Let me paint you a picture of three monumental events that occurred in the warm summer month of June 1994. June 15: Walt Disney Pictures introduces the world to the colorful characters of Simba, Timon, Pumbaa and many more in the soon-to-be-classic “The Lion King.” June 17: O.J. Simpson, beloved American football player, is being pursued by the LAPD down the 405 in suspicion of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. For all we know, as the nation was transfixed to their TV sets watching one of the most iconic athletes of all of sports make the play of his life, many more were barely taking notice of the soon-to-be highest-grossing animated feature of all time, that is, until “Frozen” came along and stole its thunder. And the third event? About a week and a half later on June 26, yours truly was born. So yes, you could say June was probably the most momentous month of that year — a month that would change the face of popular culture forever.
I do like to believe in fate — to know that some things in the universe line up at the right place and right time for them to be life-altering. According to my mother, “The Lion King” was the first film little ol’ me saw in theaters. Though I assume it must’ve been in July, maybe even August, I still question why would my family take my infant self to the deafeningly loud theater. To know that “The Lion King” of all films — a film released the same month I was born and the very first film I would watch — would set out to become my favorite film of all time. There just has to be some other-worldly destiny shit going on there. Or, you know, just coincidence.
But tell me this, reader: Is it destiny that Simba wound up in a parched, barren desert after being banished by his manipulating, thieving uncle Scar due to the untimely death of the once great king of Pride Rock, Mufasa (crying emoji), only for Timon and Pumbaa to find him and set him on the course of all things Hakuna Matata? It seems like it, but what do I know, it’s just a movie after all.
Everything the Light Touches …
“The Lion King,” at its core, is a film about family. With Simba being the first-and-only born to King Mufasa (voiced by the impeccable James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi, the future King will need to learn the principles brought forth by Mufasa in order to truly be the great king the Pride Lands needs him to be. And with every close-knit family there is always that uncle whom their kid seems to love, just like the ever-so-conniving Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons).
Family isn’t solely represented as something that’s purely based on the bloodline of the characters. At his lowest point in the film, Simba is saved by the zany characters Timon and Pumbaa. Simba, lost and depressed, finds solace when introduced to the worry-free world the meerkat and warthog live in.
At the forefront, family is the ultimate force that binds every character in “The Lion King.” During my younger years of being infatuated with the film, I remember how I would use to watch it with my family, specifically my dad. Every time I watch Simba’s coming-of-age story in the Pride Lands and the intimate moments he spends with his father who teaches him the invaluable lessons about the “Circle of Life,” I can’t help but think of my own father who has been the prime example in my life of what it means to exhaustively work hard each and every day to achieve your ultimate goal and provide for your family. Admittedly, I know I’m probably one of millions who have watched the film to think the same thing. And that’s perfectly fine, because the importance of family is what makes “The Lion King” universally relatable.
without Zimmer’s powerful score there wouldn’t be as many tears shed.
It Means No Worries
There seems to be an unspoken rule that, for each Disney animated film, there needs to be great music associated with it. Before “The Lion King,” audiences around the world heard ballads of how one hopelessly romantic mermaid wanted to be part of a world that she rarely has the chance to experience, or how a tale as old as time could be associated with a small town girl and a tormented young prince-turned-beast. With its soundtrack named the best-selling album of an animated film in all of history, “The Lion King” is no exception to this rule.
With songs written by Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice (also known for his work on other Disney films such as “Aladdin”), the soundtrack exalted the film to pop culture status. The first four minutes of the film — complete with Lebo M.’s tremendous vocal work done in the Zulu language and Carmen Twillie’s empowering voice that carries the meaning of the “Circle of Life” — solidify the film’s iconic status. And being accompanied by the sublime vistas of the African savanna, with African birds soaring near graceful waterfalls and gazelles leaping through the air at the break of dawn, the film’s opening is nothing short of a masterwork. It’s no wonder that Disney decided to release this opening scene as the teaser trailer for the film back in 1993. But let’s not forget the rest of the soundtrack, which featured infectious tunes like the indelibly energetic “Hakuna Matata” and “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” which practically begged to be played in soccer moms’ car stereos everywhere.
But what elevates the film to masterpiece status is Hans Zimmer’s immaculate score. Although now known for being the lead composer for DC Comics’ recent films (and popularizing the deafening “bwaa” sound used in trailers), the German composer achieved prominence with “The Lion King” long before he chose the path of superhero movies.
There’s a certain piece that brings an overwhelming blend of nostalgia and bewilderment to my beating heart. As track number six on the soundtrack, “This Land” provides an indescribable feeling — one filled with somberness and a dash of hope — and I can’t help but be in awe hearing the sweeping strings that crescendos into a tremendous ripple of instruments that overlay on top of one another. When I find myself listening to it, I can’t help but think to myself “Oh my God yes, I’ll never give up. I can do anything I set my mind to. This is my ultimate destiny.” It’s overdramatic as all hell, but that’s what happens when you find yourself listening to something so captivating — so endearingly beautiful. You can cry at certain scenes in the movie, but without Zimmer’s powerful score there wouldn’t be as many tears shed.
Remember Who You Are
There’s a truth bomb that Rafiki lays onto Simba after the encounter with his father’s ghost: “The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” It’s a very brief line, but Rafiki succinctly lays down the main lesson of the film. As a cub, Simba would often get into trouble, ultimately believing that his recklessness cost the life of his father. After the incident, he adopts a worry-free lifestyle and ultimately withholds his true responsibility as the rightful king of Pride Rock.
He decides to stand up for himself and face Scar after his father reminds him he needs to be the individual others need him to be. From the traumatic past, he overcomes his fears and embraces the future as the one true king of the Pride Lands.
For college students, Simba’s coming-of-age story is surprisingly relevant (without the whole evil uncle betrayal thing). At a time in our lives where we’re technically considered adults, but we’re not really adults, we come face-to-face with so many responsibilities that we sometimes just want to thrive in a worry-free environment and be around the best people we could possibly be with. But the real world isn’t like that. You have to hone up and face your responsibilities, no matter how much it pains you to do so. But where it counts is the family you have at your side — even the friends you’ve met that you are glad to call family. So just like Timon and Pumbaa, as long as it’s important to you, they’ll be there right next to you, physically or spiritually, until the very end.
“THE LION KING” IS AN ABIDINGLY ANIMATED WORK OF ART.
The One True King
With its themes and lessons of family and accepting responsibility, all accompanied by the masterwork of Zimmer’s score and Elton John’s soundtrack, “The Lion King” makes for one of the most riveting films of the “Disney Renaissance.” The film’s long-lasting legacy has touched the lives of millions around the world, and not just through the film itself. It has spawned one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time, and thanks to this feat, achieved the honor of being the top-earning title in box-office history, counting both film and the stage production. Its influence has also touched Disney parks all over the world and just recently, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, acknowledging its importance in the history of cinema.
“The Lion King” is an abidingly animated work of art. It provides the utmost amount of chills, smiles and tears any film could have. It’s hard not to love a film with infectious musical numbers and profound lessons that one can undoubtedly carry for the rest of one’s life. I find myself thinking back to June of 1994 and laughing at myself for how coincidental it is that I was born in the same month my favorite film of all time was released. It’s destiny I tell you, it’s destiny.