This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback Series
– By Sam Hendrian –
25 years ago, Walt Disney Animation Studios released its own take on the classic story of Hamlet called The Lion King. Featuring a thematically-rich story padded with fun, sometimes soul-stirring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, it arguably remains one of the powerhouse studio’s greatest achievements. This week, Disney is releasing a remake of this landmark film directed by Jon Favreau, so it is perhaps fitting to take a look back at the original, which is ultimately the story of an insecure but noble-hearted young person struggling to embrace his greater calling in life.
The perky lion cub Simba is destined to become the future king of thousands of animals dwelling within the African terrain of the Pride Lands. No pressure. Naturally, he is quite excited by this destiny during his blissful years of naivete, dreaming about all the power he will have at his fingertips. In the song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” he sings, Free to run around all day/Free to do it all my way. His nosy bird advisor, Zazu, points out his youthful arrogance, but Simba is too excited to listen.
However, Simba does listen a little more closely to his wise father, the current king Mufasa. Mufasa consistently stresses the great responsibility it is to be king, telling Simba, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all creatures.” While young Simba sometimes finds his father too stern, he deeply respects him, and he does not want to let him down.
In a horrifying living nightmare, Mufasa’s jealous brother Scar murders him after inciting a stampede in the Pride Lands. He then lies to fragile Simba, telling him that Mufasa’s death was a result of his own carelessness and that the only wise thing to do would be leaving the Pride Lands forever. Heartbroken and guilt-stricken, Simba does indeed depart the Pride Lands after being chased away by hyenas, vowing to never come back.
During his exile, Simba meets two delightfully carefree animals named Timon and Pumbaa, who advise him that there is only one motto worth living by: Hakuna Matata (“No Worries”). Enthralled by this seemingly liberating life philosophy, Simba wanders around with these two goofballs for the rest of his adolescent years, trying hard to forget the pain and the guilt of his past. But outrunning the past is almost always an impossible feat, and he is soon reawakened to his true purpose after stumbling across the wise mandrill monkey Rafiki.
Rafiki takes Simba to a partcularly isolated section of the wilderness, where he briefly sees the spirit of his father Mufasa in the sky. Mufasa empathizes with his son’s pain and temptation to live a “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle, but he encourages him to rise above mediocrity, saying:
“Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life. Remember who you are.”
Simba is touched but also frightened by these words. He tells Rafiki afterwards, “I know what I have to do, but going back means I’ll have to face my past. I’ve been running from it for so long.” Rafiki calmly replies:
“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or you can learn from it.”
Reflecting back on a recent encounter with his childhood sweetheart Nala, who told him of the corruption his evil Uncle Scar has wrought upon the Pride Lands, Simba takes the words of his elders to heart and vows to return to the place of his haunted childhood in hopes of reclaiming his rightful throne and restoring justice to the circle of life. This is no easy task, but by humbly accepting his friends’ help and choosing to embrace the courage hidden deep within himself, he is ultimately triumphant.
While none of us know how long we are going to live, we each have a unique purpose that we are called to discover and fulfill during the time that has been given to us. This purpose may not be as grand as ruling a nation, but it most likely involves spreading love and sincerity to the people around us, which is a grand mission in and of itself. As Mother Teresa once said:
“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Let us then find the courage to accept/learn from the faults of our pasts and take daily steps towards fulfilling our God-given callings in life. In this way, we can live with no worries even more than those who choose a lazy “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle, for we are doing that which we were born to do, and only this can give us true fulfillment. Remember who you are…
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.
For more articles by Sam, click here.