however, is the lack of Scar’s physical fitness. He could not defeat Mufasa in a “fair” fight and thus has to come up with other measures to get rid of him. So apparently physical strength is a value and is something that gives someone the right to be king. Okay, regardless of the moral value of that idea, let’s just accept this for a second. But following that logic – shouldn’t Nala be queen then? She beats Simba in their physical fights both when they are kids and as adults (which, in itself, is one of the cooler things about the movie). So clearly she should be the leader! But of course she isn’t. Because gender roles, bla bla bla, puke.
So, to summarize: The good guys in this movie are a bunch of monarchal, patriarchal assholes, who are unwilling to share their wealth with the poor (hyenas) and ostracize and abuse some of their own who happen to look different and refuse to adhere to their stupid ideas of masculinity. They also seem to equate leadership skill with physical strength – but only for men.
And before anyone says that this is just how lions live in the wild – yeah, and they also have birds as servants and sometimes lion cubs are raised by a meerkat and a warthog. Cause the Lion King is actually a documentary, right? They could have portrayed things differently. But, alas, they didn’t.
P.S.: Yes, I am aware that you could write similar things about pretty much every movie ever made. And I still love the movie and should I ever have children, I will probably also let them watch the movie. Some of these points were merely fun to think about, while I see others as actually problematic, e.g. which signals we use to identify the bad guys in kids‘ movies, such as their lack of masculinity.