The Lion King is one of my all-time favorite stories.
People tend to look at me funny when they discover this. Apparently, it’s sort of weird that it’s not only one of my favorite animated movies but one of my favorite movies period.
I don’t have very many hills I’d die on. But, the greatness of The Lion King is a hill I’d die on. As it turns out, it’s one of those rare things I’ll drive a stake into the ground and yell “FIGHT ME!” over. Which is an unusual show of
rabid hostility from me. But, alas, I am unashamed.
So here we are with this post.
First, let’s dispel some common misconceptions.
Before we get into what The Lion King is all about (aka: why it is so amazing), we need to talk about what it isn’t about. These are just some things that I’ve noticed distract people.
It is not about “hakuna matata.” It is not about having no worries or shirking responsibility or having stupid fun with the bros. If this story was about Timon and Pumba, then it might be about hakuna matata. But it’s not about Timon and Pumba.
It is not about how amazing James Earl Jones is as Mufasa. (Though, I mean, come on. He is the best and only Mufasa. #mufasaforever)
It is also not about how sad Mufasa’s death was…
It is not about all the funny memes that can be created from the “where the light touches” scene (you know of what I speak).
It is not about the circle of life or the spirits of dead kings being stars. While “The Circle of Life” is majestic song and a brilliant opening scene, this is not a story about the circle of life. The circle of life is a reoccurring symbol.
Now, onto the good stuff.
If the circle of life is a symbol, what does Mufasa mean when he tells Simba to take his place in the circle of life?
It means, my friends, be who you were born to be. Do what you were designed to do.
It means take the responsibility. Grow up. The time for games is over. The time for childishness is over. (Instead of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” it is “King of Pride Rock.)
It means that your potential isn’t about you, and it means that wasted potential harms not only you but also those you are meant to help.
It means get over yourself and your fear because this is so much bigger than just you.
It means that true greatness is not self-seeking. True greatness is taking on great burdens for the sake of others. It means step up. It means embrace the difficulty and the stress and the responsibility because you are the person for the job.
And it means that when you begin to step into your potential, when you put childishness behind you, it will not be easy, but nothing else will be so right.
That is what The Lion King is mainly about.
But there is yet more.
In the beginning, we watched Rafiki happily and hopefully paint a little lion in his tree. He was happy and hopeful not because baby Simba was already a great king; Rafiki was happy and hopeful because of the great king he believed Simba would one day become—a great king who would lead the Pride Lands into another generation of abounding life.
In the middle, we watched Rafiki smear his little lion painting in despair for he thought the bright future of the Pride Lands was dead with Mufasa and Simba.
Then, Rafiki learns Simba is still alive. And The Lion King is also about that moment: it is about Rafiki’s incredulous, raucous joy when he discovers that Simba is still alive.
When hope had been gone for so long, and then suddenly finding that hope is alive and well. There is nothing like that wild rush of wild joy.
It is about how Mufasa looks down on Simba, a shape in the clouds, calling Simba to remember who he is.
It is about how that rings in my bones as a call to remember who I am—whose child I am, whose slave I am, what gifts and callings have been written in my very cells.
It is about the strangely wonderful gooseflesh that flashes through when the rightful, true king at last takes his place.
It is about the rain that washes away the death of the night and begins the healing process.
I love Simba and The Lion King for the other, greater stories they reminds me of.
When I see Simba making that run from the jungle back to the Pride Lands, I also see Leo from the Tales of Goldstone Wood trekking to find Rose Red.
When I watch Simba climb Pride Rock in the rain, I also see Aragorn finally embracing his calling and responsibility as the true king of Gondor, and I see all the hope and healing his return brought to the White City.
But more than that, I see Moses returning to Egypt after all those long years of exile, becoming the great and humble prophet he was knit together to be.
Most of all, I see Jesus. I see Jesus drinking the cup given Him by the Father, drinking it to the dregs. I see Him dying, victorious. I see Him rising, victorious. I see Him returning, victorious. Forever victorious.
I see the dead coming back to life, and the great, final healing He will bring about. I see all the prophets rejoicing—wildly, raucously—for the One, at last, fulfilling all their visions. I see every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth bowing before our long-awaited true King. I see the saints and angels crying out, “All hail King Jesus.”
This is the strange and wonderful power of stories.
Through characters that have never really drawn breath, echoes of truth resound. Those echoes ricochet deep in us, moving, encouraging, calling out, galvanizing.
Set in the breath-taking African plains, The Lion King is one of my favorite stories. And now you know why.
What is one of your favorite stories? What is one of your favorite animated movies? Tell me why!
p.s. – so, yes, feel free to send me The Lion King related gifts. (But if it’s hakuna matata related, I might burn it.)
A lot of this reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s breakdown of the Lion King (this is a good thing.) It actually has a strong “grow up and get your act together” message, despite the popularity of the song “Hakuna Matata.”
It reminds me of “Let it Go” from Frozen, a bit. “Let it Go” is the “Hakuna Matata” of Frozen. Both are popular songs and tend to distract audiences from the fact that the main character hasn’t finished growing yet. They are both running away from their problems, shirking responsibility, and using fear and grief as an excuse for their behavior.
But the Lion King does a lot better of a job of demonstrating that the running away was the wrong choice and that coming back was the right choice. Simba made a real choice to grow. We didn’t get that as much in Frozen. So Lion King is clearly the better story.
This is a great analysis! I hadn’t thought of it this way! I just wrote a post on the Lion King recently too. It’s fantastic! There’s a reason why it was Disney’s highest grossing film for years!
I used to really like that movie, haven’t seen it for yeeeears though, and my two little siblings have never seen it before! So that’s something we’ll have to look into ;)
SECONDLY, I tagged you for the “Hello September” blog tag! Here’s the link: