The New Lion King Missed the Point, But Not in the Way You Might Think…

Images from Unsplash compiled by Jeanell Innerarity

I was crying within moments at the new Lion King remake, and the waterworks continued ’til the end.

The CGI was amazing. The creators were spot on with capturing the feeling of the original while re-imagining it from a modern perspective. The virtual reality was stunning in its real-ness.

I felt the sinewy lions right in front of me.

The muscles and wrinkles on the powerful rhinoceros were exquisite in their detail.

The elephants were believable, gentle giants.

And in that, Disney has succeeded once again in creating a fantasy world where we can escape for a minute and forget that the beings they display are in current, dire danger. It was all I could do to moderate my grief in a public theater.

Right now, lions are dying at the hands of big game hunters and habitat destruction. The western black and northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild. Elephants are still subject to ivory poachers. And the land? It’s looking increasingly like Scar’s kingdom rather than Mufasa’s.

How do I reconcile the 45 million dollars spent on re-making this film, and the $433 million in box office revenue it raked in during its first three days worldwide, with the reality of the animals it anthropomorphized?

The film itself — albeit from an inverted patriarchal framework (real lion prides are very much led by the lionesses, not the “king”) — conveys a powerful message of ecological respect and social balance. “Don’t over-hunt or over-harvest” is a core theme. But how many of the people going to see this film have ever hunted or harvested anything? How many are relating this message to their everyday reality? Are you?

If you’re not, then the message remains in the realm of fantasy. The film is a nice way to spend an evening, not a call to grief for ecological destruction, and then a call to action. The Lion King has a happy ending. Our environmental situation? Maybe not so much.

Grief comes first. If you can’t touch into the grief, if you’re already numb, then you’ll seek more and more entertainment while the destruction carries on. 150–200 species of animals go extinct, mostly as a result of human-caused harm, every 24 hours. That’s roughly 8 species vanished from the planet in the time it takes to watch The Lion King. Baby Simba is so effing adorable. If you care about Simba, translate that to real-world cubs.

Money comes next. If Hollywood made a film based on the life of a person, they would have to pay that person royalties. Imagine for a moment that Disney cared so much about the message they’re representing with this film that they gave a 1% royalty — ONE. FRIGGING. PERCENT. — to an organization that works to stop poaching. Based on the movie’s first three days alone, that would be over $4 million to help protect actual lions, elephants, and all the other beloved creatures of the African savanna whose Hollywood songs have become our anthems.

The movie would still be just as fun, visually enticing, and entertaining, but it would be connected to the times in which we live. The update would be actually relevant. If the movie began and ended with a brief announcement about the filmmakers’ contribution, all the better — free P.R. and public education.

The film was really good. It was realistic and evocative enough to bring me to tears, even if not for the reasons the filmmakers may have intended. It was nostalgic with a refreshing twist. It was fun. And anthropomorphizing animals is a great strategy if it helps us see the world from their point of view, but if it aids in the disconnect, if you walk out of the theater still thinking animals are dumb beasts and talking lions are a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, then you’ve missed the actual voice of the lions and the film is reduced to paltry entertainment. That’s not only a waste of money, but also a disservice to life itself.

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