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MRQE Top Critic

St. Nick

Where are the parents? Is it a game? Detached style draws you in. —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Forget the play, The Lion King is now in IMAX.

Hamlet on the Savannah

Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern of the SavannahMost of us know the story of The Lion King, either from the movie, the video, or the play. The king of the jungle is killed by his brother, a la Hamlet, and his young son, the rightful heir to the throne, is driven off. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are replaced by a flatulent boar and a singing meerkat. Some musical numbers are sung, most notably “Hakuna Matata,” before the young exiled Simba grows up and returns to challenge his uncle for the throne.

IMAX, You Max, We All Max

If you saw The Lion King when it first came out in theaters, you saw a 35mm print. The film used in IMAX projection is three times as big. This finely detailed image is projected onto a gigantic screen, resulting in a rich, detailed cinematography that fills your field of vision.

Disney has released other cartoons in the IMAX format. Y2K didn’t stop Fantasia 2000 from being released on 1/1/00, and last year Disney re-released Beauty and the Beast in IMAX. Because IMAX is so big, any flaws in the film are magnified. Both of Disney’s previous releases showed visible pixelation in some scenes, indicating their output to film wasn’t high enough resolution.

Either the process is improving, or The Lion King started with a less digital picture, because The Lion King doesn’t show any of those types of problems. The grand opening, a sunrise in the savannah, is beautiful, and the single, fat drumbeat that accompanies the title fills the auditorium with satisfaction. I overheard someone say “it’s better already,” meaning the IMAX experience was better than the theater, or more likely, home video. And I agree.

My only complaint with the presentation is that the movie went dead silent, just before the Academy-Award winning song “The Circle of Life” was about to play over the credits. Some glitch with the projector deprived my audience of auditory closure. No doubt the Colorado Center will fix this by opening day, but it was big emotional letdown to simply be cut off, without transitioning out of the film and back into reality.

The Wrong Message

Presentation aside, there is a problem with the morality of The Lion King.

For one thing, it presents an odd mix of deadly seriousness and slapstick humor. At the climax, Simba fights Scar to the death, and intercut with this scene is one of Poomba the Flatulent Boar doing a parody of Travis Bickel (Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver). Should children — or anyone — be laughing during a horrific moment of death? This isn’t Pulp Fiction, after all.

More importantly, the movie’s central philosophy is oppressive and disempowering. An opening number shows prey animals bowing to the lions in worship and obeisance. Even the antelope bow down, which rightfully confuses Simba, and he asks his dad about their submissiveness. His dad dodges the question by telling him that “the circle of life” is the way things are and the way things must always be.

In other words, accept your lot in life, and blindly obey your social betters. Such a hollow philosophy would never abolish slavery, and doesn’t make room for the American Dream. If you’re at the top of the heap, don’t worry too much about those beneath you because that’s just the way things are.

To put it in 2002 political terms, it’s a philosophy that lets Enron execs and pedophile priests off the hook simply because they are in positions of power. Time’s “persons of the year” — three whistleblowers who challenged the abuse of power — would not exist in Lion King World because the antelope are expected to simply accept their fate.

In short, The Lion King sends the wrong message — to anyone who sees messages in cartoon animals singing Broadway numbers.

  • Ashley : You strike me as the kind of guy who would blame Marilyn Manson's hateful lyrics for the Columbine shootings. This is a classic animated film. Enjoy it for what it is. You should not be looking for profound political messages here. I'm sorry if the message of Hakuna Matata offended you. You might as well have suggested that the "no worries" mantra will deter children from cleaning their room or doing their homework. You are so right though, about the whole "antelope shouldn't give up" thing. I think the kind of unrealistic lesson you are looking for is "anything is possible, if you set your mind to it" -- sorry, buddy, but there is no way that this philosophy could help a doomed antelope. I look forward to reading your commentary on Looney Tunes cartoons which influence hierarchy within the playground and incite violence among the children. Lighten up.

    *Oh, and Simba actually didn't "fight Scar to the death". He defended himself and decided not to kill Scar, because he didn't want to follow Scar's example: "I'm not like you". Scar only died when he lunged at Simba, plunged off of the cliff and was then ambushed by the hyenas. Get your facts straight. January 1, 2006 reply
    • Drayen: I would just like to mention I am a 4s Random Team Professional and I agree completely with Ashley. September 17, 2006 reply
  • Jess: Well.. I think that the writer of the story should stop watching disney movies because I guess they just cant handle the imagination part. I have two little sisters and they love it, so leave the "whats good and whats not" part of it to the kids. February 14, 2006 reply
    • indexer: So if the reviewer is seeing things that aren't in the movie, how does he lack imagination? June 7, 2006 reply
  • jasi: i think this movie great!!! It is wonderfull and very interesant! wow!!!!! I love this movie! :-) May 1, 2006 reply
  • Marty Mapes: Since we keep getting comments on this, I thought I'd jump back in. I still defend what I said, and although I got a fact wrong, it doesn't change my main argument, which Ashley didn't really rebut. She misstated my argument by saying that I was offended by "Hakuna Matata." That's not my complaint, which I won't repeat here because I can't say it better than I did in 2002. I'm happy to be proven wrong or shown the error of my ways, but so far, everyone has simply disagreed, and not actually addressed my complaints. May 5, 2006 reply
  • Emily: Ya know, I agree with Ashley and the others; lighten up. C'mon, it's a cute story, ment for younger audiences, do you REALLY think that children care about this so called, "wrong message".
    And by the way, Simba never asks his father why the antelopes and zebras, ect. bow down to him, which would mean Mufasa never dodged any questions, or said, "who cares about the 'peasents'?", and he never said, "Just give up trying to be better" In fact, remember the line, when Mufasa looks down and speaks to Simba from the heavens? "You are more that what you have become" Mufasa gave a few very good lessons in that movie. And on the Scar dying notion; There are no funny references during the time of Scar's death. Maybe before it, and after it, but most certainly not during it. Simba also never intended for Scar to die. So, basically, just enjoy the movie. May 10, 2006 reply
  • Devvi: You sound like the kind of person who goes looking for flaws in classic, animated Disney movies. I would like to state that Mufasa did not tell Simba "the circle of life is the way things are and what they will always be". He actually said, almost exact quote from the movie: Simba, when we die, our bodies become the grass. The antelope eat the grass. We eat the antelope. And so, we are all connected. Connected in the Circle Of Life." So just sit back and enjoy the movie, and stop insulting a classic film. May 17, 2006 reply
  • Poop: The hell? Don't look for deep messages in kids' movies. Sorry, but watch a grown-up movie for that. Watch the real Pulp Fiction for a message. You're dumb and overanalyzing and do not have an imagination, nor a lighter side. Get your head out your ass and back to reality and realize that kids movies' have simple lessons, this one being to own up to your responsibilities, no matter how many mistakes you've made in the past. That's a good message and one I hope my children learn. You, however, can show your kids Teletubbies, where absolutely nothing happens and no morals are presented to their impressioned little minds. June 6, 2006 reply
  • Geekseatliveanimals: I personally think the whole lot of you are being too uptight. It's just a movie. I was 8 when I came out, and it was my favorite movie... I didn't accept my place in life.

    If there's anything about this movie worth getting all fussy about it's the fact that The Lion King is most probably an adaptation to Kimba the White Lion. June 24, 2006 reply
  • John: Now, I gotta say that people really must lighten up, I mean seriously, the Ashley person being all....weird and jsut the over all seriousness of this movie, which came out around the time I was about 7. Good rippage upon the movie. July 2, 2006 reply
  • victoria: i have to write a paper on this movie, but until this time, i never realised the number of lessons we can learn from this movie. there is friendship, love, treachery and compassion and i think we can all do with a little of each, either giving or receiving,that is, excluding treachery of course. July 19, 2006 reply
  • katie: Technically, Simba didn't kill Scar. Simba defended himself, and scar fell off the cliff still alive. Then the Hyenas went after him because scar said "That they were the enemy". So Simba DIDN'T kill Scar. This movie is a great movie and I do not think you shouldn't be saying bad stuff about it. It sends a powerful message to kids. You are just over re-acting. July 21, 2006 reply
  • Pinky: I love this movie so much! You shouldn't try and think so hard about all the 'hidden messages' which are or are not included in the film itself; if you do that then you end up missing out on the whole point of Disney movies which is just to tell a story and to tell it well. July 31, 2006 reply
  • tom: man,the circle of life as explained in the movie isn't about blind abedyance. its about how we all live with eachtother in balance and that disturbing the balance has negative effects on us all. so we must try to live to keep that balance for the good of us all. the antilopes know this as well as the lions. before you search political messages,be sure you know what your talking about August 24, 2006 reply
  • maria: I think the movie was fantestic,it was so intresting story.the best part in the film was,whan simba meet timon and pumba.I love the story.
    September 15, 2006 reply
  • Sara: I think you are ALL crack heads. It is a cartoon, and an excellent one at that, RELAX. And why dont you pick on the Hans Christianson originals where the little mermaid bleeds from her feet and ends up dying. Disney creates more kiddy friendly stories so lighten up. Why don't you go out and make a a full length movie cartoon and see what opinions people will chime in on that one. Stop being so existential

    September 17, 2006 reply
  • Evan Carroll: i enjoyed the lion king when Mike and Sally were talikng about it on Mikes super short show they mentioned about disneychannel circle of stars and should have interveiwed Elton John September 26, 2006 reply
  • Sean: I think the fact you pulled all the out of the lion king just happens to be coincidence, like you can get a lot of different messages out of a lot of different things. But its a kids movie and even if they were trying to send that message I don't think any kid would get it. October 4, 2006 reply
  • Kat: This is such a pointless discussion. Honestly.
    1. There is a difference between imaginative and paranoid. The author of this piece is the latter.
    2. Give me a quote when Mufasa mentions obedience.
    3. If you really think that an antelope can rise up and get "voted in" as the next king because he tried his very bestest, you're an idiot. In our society, some people are the lions, and some are the antelope. Some get educations, and through them highpaying jobs, and some don't put in the effort, and are the lower working class. Whether you like it or not, it's the way it is. Not everyone can be rise to the top and be a hero. Get the hell over it.
    4. STOP ARGUING ABOUT IT! END OF DISCUSSION. October 27, 2006 reply
  • Eros: LMFO this is the funniset thing i ever read about the lion king. i absolutely love it. Hey most of you have read "the old man and the sea" there are all types of messages up and through there but when asked the author he said "its about a man and a fish". So true we can get extreamly deep thinkers and pick apart any thing from "hop on pop"(how tragic was that.... the way they popped on pop) to "moby dick"( again a man and a fish(yes i know that a whale is not a fish)and his obession) god thats funny March 9, 2007 reply
  • Liz: It's nice that you're thinking about the message kids will get from this, but I don't think any children watching the movie were deeply analyzing it. And the whole "submission" part of your "Wrong Message" section was a bit inaccurate, in my opinion. Sure, you'd be right if it were a master-slave human relationship, but these are supposed to be animals. How completely ridiculous would it be for one of those bowing antelope to charge into Mufasa crying "I reject you and all you stand for!!" It isn't really a social order, either. It's the food chain. Lions gotta eat, and what they eat happen to be their obedient and loyal subjects. Aw. OF COURSE the animals wouldn't form some absurd rally against the lions. That would pretty much be like shouting "Eat me first!" I think they'd like to avoid the circle of life as long as possible.

    However, I agree with Eros. Hopping on pop has got to stop. March 21, 2007 reply
  • Annoyed Kid: well i hate you all because my teacher found this site and now we have to write a 400 word essay about the *messages* in lion king tonight. The maker of this movie already said that they got their ideas off: Bambi, Joeseph and Moses bible stories and Hamlet it's a KIDS movie get over yourselves. May 1, 2007 reply
  • Edge: Okay this movie came out when I was only 3 years old, and I watched it daily from the ages of 4-8. Never once during that time or this time have I ever believed that a monarchy/hierarchy system was the right way to go. How anybody could possibly think that by watching this movie is absolutely ridiculous. Mufasa NEVER tells Simba that he should just accept things as they are, because if he did then he wouldn't have tried to convince Simba to return to Pride Rock and make Scar step down. Simba would've just led a vagrant life with Timon and Pumbaa until his death. So in a way he actually convinces Simba to challenge authority and not accept things as they are. May 6, 2007 reply
    • Marty Mapes: Thank you! Finally, a response that isn't just name-calling. Seems like I've been waiting years! (Of course, I'd have to re-watch the movie and re-read my review to have an intelligent response, and given the world's reaction, I think I'm better off keeping my mouth shut.) May 6, 2007 reply
  • Edge: I know I'm already ahead here but I watched the movie again and thought of this. Devvi brought up this scene but missed the key part of it. Mufasa says this "You [Simba] must respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant, to the leaping antelope." So Mufasa says that Simba must respect all life no matter how "inferior" they are to him and the other lions.

    As for the philosophy behind "finding your place in the circle of life" it means you must find what you're meant to do. If you want to go back to medieval times then peasants never found their place in life... they were told their place in life. They knew that from birth to death they were going to be peasants. Just like royalty knew that they were going to be royalty their whole lives. Nobody actually searched for what they were supposed to do. Now today people can actually discover what their purpose is, so this is actually telling kids to find out what they want to do for themselves without being told what to do instead. This tells us that everybody has something important to contribute, even if it's something very minor it still helps. Mufasa even says this by saying that the antelope eat the grass (saying that they grass has a very important use). May 13, 2007 reply
  • Just A Kid: Personally, I consider this one of the best that Disney has to offer. It has a moral...and gives a satisfying feeling afterward. When my baby brother and I watched the part when Simba was crying for help when his dad died, we cried so much. We recognized that Scar is evil, we wouldn't have a movie if he isn't. However, it did brought us much distress when we think that one would murder his own flesh and blood. It was not at all pleasant. However, we were very satisfied that Simba did not stain his paws with Scar's death...after all in our hearts we were wishing that they'd at least love each other; even for a little bit. In fact, Simba did once adore his uncle. Anyway, with all that, we still think that it was the best...a classic along with Finding Nemo (just love that clown fish and dorrie)...so grown up...stop fighting and enjoy ^-^ May 14, 2007 reply
  • Liz: I must have been stoned or something when I wrote that response...Apologies. x) Everyone's entitled to their own opinions. I feel kind of bad that you're getting so beaten up over this...Your opinions are legitimate, even if fans of the movie might not agree. Nice review. May 22, 2007 reply
  • Chad: All this reading gives me a head ache. It was a good movie, I get it. There are, or were debates on a couple of things, but you all agreed it was a good movie, so leave it at that. I wonder if they are going to make a movie 4 with kiara and kovu. May 27, 2007 reply
  • Edge: I would like to see a fourth movie with Kiara and Kovu, but what I would enjoy more would be for somebody to argue against my idea. I know that Marty Mapes who wrote this review would have some very valid points to make against my ideas. However the problem with this is that he would have to watch a movie he doesn't like again so anyone who reads this should try for themselves.

    P.S.: I know that that wasn't very relevant however I seldom get to have intelligent arguments with people who don't have the same opinion as me. May 29, 2007 reply
  • Sam: your kind of sad as if a young child would even understand what unintended messages mean October 16, 2007 reply
  • Sue: Kids don't analyze, kids absorb. Lion King is a fairy tale, the most insidiously effective form of behavior modification there is for children: that's WHY fairy tales have been a mainstay of civilization and proper social behavior for hundreds and even thousands of years. They were birthed around communal campfires to entertain and to subtly teach.

    Lion King is not Hamlet, but a weak ripoff, lacking as it does, far too many motivational nuances of the classic play. It's also not a generations-tempered morality play like most fairy tales, but a story with the facade of a morality play which has been deliberately contrived to appeal to a young audience and sell as many tickets as possible. I'm all for making money, but as such it should be subjected to considered adult scrutiny, before handing it over wholesale to a generation.

    The messages subtle or obvious, intended or not, are subject matter worthy of debate among the adults who are letting their children wolf it down without the least critical consideration. People who dismiss this article under the excuse that LK is "just entertainment" might as well feed their kids a diet of ice cream. The kids will be happy . . . but not very healthy.

    November 11, 2007 reply
  • lozza: your a terrible person to think there are any wrong messages in this film... it has been my favourite film since i was 5 years old! don't ruin a classic with such reviews. November 27, 2007 reply
  • lossserrrrsss: you guys are way overanalyzing it; its a movie for crying out loud. November 27, 2007 reply
  • mckell: i think personally you marty mape may have something against the lion king it was and im sorry to say this but it was almost humorous to read these articles we are fighting over something that is ant sized compared to the real problems in the world i will say this though all of you have a point in parts of what you are saying this is a little childish and i will say that knowingly because i am a child myself i am only 12 years old will be 13 in jan.and even i know better than this sincerely, mckell December 14, 2007 reply
  • Edge: What's so wrong with analyzing movies anyway? As people we all have our interpretations of things. He didn't like this movie so he wrote what he felt about it. There's nothing childish about voicing your opinion. Yeah I disagree with him too about this movie, but he has every right to dislike, just as I have the right to tell him why I think he's wrong; and he can also tell me why he thinks I'm wrong. Isn't the point of this to tell your opinion to the world, as long as it's all constructive criticism then I see nothing childish about it. Every time I watch this movie I notice more and more about it. January 6, 2008 reply
  • nick: Are you guys kidding?

    "You shouldn't try and think so hard about all the 'hidden messages'"

    "All this reading gives me a head ache."

    "you guys are way overanalyzing it; its a movie for crying out loud."


    Jesus Christ.

    January 10, 2008 reply
  • cheri: Hey, I just want to say I respect you for writing this review. I don't exactly agree, and I'm going to try to tell you why.
    point 1: deadly seriousness and slapstick humor. Keeping in mind that this is a children's movie before an adult one, I feel like the slapstick is appropriate, keeping little kids interested while the movie addresses real problems. I agree with several of your critics: I didn't feel like the death scene was interrupted by any of it. The first time I saw the movie; I was shocked, horrified, and justified by scar's fate. Everyone wants to see the bad guy realize his mistake. His death means nothing unless it comes hand in hand with the realization of his failure. His death wasn’t shown actually on screen, but it was understood. I felt like that made it even better for children. You don’t want them to be having nightmares about this horrible, bloody death, but you want them to realize that the betrayal and the lying and cheating are wrong. I felt like the ending scenes of the movie sent that message loud and clear.
    Point 2: I think the message Mufasa gives Simba is a little too mystic. The idea of all things being connected and the lions eating the antelope that ate the grass that ate the lions is a little too close to reincarnation for me, but I don’t think that was your point. That was the only part of the movie that I felt was a little weird. I must say, however, I didn’t think about that until I was about 14 or 15, long past the time that a movie would change my thinking more than my parents and friends.
    I feel like the opening number is more of respect than of obeisance. The “subjects” were giving respect and celebrating the life of their rulers. Drawing the parallel between the kingdom in The Lion King, and the Old Testament’s Israel, I see a people who love their ruler (Israel’s God), despite taxes in the form of food (tithe), because he is just and kind and a protector. If that’s a stretch, so is the assertion that The Lion King says “If you’re at the top of the heap, don’t worry too much about those beneath you because that’s just the way things are” to small children. For more support, look at what happens to the animals when Scar takes over: they all leave Pride Rock, very non-passively.
    Also, in your examples of the “whistle-blowers who challenged the abuse of power” I think of Simba, Nala, Sirabi, and the other lionesses taking down Scar and his regime, not the poor little antelope getting eaten. Maybe that’s just me, but I think it’s a viable point.
    I want to thank you again for posting this review. I’m writing an essay on the movie and needed an intelligent person to do a negative review. Thank you for being that person.
    To all those who would trash me/ the reviewer/ the other commentors: Please don’t, it makes you look very, very stupid and completely negates whatever you said. Thank you.
    February 14, 2008 reply
  • An annoyed kid: What the heck!!! It's just a kids movie. June 5, 2008 reply
  • julian_hernandez: you guys need to calm down. =D October 3, 2008 reply
  • Guy: But that's not a MAIN message. If we were to deduce a main message then it would be to stop screwing around and find your place in life. Or accept your responsibilities.

    From Simba's perspective, having animals lower than himself turns out to be a bad thing, because he then takes advantage of them. Pretty much the way Scar depletes the food supply by taking advantage of those lower than him. I mean it's basically "with great power comes great responsibility." Nothing wrong with that, is there?

    I mean we all kind of have a status above something else, whether it be people or animals or plants.

    The point is to recognize that you have power no matter how low you feel, and to make sure you use it instead of waste it, but not abuse it. March 3, 2009 reply
  • Flake: I feel that this movie is getting too much of a bashing. The Lion king is purposely written to entertain the kids, while having the intellectual underlining to keep parents happy. It's a family outing at the cinema, and a damned good one at that. Lion King is a movie you watch once for the story, another time to soak in the visuals, once more for the score, and then every other time just for pure enjoyment.

    I do agree that the "life lessons" are put too liberally, more sandwiched between layers of seriousness and impetuous humor. It's an emotional blend that tastes slightly sour all together, but again, we need to re-realise the target audience: Young children whom don't have the attention span to ponder the thoughts all at once. All young kids I know, will have a movie to watch at home to keep them occupied, and they watch it over and over, and never get bored. Lion King is one of the best movies to do so.

    As for the older audience? The Lion King is way too... predictable. If have the audience is groaning at the visual symbolism of a film, It's too obvious. I do however, feel a sense of balance with the movie. Watching it again as an adult has made the adult jokes far more opaque and the movie is none the less still enjoyable. (I got special kicks from "Zazu" Making jokes about making "Scar" into a rug, then taking him out and beating him.)

    The Score, is an absolute masterpiece that can not be disputed. Tim Rice, Hans Zimmer and Elton John have all come together brilliantly to compose the greatest film score I have heard and probably ever will. I have found myself consistently rewinding just to hear bar and phrase changes to admire the composition skill that matches and if not exceeds the skill of the animators. To have a score exceed the quality of a film is very rare, but very welcomed. (I would recommend listening to the "Battle Of Pride Rock", "This Land" and "...To Die For/The Stampede" if you wish to properly hear the thematic material.)

    All in all, I feel that The Lion King is a film worth watching at least once. The story is active and original, the score is a masterpiece, the visuals are stunning and the characters are well presented. It's a spicy sweet blend of cinematic brilliance, but just a bit overdone. It's a movie worth watching for anyone whom isn't a cold hearted cynic overtly focused on picking out the flaws. 4.7/5 :)

    November 19, 2011 reply