We’re in a real pickle here.
On one hand, “The Lion King” is one of those Disney live-action remakes, and those are objectively bad.
On the other, criticizing a Beyonce project is reprehensible.
So we will withhold from making value judgments and, instead, consider critiques of the story itself.
First of all, who is Nala’s dad? According to National Geographic, lion prides typically include up to three males, around a dozen females and the cubs. The only other male lion besides Mufasa is Scar. Nobody likes Scar. If Nala was Scar’s daughter it would have came up in the story. Mufasa is Nala’s father. Nala and Simba are siblings.
Even if we were to suppose, just as an exercise, that Scar was Nala’s dad, her and Simba would still be cousins, making their eventual relationship — which was planned from the beginning by their parents — incestuous to a level that would be unacceptable in modern Western society.
Of course, that’s easily explained away by saying, “Oh, it’s about lions. That’s what lions do.” But the film’s creators had no problem projecting Western norms on these lions when it comes to interpersonal interactions and class structure, so why would they just ignore the incest taboo, one of the biggest breaches of social behavior humans have?
For instance, the entire hierarchy of the animals is skewed to be more relatable to humans. The best example of this, probably, is when Simba asks why the king is responsible for protecting the antelope, who will eventually be eaten by the lions.
Mufasa responds with some theory about life being a circle. “When we die we become grass, and the antelope eat the grass,” he says. In the real world they’re just lions. They eat things. It’s fine. The problems arise when they’re shown to make some sort of moral justification for their actions, indicating a capability of higher-level thinking and philosophical thought.
The point Mufasa is trying to make is that all organisms are interconnected. In practice he’s saying that lions are responsible for the grass, so not only should the antelope just accept their deaths, they should chalk up their very method of sustenance to the graciousness of their overlords.
It’s a classic tactic of the bourgeoisie ruling class — convincing the working people they have no other options, that this is just how things have to be. That as long as everyone plays their role, the kingdom will be happy.
What it actually means is that the lions continue to feast on the labor of their subjects while brainwashing the cubs to believe it is their duty, their right, to continue the system of inequality.
But oh, the animals love them some Mufasa. He’s so charming, who wouldn’t?
And sure, sometimes he eats your friends, but he’s generally a good guy, right?
Then when Scar takes over, continuing the murder and carnage in a less pleasant way, everyone decides things have to change. It’s not that the actual behaviors are different, it’s just that Scar is more upfront about it, making the lions confront the truth for the first time — they’re not the good guys.
The land itself even reflects the new reality, becoming faded and lifeless overnight. Plants aren’t growing, lightning storms appear out of nowhere, trees are drooping to the ground. It looks like California in a drought, really. A drought that ends immediately when Simba comes back.
It’s good, of course, that the lions want to enact change. But the change they want is a different form of the same monarchical system, led by a king with class who sends the icky hyenas away to the shadowland.
All that’s going to do is start the cycle again. Eventually a ruler will take over that doesn’t care for tradition, that doesn’t care about how things are always done, and it’ll be right back to darkness for lion society.
Even the so-called “paradise” Simba grows up in with Pumba and Timon is simply a reflection of the same class-based society.
They may not eat the antelope, but there’s grub feasts on the daily — passing the buck down to the creatures who have even less power to resist. The only difference is there is more awareness of what’s happening. They seem happy on the surface, but their entire philosophy is based on the nihilist idea that life will end at some point, so everything is meaningless.
The only possible long-term solution is a complete overhaul of the system, giving more power to the working class and less to the rulers. There’s potential for a great society in the world shown in “The Lion King,” but it’s not possible without total cooperation between all species.
This remake may just be a beautifully rendered reminder that children’s movies from the 1990s don’t really hold up today, but it does teach us one very important lesson — changing weather patterns aren’t being caused by climate change, it’s because the wrong lion is king.
Rating: Beyonce does a very nice job.