I have been living and breathing the story of Lion King over the past few months. I had the honor of directing Lion King Jr at a local school. I cherished the opportunity to bring to life one of my favorite stories… a story full of symbolism and meaning… a story that strengthens my faith.
While some may dismiss Disney’s masterwork, The Lion King, as a children’s story, they fail to see that, like most fairy-tales, it contains deep themes. A couple of these themes truly stand out for me. This is completely what the story says to me and really had no reflection on the people at Disney.
First, I’d like to suggest that the characters themselves are symbols in this story. Even the meanings of their names in Swahili give us insight into this story.
Mufasa = Jesus
Rafiki = the Holy Ghost or prophets; means friend
Simba – a child of God – you or me… the word means lion.
Scar = the great deciever
ZaZu= a disciple
Nala = family; means gift
Pumbaa mean slow witted.
the Hyenas = sin and temptation; Shenzi means savage; Banzai mean lurk or skulk;
The Pride Lands = all that God has to offer us in this life as part of The Plan
The Elephant Graveyard = temptation
The first image of a rising sun in “The Circle of Life” reminds me that every day is an opportunity. The Circle of Life is a new life. God allows new life to be born, for His glory, each day. The Circle of Life is a metaphor for the undeviating pattern of life and death. On the surface it looks like the lesson in the circle of life is there is a time and season for everything. Look deeper. There is more.
In the beginning of the story Mufasa explains to Simba that everything the light touches is “our” kingdom. This is a very symbolic message for me. Christ promises that all that the Father has will be our as we draw closer to the Savior through repentance and obedience. Simba then notices the “dark, shadowy place.” Mufasa tells him that it is beyond the borders of the kingdom and to never go there. This too is symbolic of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God includes all that the Light touches. God’s kingdom does not include darkness. In fact, Mufasa tells Simba deliberately “not” to do something. Jesus teaches that “no unclean thing can enter (and inherit) the kingdom of God.
Simba’s relationship to Mufasa mirrors my relationship with the Savior. Simba’s education and growth begins at the feet of his Father, Mufasa. He grows by following the path or the pattern of his Father. My spiritual education begins at the feet of the Savior. I grow as I follow in His footsteps and follow the path or pattern He has established. Mufasa is the perfect king. His mane is red (a symbol of the Atonement) and his fur is gold ( a symbol of his light and Majesty). Every step that he takes is a deliberate step in righteousness and power… a stark contrast to the slinking walk in the shadows of Scar. Jesus Christ is the perfect King. He is dressed in the robes of Power and Majesty. He walks in the light and radiates light, thus exposing what lurks in the shadows. Mufasa prefers the light and warns Simba about approaching the shadows. The Savior is Light and consistently invites His children to stay in the light and away from the shadows. Clearly, Simba looks up to Mufasa. He has a long way to go to be like his father. His little paw looks so small in the great foot print of Mufasa. Clearly, Simba must grow physically as well as spiritually. I look up to Jesus. Clearly, I have a long way to go to be like Him.
As a young cub, Simba does not understand the role of a king. “But I thought kings could do whatever they want,” he says. Scar even echoes this belief, “I am king. I can do whatever I want.” His selfish behavior echos the attitude of the Adversary, an attitude of self importance and a complete misunderstand of the role of a true leader. Mufasa teaches Simba that a real king, a true leader, serves those he leads. The Savior is the perfect example of serving those He leads. Through His example we can learn more about true leadership. Leadership requires sacrifice. I love how Mufasa lovingly teaches Simba. “Let me tell you something my father told me…” Jesus taught that he was teaching us what His Father taught Him. He teaches him that “brave” doesn’t mean looking for trouble. Mufasa is gentle and forgiving and shows his love is unconditional, all while making it clear that obedience is expected. This reminds me of how God can “lecture” me when I make a mistake, yet forgives with an increase of love.
In this story, Scar consistently attempts to disrupt the entire cycle in his quest for power. Scar keeps the company of the hyenas in the “underworld,” to stage his coup and the overthrow of the King. Scar is a typical archetype of a sinister antagonist. He is darker. He lurks in the shadows. He is cruel. He is sly. He is a deceiver. He is full of jealousy that Simba will inherit the kingdom instead of him. He is prideful. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride… It was through pride that the devil became the devil.” Scar is so prideful that he will do whatever it takes to make sure that Simba does not successfully inherit the kingdom… even murder. Sounds like someone you know, right? He is miserable and seeks to make others around him just as miserable. This is in great contrast to Mufasa who shows respect to the other creatures and seeks for the peace and well being of others.
Remember how Mufasa runs to the aid of Simba, just like the Savior runs to our aid? Mufasa risks his life to bring Simba back to the kingdom. He was willing to lay down his life to save Simba. I don’t think I need to explain that one.
An additional theme that stands out to me is the strong motif of water. Scar, the classic antagonist, is consistently trying to place Simba in water-less places. Instead of going to the water hole, Simba goes to the Elephant graveyard. The Gorge has no water. The desert the Hyenas chase Simba to has no water. Scar’s attempts to lead Simba away from water is an attempt to lead him away from a vital life source. The Adversary would like to lead us from Living Water. He leads us to shadowy places where temptations await to destroy us (like the hyenas). He is attempting to lead us away from our vital Life source. Water is a symbol of life, vital for survival. This reminds me of how anger, hate, disappointment, and sadness rob us of our happiness and, in a sense, life. Water also represents our ability to change, to grow, to develop, to flourish.
Even the thorns that Simba passes through reminds me of life lessons. These thorns symbolize the entanglement of lies that Scar places him in, preventing him from reaching his full potential. Satan is the father of lies. The lies he places in the hearts of men keep them from reach their full potential. Lies such as “there is no God,” “there is no sin,” “a little won’t hurt,” “God is not there and doesn’t listen to me,” and “I am not worth it.” These lies last a life time for many. They are hard to break free from. They mark a separation of man from a loving Father who longs to help and comfort.
Clearly, Scar also seeks to disrupt the internal and spiritual growth of Simba. Scar’s first big deception is to influence a young and curious Simba. He carefully leads him to Simba’s first sin – deliberately going against his Father’s orders. Sound familiar? Some might see Simba’s “running away” as really abandonment. I see it as a necessary part of his growth, much like The Fall is a necessary part of our growth. Through his experiences Simba develops the strength to defeat Scar. Only by reclaiming his “lost” self can Simba restore balance to the Pride Lands and to himself. Through the repentance process, we develop the strength to defeat our mistakes.
Rafiki serves the role of prophet and spiritual guide to Simba. At the beginning of the story, Rafiki anoints Simba, much like Samuel anointing a young King David, preparing him for his future role. Rafiki carries a staff, like Moses, a symbol of priesthood power and authority. Just as all prophets lead God’s people to see the hand of God and back into His fold, Rafiki leads Simba back to Mufasa. Rafiki reveals that “He lives in you.” Rafiki helps Simba to see… to break through the lies.
Mufasa: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba: No, How could I?
Mufasa: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.
Simba: How can I go back? I am not what I used to be.
Mufasa: Remember who you are. You are m y son and the one true king. Remember who you are.
Simba’s inherent royalty and divinity had been forgotten through a combination of Scar’s lies and Simba’s choice to leave. Our own identity is most truly defined by our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We were created to be His sons and His daughters. Simba’s greatest mistake really wasn’t that he ran away. His greatest failing was that in running away he turned his back on his father and the full measure of his creation. We need to remember the royal within us. We are His children. He watches over us. He wants us to return.
Sin is often presented as an act of forgetting, while salvation is often presented as the act of remembering (always remember Him). Simba begins his journey back by first remembering. Sin clouds the mind (Romans 1:21). We are transformed “by renewing [our] mind”(Romans 12:2). “Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace.” D. Todd Christofferson.
It is through water that Simba returns. In the water Simba is able too see his reflection. He is able to recognize his inner qualities and make the final change… a change that truly reflects his divinity. It is in the waters of baptism that we too begin that finally change. It is in the waters of baptism that we begin to see the Savior’s continence reflected in our own.
This classic coming-of-age story describes how a son matures into his father, becoming his full potential. Like Simba, these talented kids, along with each of you, bare divine royalty within. As we claw through life and learn each lesson, as we choose each day to rise to the occasion, we honor this divine royalty within us. When tragedy, despair, and the evils of the world surround us and try to take away our hope, we must remember to never forget who we are and whose we are. One of my favorite lines in the show is, “Remember. Remember who you are.” By remembering who we are we will bring light and life to others around us, fulfilling our true destiny. As we remember and act like children of a loving Heavenly Father, we will retain the knowledge of the great Plan of Happiness. We will remember our purpose in life.
There are a few other lessons that strike my attention:
- Scar plotting to kill his brother much like Cain plotting to kill his brother Abel, or Lucifer plotting to overthrow Jesus.
- How Simba returns, destroys Scar and brings peace back to the kingdom. Much like Jesus returning to destroy, once and for all, Satan to restore Peace in Him.
- The way Mufasa “appears” in the “sky” reminds me of how God communicates with His children… in their hearts and in their minds, through prophets and through visions, through his word and through prayer.
- The way Nala’s wisdom and hard-hitting truth convinces Simba to take up his responsibility to go back to Pride Rock reminds me of our responsibility to teach the truth to our friends and family through missionary work.
- I love when Rafika says, “Look harder.” Sometimes we need to look harder, hard enough to know God is with us. To look harder we must make right choices to help the world be a better place. We must listen to the Spirit. We must search His word. We must make hard choices to keep on the right side.
- When Simba confronts Scar about the murder of his father, Scar turns the blame on the hyenas saying they are the enemy. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
- Family. When it comes down to the most simple explanation this is a story of a family trying to avoid being screwed over by a very malicious family member. Oh… and what brings Simba back to Pride Rock is not power. It is the desire to be loyal to his family.
- This is a simple story of good vs. evil. Here “good” means “respect for all forms of life and for the laws of God. “Evil” means “total disregard for pretty much everything except yourself.”
- “Hakuna Matata” is probably a terrible philosophy to live by. In Swahili it means “no worries.” It is tempting to say “Hakuna Matata” to all the things that make us feel guilty. Keeping our sins hidden rather than repenting takes us off the path to eternal life. Only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ can we find our way back on track and be guilt free. Repentance is a change of heart, a fresh attitude. I know that trust and faith are a thing, but we must be aware that a little stress, a little guilt in life is what helps us to grow. However, constant worry is not good either. Mark Twain said, “I’ve had many worries in my life. Most of which have never happened.” If Simba can eat bugs and live worry free, so can I.
- True friends don’t let their friends be irresponsible. True friends stick by you through thick and thin. They forgive you for your mistakes. They encourage you to do what is right. Thanks Nala.
- We learn from our experiences. Accepting responsibility for our actions is what helps us to develop and grow.
- You must forgive yourself. Simba lived most of his life feeling sorry for himself and blaming himself for the death of his father. It wasn’t his fault. And I’d like to point out that feeling sorry for yourself never solves any problems. To quote Pumbaa, “You gotta put your past in your behind.”
- Avoid hyenas. What I mean is, avoid negative people. You know, liars, Debbie-downers, and the ones that steal your happiness. Surround yourself with people who uplift you and make you laugh.
- Running away doesn’t solve any of your problems. Face your problems. Don’t play the victim. The past really does hurt, but if you run from it, it will haunt you. We need to face our challenges with courage.
- Deep inside we have the power to accomplish great things. All we need to do is to realize “I CAN DO IT!”
- “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance.” It is best to respect that balance.
- A parents influence lasts forever.
I did my best best to incorporate these themes and lessons I see in Lion King throughout every aspect of the show, from the set and lights, to the costumes and makeup and to the choreography.
These are the messages I hope these kids remember always. I have completely LOVED this experience. I will cherish this experience forever.