There is a natural order to the jungle. Animals routinely slaughtered by lions accept their fate in the circle of life and, in fact, trek miles to bow at the birth of one who will one day be their new chief slaughterer – Simba. But Simba has an uncle, Scar, who has been passed over by Simba’s birth. So Scar implicates the son in the death of the father (Mufasa), while making a pact with the rapacious, vicious hyenas. The father is killed. Simba must flee after he is designated for murder. Scar rules, ravishing the land. The land dies, not because of the slaughter – that’s the natural order of things – but because Scar is lazy and a glutton and he allows the hyenas to slaughter without economic management. The lions respect the royal line, and continue to kill, however unhappily, at Scar’s command.
And Simba? He leaves, finds a warthog and a mercat, and lives the bohemian lifestyle. He becomes a vegetarian. He lives a life bereft of responsibility. He is away from weighty decisions. He is personally, individually, happy. Hakuna matata. But soon, his old love (to whom he was promised to be betrothed in an arranged fashion as a cub) finds him, and asks him to return. Simba refuses. He is angry. She has intruded upon his summer of love. “You don’t know anything about me or what I’ve been through” he snarls, as only a self-possessed individualist can snarl.
Next, Rafiki, the religious leader of the tribe, finds Simba, and conjures up the ghost of Mufasa, who reminds Simba that he is more than some San Francisco hippie- he is royalty. “Remember who you are” the ghost intones. Simba returns to the pride, confronts Scar, and gives him a choice – be banished or die. Scar blames the hyenas, feigns cowardice and lunges at Simba. Simba dashes Scar over a cliff, to his death (Scar does not die, but injured, is set upon by the hyenas who overheard his attempt to foist responsibility for the coup and ensuing disaster on them).
Simba assumes the throne. His well-placed mercat and warthog pal are exempted from slaughter as they now sit in his court. He is served by the same majordomo bird who served his father. The films ends with the birth of a new king, and the same animals traveling to give that king – their soon-to-be killer in the great circle of life – their fealty.
This is Disney’s most surreptitiously conservative film. Loved it.