The Lion King - Reviewed
When The Lion King first came out, I somewhat cynically assumed that its primary purpose was to sell more records for Elton John. However, having seen the remake, I now realise that there is a much deeper message behind the film.
The story commences by extolling the virtues of a society in which everybody’s place is determined by their birth. Nothing new there so far — it is a common theme in Hollywood and has helped perpetuate the public’s adulation of royalty that they rightly deserve.
Or do they? We start off by seeing the natural order of things — the birth of a king’s son is celebrated because he will one day become king himself. But soon it is revealed that some skullduggery may have been at work in the incumbent king’s accession. For the king has a brother, and it transpires that this brother was gifted with intelligence while the king had physical strength. It is not made explicit which lion was born first and therefore entitled automatically to the throne, but visually the smart brother clearly looks older. A discussion between the two indicates that sovereignty had once been determined by the result of a fight in which the stronger lion had defeated the cleverer one.
And so the king’s reign was absolute, and in order to deter any opposition, his subjects were all bound by a doctrine known as The Circle Of Life. This purported that when a king dies, his body decomposes into the ground and fertilises the plants that the herbivores eat. Its purpose is to reassure the herbivores that it’s in their own interest that they get eaten by the lions, otherwise the circle would break.
‘We’re in this together,’ is the unspoken but clear message.
Now, nobody voices an objection this except the king’s brother, who quite understandably has a grievance of his own. But he is not the only one harbouring a grudge, for although the lions live the life of Riley in their land of plenty, there are others — the hyenas — who do not share in the kingdom’s prosperity. The lions and hyenas have been at war since the beginning of time, and lacking the lions’ prowess, the hyenas are excluded from The Circle Of Life and are forced to live in a dire and desolate wasteland.
The intelligent brother realises he can solve all these problems in one stroke. He deposes the king, exiles the annoying nephew, and unites the lions and hyenas bringing about a peace that has never before been seen. The former king’s son crosses a desert and discovers beyond it an idyllic, peaceful and plentiful land in which equality is the norm. But he discovers more than just this — a new philosophy known as The Straight Line Of Indifference.
Here, he learns that The Circle Of Life is a sham, a pyramid structure rather than a circle. He sees that just because the physical matter that makes up life is recycled, it doesn’t mean that life itself is. You live, you die, and you should try and enjoy your time in between according to the maxim Hakuna Matata, or ‘It doesn’t matter.’
And so, things should really have been left there. But no. There is descent within the new administration. The lionesses refuse to co-operate and consequently the kingdom suffers. They resent the alliance with their traditional enemies and want to send the hyenas back where they came from. One of the lionesses goes off to find the deposed king’s son and manages to convince him that life isn’t there to be enjoyed and that he should face up to his responsibilities. She persuades him to mount a coup against the lion-hyena union so they can take back control. She achieves this in a violent and bloody revolt, restores the old order, and ends up becoming queen. Cherchez la femme, as they say in France.
It is not until the end of the film that the meaning behind The Circle Of Life becomes fully apparent. Put simply — no matter what efforts you put in to straighten things out, the same old crap comes back round.
However, one thing that is never explained in the film is its title. Throughout its course, there are three lion kings but it is never revealed which one is the king after which the story is named. The obvious choice would be the second king since his reign occupied the largest amount of film time, so perhaps my main criticism should be that the title ought to be The Lion Kings.
A similar mistake was made in Star Wars where there were lots of stars but only one war. And of course Naked Lunch is famous for its two glaring errors in its title. Perhaps this is a common problem in the film industry.
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