Disney’s The Lion King – A Review

Ahh, The Lion King. I have to be honest, I’ve probably seen the film several times over the years, and each time it seemed perfectly well made, with a well structured story and compelling, if somewhat shallow, characters. It was only on my most recent viewing that I was struck by the level of propaganda and statist subtext that seems so glaringly obvious now.

So first, a little history, as this movie is a bit long in the erm, tooth. In 1994 Disney released their 32nd animated feature film to nearly universal acclaim. Drawing on influences from Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s personal life in politics, as well as Shakespeare’s King Lear, the film tells the story of a young lion named Simba who ultimately triumphs over his evil uncle Scar to become king of the pridelands. As critic Glenn M. so succinctly put it, “This is the greatest Disney film of all time and possibly the most greatest cultural achievement of the the 20th century.”

Oh what a time 1994 was. A simpler time, where you couldn’t just get propagandized through the internet, you either had to turn on your tv, or go out and pay money at a theater to get properly propagandized, dammit. The average cost of a gallon of gas in the U.S. was $1.09, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered by some unknown assailant, Kurt Cobain joined the 27 club, the whitewater scandal began, ice skaters were hiring thugs to knee-cap other ice skaters, and the world was content. Oh, and The Lion King was the highest grossing film of the year.

And before you say it, yes, it is called the Lion KING, so any prospective viewer should expect a certain level of authoritarian worship and statist bed-wetting about freedom, but this movie, upon repeat viewing, is absolutely drenched with it. I mean, they actually soaked the bed on this one. This mattress is positively dripping.

The film stars Matthew Broderick as the son of James Earl Jones, who reprises his Coming to America role, except this time his character is animated, and named Mufasa.

The story begins with all the creatures that live in and around pride rock arriving to celebrate the birth of the spawn of their overlord; that is, Mufasa and Sarabi’s son, Simba. The Circle of Life starts playing, and all the creatures that lions hunt and eat come to worship the newborn carnivore, with none of the irony any sane person would expect. Because, oh right! It’s the circle of life! It’s only natural that there would be an artificial construct where one group would violently dominate and control everyone else. It’s only natural, like zebras and elephants worshiping lions. Because that’s a thing.

The next scene involves brownshirt Zazu, played by Rowan Atkinson, threatening the villain of the film, Scar, who is intelligent, but lacks the physicality to outright challenge his brother for the throne. It seems that Scar committed the crime of not attending the presentation of his nephew to the cattle, so in Zazu’s words, he “better have a good excuse,” for missing the ceremony. More threats ensue from all involved, and the scene ends with Zazu playfully suggesting that they murder the wayward lion, setting the stage for a family drama to play out for the next 80 minutes.

And oh, what a drama it is. When the king isn’t busy claiming ownership over everything the light touches, his son is singing about “brushing up on looking down,” presumably at the pathetic plebs he’s violently dominating (i.e., the normal people, sorry, animals, that refuse to use violence to get what they want in life). The song continues, as the narcissistic little hitler sings about wanting to be in the spotlight and the joy of having everyone forced to do whatever he tells them to do.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Scar (competently played by Jeremy Irons) is twirling his mustache, telling the hyenas of his plot to kill his brother and nephew, so that he can assume the throne. When the hyenas love the plan and say, “great idea! Who needs a king?” Scar admonishes and insults them, declaring that he will be king, and then promises that they will never go hungry again as long as he rules. Well, politicians have to make promises to their constituents to gain favor, don’t they? And of course, the hyenas all of a sudden love the idea of a king, so long as they’re the ones on the gravy train.

Then we’re treated to a scene where a literal army of hyenas go goose stepping past their oligarch, seemingly pulled shot for shot from propaganda films of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Which begs the question, why not just stage a coup and take control? Well, because Scar craves legitimacy, as the lesser of the brothers he’s always longed for recognition and respect, and if he merely sics his horde upon the lions and kills them all, then he wouldn’t get to see them bowing and scraping before him as their “rightful” king.

Next we have a scene where Mufasa shows young Simba the vast kingdom he’ll one day inherit, displaying the insane hubris that grips all members of the ruling class, that one can simply declare ownership over an area that you haven’t mixed your labor with.

So Scar lures young Simba to the gorge where he has the hyenas unleash a stampede of wildebeest, which draws Mufasa out to rescue the boy, and ultimately to his demise as Scar throws him to his death under the stamping hooves. Young Simba survives thanks to the heroic effort of his father, but feels guilt at what happened, and is convinced by Scar that he was to blame, and flees in shame. Scar still sics the murderous hyenas on him, and Simba ends up in exile. He’s discovered by the comedy relief, Timon and Pumbaa, and the three live together until Simba grows to adulthood over the course of several years. He adopts the philosophy of Hakuna Matata, he eats bugs, and generally becomes a gypsy, with no rules, no responsibility, and no worries.

Meanwhile, Scar assumes the throne, and promises the rise of a new era where hyenas and lions cooperate (Ever the politician, Scar ends up having a populist message). But something has gone terribly wrong with Scar’s policies as king, as the food and water has run out. Has the dry season begun and Scar is simply too dense to move the pride to follow the prey? Unfortunately the film doesn’t explicitly say anything on this.

Now like I said at the start, in a movie called the Lion KING and I expect a certain amount of authoritarian worshiper bed-wetting about what anyone could possibly achieve without a ruler telling them what to do, but the next scene takes the cake.

Pumbaa is out looking for a meal, but he’s discovered by Nala, Simba’s childhood friend out on a hunt. A chase ensues that ends with Pumbaa being rescued by Simba as he engages the hungry lion. The two realize who they’re dealing with and introductions are made. What follows next is a song interlude featuring the most gratuitous fuck-me face ever seen in a Disney movie by Nala at Simba.

Can you feel the love tonight? And by love I mean two lions getting it on. Can you?

Then, Nala makes her case for Simba to return to Pride Rock and assume the role of king. She says that Scar let the hyenas take over the pridelands, and that everything is destroyed, there is no food, no water, and if SIMBA doesn’t do something soon, everyone will starve. Yes, if there is no proper ruler, these poor lions and hyenas will die because they have no idea how to survive without proper leadership.

When Simba balks at the notion of returning, Nala claims that he has a responsibility to return. What? What possible responsibility does he have to return to the pridelands and rule over everyone? Does he owe somebody something? Simply because he was born there it’s assumed that he somehow must live there forever? Or that he is responsible for the welfare of the creatures that chose to stay? This is more statist propaganda concerning honor and duty, and the idea that the rulers are actual servants to the people and not blood sucking leeches on the people’s productivity.

Nala is out searching for help, and finds it. because only Simba can help now. Because without a king, people don’t know how to hunt and live. I mean, if I didn’t have someone ordering me around, I’d have no idea how to even tie my shoes. Whatever would we do without our wise and all-knowing central planners?

Nala claims that Simba is their “only hope.” Ah yes, some well intentioned, misinformed central planner is the only hope for society. Excuse me while I nearly choke on my cheerios. Simba storms off in a huff, only to be found by Rafiki, who takes Simba to see a hallucination of his father in the sky, who convinces Simba that he IS the one true king, and it is his destiny to rule over others. How many rulers believe that they are god’s gift to the world? All of them? Only 99% of them? I for one would like to have a talk with these invisible sky spirits if in fact, they ARE sending these delusional idiots to lord over us.

So Simba returns to the pridelands, and he’s shocked to see the state they’re in. The landscape is dead, grey, and barren. Even the sky is grey and sunless. Again, what the hell kind of policies could create such a state of affairs? We’re talking lions here, people.

The finale begins with a scene between Simba’s mother, Sarabi, being summoned before Scar, who complains that the lionesses, who serve as the hunters, are not doing their job. Sarabi explains that the herds have moved on, and that they have no choice but to leave Pride Rock. Scar refuses (for some unknown reason), and Sarabi responds that he has sentenced them all to death. At this point, one wonders why the hell Sarabi and the rest of the lions don’t just leave. They are obviously getting nothing out of this ruler/ruled relationship. They are so trapped in the authority mindset, that they stay despite all reason and evidence to the contrary. They are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to obey their “king.” Lunacy.

I will concede one point in Simba’s favor. Simba’s idea for Scar’s punishment for killing Mufasa consists of banishment, i.e., hard ostracism, in my opinion the most anarchic punishment there is, second only to pure ostracism (removing yourself from their company, i.e., “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore if you’re going to be a dick”). Things don’t turn out this way, and a slap fight ensues which ends with Scar falling into a pit of hyenas, who now hate him and proceed to tear him apart.

So the good guy wins? Are there any good guys? The movie sure wants us to think so. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

When Simba wins, the land is dead and grey, but we fast forward at least 110 days to the birth of Simba and Nala’s son (the gestation period for a lion is 110 days), and the savannah has been reborn! The land is green and lush, and the herds have returned.
I can see two possible ways to interpret this.

1. As the scene with Sarabi states, Scar was simply too stubborn and incompetent to move the pride away from the pridelands and follow the migration of the herds during the dry season, which somehow lasts for 2-3 years in this movie (that’s how long it takes a lion to reach maturity). He wanted to prove to everyone that he was a better king than Mufasa, and staying at pride rock, despite all the reasons to leave, was somehow supposed to demonstrate that.

2. Simba’s brilliant leadership makes the grass grow. Either Simba makes the grass grow or all Scar had to do was hang on a few more months and the pridelands would have sprang back to life and he could have taken credit for it as an example of his fine leadership.

Is that what Mufasa did? It certainly isn’t what Simba did. Simba didn’t lead the lions after the migrating herds in their search for water. Simba stayed at pride rock just as Scar did, yet under Simba’s leadership the savannah sprang to life.

I’m really hung up on this point because it lies at the crux of the myth of government policy. The idea that we need the right central planning and everything will prosper. The idea that it’s a single government actor that is bad, and we just need to vote in the right one, and then everything will work out, is painfully wrong.

Worst of all, it’s a kids movie. Please, don’t show this splatt-tastic shit show to them until they possess the discernment tools to tell see this statist propaganda for what it is.

But, but, the Lion King is a classic! It’s beloved by audiences worldwide! Plus you USED to like it! What’s wrong with YOU? Look. We don’t have time to get into all that. Plus I don’t want to bore you with the details. Suffice to say, when I became an anarchist, I started looking at the world very differently than I did before, and it’s really hard for me to not see entertainment differently as well. And the whole point of this review is to alert any possibly concerned parents to the disturbing content in the film. That said, maybe enjoy your next viewing of this children’s classic? I certainly didn’t!

3 Replies to “Disney’s The Lion King – A Review”

  1. Let me play lion-devil’s advocate and defend the barren/fertile imagery as just that – imagery that represents Simba’s inner conflict.

    The story overall does reflect the near-universal pathology of humans to desire power and authority over others. As a Christian, I have a theory for why that is.

    Propaganda needs to be somewhat intentional, and I think Disney writers suffer from the “anyone can be president, but if it’s not you, too bad, you can’t make a difference now” myth more than they actually plot to defend the state’s evils. At least a propagandist has self-awareness. Blathering state worshippers don’t even have imagination.

  2. I appreciate your attempt to explain the ending! There is some imagery in the movie that is surely meant more as metaphor than reality (the musical numbers spring to mind), but I don’t think that applies to the end. I wish it did! It would actually make some sense if that were the case. Then again, since it’s all subjective, if that’s what it meant for you, that’s perfectly legitimate.

    I think the best propaganda masquerades as genuine art and opinion, and needs to originate from a source other than that which it supports. I agree Disney doesn’t have self-awareness, but to me that doesn’t preclude their work from being propaganda.

    The state wouldn’t exist without the overt and covert support it receives from not only its active believers, but also the useful idiots (where I put Disney), and lest we forget, the reluctant and coerced victims as well.

  3. In a way….anything that is not grounded in a philosophy that supports voluntary interaction will necessarily be “useful idiot propaganda” whether the creators recognize it or not.

    It may be that these are some economically literate people who “knowingly” created something to deceive; but doubtful.

    The irony is…that the Lion King creators (and even more so for the Lorax); are disparaging the very means by which they measure success and put food on their table. Fascinating.

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