Feel the Love: The Lion King

             Shockingly, this will be the hardest chapter for me to write. When you love something as much as I love The Lion King, it’s hard to put into words—even for a writer. In addition to my immense LK love, I know so much about it. I could write an entire book just on Lion King. My favorite college paper was one I wrote for advanced Shakespeare—about this film (you would be surprised how many Disney films wormed their way into my papers. Or maybe you wouldn’t. If you’re thinking I often wrote about Disney, you’d be right.).
            My love affair with The Lion King began in 1994, the year it was theatrically released. As it happened, I was staying with my aunt in Pryor, the one I’ve mentioned before. We were sitting in her living room, and I was trying to convince her to take me to see The Lion King. She was concerned it would be too emotionally trying for me. We were sitting on opposite ends of her couch, the morning sunlight slanting through the blinds, with the morning paper in the middle seat between us. On the front page, or the front page of the Arts section, was a giant, color photograph of Simba and Mufasa under the stars together (those familiar with the film will realize this is the scene immediately preceding the stampede). Having read the article and its warning about the emotional distraught brought on by Mufasa’s heartbreaking death, she was trying to gauge my desire to see the movie versus the amount I cry when animals die in movies. Finally, she sighed.
            “This movie will be sad. He dies,” she said, pointing to Mufasa. I nodded solemnly, as I didn’t yet have an emotional attachment to Mufasa. “If I take you to this movie, will you promise not to cry? Remember, it’ll be sad. The paper says it’s really, really sad.”
            “I promise. I won’t cry,” I said, excited that we’d be going to the Allred and seeing Disney’s summer release as we did every summer.

            Fast forward to later in the day. We’re sitting in a dark theatre, surrounded by other kids and their parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents. There’s the usual occasional whispering as an adult explains to a kid what’s going on. The fans whirred softly, moving the icy cold air around the theatre. I see Mufasa and Simba lying under the stars, with Mufasa alluding to death. I’ve completely forgotten he dies, and wouldn’t expect a main character to die this early in the film anyway. The next scene opens, with Scar leading Simba into the gorge. The hyenas cause a stampede. Mufasa rushes to save Simba; I hold my breath as he bounds through the charging wildebeests, puts Simba safely on a rock. I gasp involuntarily when Mufasa is ripped from Simba by the horns of a wildebeest, and relax a little when I see him climbing a sheer rock wall to safety. Then, Scar, the claws, “Long live the king.” Mufasa falls, back down, into a sea of whirly dust. I’m still not worried, cats always land on their feet, right? Right? My eight-year-old brain is trying to convince me that this isn’t where it happens, the movie is still in the beginning, practically.
            Simba rushes back into the gorge, looking for Mufasa. He finds him, tried to make him get up, calls for help. I’m biting my lip so hard it starts bleeding, just to keep from crying. Tears cloud my eyes, distorting the large screen in front of me. I hear a hiccup and look to my right, where my aunt is sitting. She’s sobbing. That is so not fair! She said I wasn’t allowed to cry! At that point, I finally let the tears I’d been holding back cascade down my little eight-year-old face. From that moment on, I always cry when Mufasa dies. I can’t not shed a tear. He’s Mufasa; he’s amazing and wonderful and I love him.
            From the first time I saw the film in theatres that day, I was in love with it. I still am; I watch The Lion King fairly regularly and coincidentally have to leave the room around the time Scar leads Simba into the gorge. Emotionally, I can’t take it. The funeral isn’t much better; Sarabi and Nala’s reactions always broke my heart. Now, as an adult—even one without children—I can’t imagine anything worse than losing your child. To lose your child and your husband in one day is just too unbearable.
            Last September, I was offered a rare but glorious treat: Lion King returned to theatres for two weeks in 3D. I may have seen it three times (in two weeks…). It was glorious and wonderful, and exceeded every expectation I had. I will forever be haunted by a 3D Scar jumping through the fire, trying to attack Simba.
Imagine THAT in 3D!

When the Blu-ray version came out a few weeks later, and conveniently right before my birthday, I bought it the day it was released. I sat down, watched the entire movie twice (once with commentary, once without), marveled at the amazing quality combination of Blu-ray and hand drawn animation, and watched all of the special features. I was entranced and in a Lion King coma for over four hours. I am obsessed, I can admit it. But it isn’t a problem; it’s like being in love with someone. Except it’s a few fictional someone’s. That’s not weird at all.
            My LK love is also the reason why my sweet collie, Charlie, thinks he’s a lion. I ‘adopted’ Charlie my freshman year of high school. During that time, my overactive imagination and impeccable memory had plagued me with terrible nightmares. In a preventative measure, I started playing the LK DVD in my room every night as I drifted off to sleep. I had the sound turned low and fell asleep before ‘Be Prepared’, and it significantly reduced the number of times I woke up, covered in sweat and thinking someone was trying to murder me. When Charlie came into the picture, he slept in my room. Being a seven week old puppy, he mostly slept during the day while I was at school. At night, he would lay at the foot of my bed (which faced the T.V.), or on the floor, and actively watch the movie. Since I got him when he was so young, he didn’t have many learned animal behaviors yet. He learned how to carry himself from watching animated lions every night. If you watch him closely, you’ll see it: he yawns largely, and groans simultaneously; he moves his shoulders vertically as he walks; and he lays predominantly on one side. His big fluffy collie-mane makes him look even more lion-like.

Puppy Pouncing Lessons

            While watching LK for this project, I made myself sit through the stampede. As I cuddled with Nala on the couch, I realized Layla was laying in front of the fireplace, actively watching the movie. So much so that when James walked up near her, she slowly turned her head away from the screen—as if she were tearing herself away. So apparently LK love doesn’t just belong to Charlie and me; Layla is now a fan too (I’d say Nala as well, but she doesn’t focus on any one thing for long enough to watch a movie). Of course my Nala is named after the Nala of the film; yet when Nala’s name is said on screen, she doesn’t seem to notice (sadly).
            I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts about the movie. James’ favorite fact is that the opening “Circle of Life” song was done in just one take, an hour before Hans Zimmer had to show it to the executives working on the film. The original film opening was dialogue heavy, to set the scene and plot up for the audience. When the directors and producer heard Hans Zimmer’s score accompanied by Lebo M.’s chant and the singing of “Circle of Life”, they changed the entire opening sequence of the film to include his entire score. For the trailer of the movie, they played that song and the opening sequence and had the big “The Lion King” letters slam onto the screen at the end, just like in the beginning of the movie. It caused the exact stir and anticipation they wanted.
            I know that in just the last chapter I said Alan Menken was my favorite composer. But he and Hans Zimmer are tied for first. I don’t know how I could have left out Hans Zimmer. Both composers write the most beautiful film scores I’ve ever heard. Alan Menken does Pocahontas and others, while Hans Zimmer did LK and Gladiator, among others as well. These two composers are the sole reason I listen to instrumental music. Before I heard their movie scores, I didn’t much pay attention how much music affects the movie. I saw it as just another part of film making, nothing that really makes or breaks a movie. I know so much better now, and I hate that I ever disregarded scores. It took the breathtaking work of these two revolutionary, amazing composers to make me see the light.
            During pre-production and production, LK was considered the ‘B’ movie, a summer release to tide fans over until the release of Pocahontas in 1995. The directors had to beg animators to come work on their film, except for the few who were animal lovers and just wanted to animate animals. The troupe that worked on LK was given a lot of opportunity. Many animators had never been a character lead animator before. The group that made this marvelous movie took this opportunity to show what they were capable of, and boy are they a talented group. They blew everyone’s minds.
            From the time I learned what a symbol was, I’ve loved the symbolism in LK. My favorite is when Simba steps into Mufasa’s paw print and realizes how much he must grow to be like the father he loves so much. The sheer amount of symbolism and modern dramatic mechanisms in LK is incomprehensible.
            Ironically, Elton John had to fight to keep ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ in the movie. Initially, the studio execs wanted to cut it. I’m not sure why or what motivated them to do so, but Elton John (Sir Elton John?) fought to keep it, and it’s a good thing he did—it won an Academy Award for Best Song. The other songs in the category were mostly from LK as well.
            There are many reasons why I love LK, but it basically boils down the this: LK is Bambi in Africa with Hamlet. One of the production crew even nicknamed it ‘Bamlet’. I’ve loved Shakespeare a long, long time. I’ve loved animals even longer. LK is an animated, animal filled Shakespearean play. What’s not to love?!

            The Lion King is still the top-grossing, traditionally animated (not solely CGI) movie in film history. The Broadway show is one of the longest running Broadway shows in history. Both have won numerous awards. It’s also the only film I’ve ever watched the entire movie with the audio commentary. Clearly I’m not the only one with Lion King love.

Our Alaskan lion


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