Friday, 14 December 2007

The Lion King

No doubt our Christmas television will be full of the usual second-hand films and animated cartoons to keep the old folk and children quiet while we burn the turkey and try to get the wine stain out of the table cloth. One of these will probably be the 1994 Disney classic “The Lion King”.

But have you ever stopped to analyse how horrific some of our animated cartoons are? The monomyth theory of plot claims that there is a common plot structure in all narratives in popular culture: a hero of royal birth - hero escapes death in childhood - hero goes on a journey / marries a princess or is given great honour. In that respect one should expect similarities between the archetypal Jungian hero Simba and a number of Shakespearian characters. But, would you knowingly subject your child to a cartoon version of Hamlet with all its intrigue, scary music and scenes of death and dark violence? That is, after all, what you get with the Lion King.

It is the classic tale of a young prince setting out to rule his pride while his friends singing catchy songs about how good apathy can be. His uncle murders his father and takes the prince’s rightful place leaving the young prince to vow revenge in best Shakespearian fashion.

The Lion King reinforces many stereotypes,. including stereotypical villains. In this case the main villain, a lion named Scar (suggesting bad events in his past), is skinny, with a low and secretive voice and a cunning look. Whenever he appears, the background is gray in colour And he always goes to the "shadowy" place where the bad hyenas (subsidIary villians) live. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is the dark side of the psyche, which we try to hide from consciousness.

In one major departure from the Shakespearian darkness, the "something rotten in the state of Denmark" is actually a flatulent warthog. But, one seriously must wonder how the meeting went when the writers tried to pitch this to the producer...
"It's Hamlet, but with lions, songs by Elton John and fart jokes."

Of course, the 20th century gets a look in with a bit of environmentalist dialogue...
Mufasa: Everything you see exists together, in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance, and respect all the creatures -- from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But, dad, don't we eat antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelopes eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.

Unfortunately some other aspects of the modern world do not get a look in. For example, feminists will be saddened by the fact that of the fourteen characters ten are male and only two females have speaking roles and those are very vocal stereotypical ‘help-seeking’ roles.

The principal difference comes at the end where, in a radical (and totally unpredictable) departure from Hamlet, the hero kills his uncle, reclaims his throne, gets the girl and lives happily ever after. So, we are left with the great philosophical question of our times – Does the end justify the plot?

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