Disney’s “The Lion King” is a hit, making nearly $200 million in its first weekend. All this is thanks in no small part to the full court press marketing campaign, combined with a hungry new audience that wants to see something different, and an older audience that wants to see something familiar. This movie gives them both what they want.
All prevailing indicators seem to be signaling Disney will eventually be taking over the world… and though they will accomplish this without the use of a Death Star, they have purchased one just in case.
My kids were in the 1994 version of this film’s wheelhouse. We saw it in the theaters, we purchased the DVD, and it seemed to run on a continuous loop in our household for years. Which makes me a kind of expert — or the survivor of a popular culture mind control experiment.
The main thrust of the plot remains the same — and that’s a good thing. It means this new computer-generated version of the original still has Simba, young and impetuous, getting into trouble precisely because he does not heed his father’s advice. As Disney also produces a torrent of content where the adults must “learn” from the children, I always appreciated that aspect of “The Lion King.” Score one for the parents.
It’s not a new story, but in today’s culture, where so much common sense is sacrificed on altars of political correctness, it’s now a source of novelty where a traditional parent, upholding traditional values, is presented as a standard to live up to rather than an imperious obstacle to tear down.
Love, taking responsibility for your actions, honoring one’s parents… these are the elements in “The Lion King” that make it a worthwhile movie-going experience. But, and you knew one was coming, there is another element in the story that always bothered me, even after watching the film for the 157th time on our old DVD player. If one can even suggest there are metaphysical elements to a cartoon, it exists in “The Lion King” with the introduction of the seemingly cyclical nature of life. Hey, I feel a song coming on.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the pagan world adored circles. It makes sense. Pagan people looked up into the sky at night and saw a circle. They woke up the next day and they, you guessed it, saw a circle. They could observe that nature went through cycles… the seasons changed regularly, and births in the animal world were calculated by these changes. And pagan human beings were born, grew up — if they didn’t find a stone, bronze or iron axe in their head first — and died in a cyclical fashion.
Look at Stonehenge, look at the Pantheon in Rome… circles everywhere. “The Lion King” loves its circles as well and is decidedly neopagan in the celebration of this shape.
The problem with circles, though, is that if you follow them to where they lead, they don’t lead anywhere. Yes, people are born, they grow old and they die… and depending on the soil, flowers may pop up on top of pagan burial mound where their bones were deposited.
It was a way for pagans to make sense out of a world that was full of mystery, like those giant circles in both the night and day skies. But something happened right in the middle of the apex of pagan civilization. I mean, can you get any higher than the scope and breadth of ancient Rome? The Romans certainly didn’t think so, and neither did all of those “lesser” civilizations the Romans were more than happy to “Romanize.”
All but one. An obstinate backwater outpost where Roman civil servants went to watch their political careers shrivel up and die like one of John the Baptist’s breakfast locusts. And contrary to Roman mythology of 33 AD (sorry, I just can’t bring myself to use CE, even though I just did), or Disney mythology of 2019 AD, the God of the Hebrews and his Son drew a line right down the middle of those pagan circles in a vertical orientation.
It was a radical world view, one the pagan world would be slow on the uptick with, but one the people of Israel, at least those who dropped everything to follow the man with the upward message about life, its purpose, and our final true destination, were happy to follow, because it kept them from running in circles.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. His column Ad Rem won second place in the “Best regular column: Arts, leisure, culture, and food” category at the Catholic Press Awards in 2019. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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