Walt Disney’s The Lion King is one of my all-time favourite movies. As a child I would watch it time after time, being amused and enthralled by each scene as if it were my first time watching. For those who haven’t watched it, do so!
In short, it’s a story of a lion cub who is heir to the throne as king of the jungle. It follows his journey through life, highlighting all the trials and tribulations he goes through along the way, and as one would expect from Disney, we meet a myriad of comical characters throughout his journey. As a 6 year old, I took what was shown to me in the movie as gospel, but as I’ve grown and come to understand the way of the wild a little better, I slowly realised that the Disney team made full use of their poetic license.
It’s certainly not my intention to take anything away from the movie but I do feel it my ranger duty to debunk one or two unfair myths about the characters.
Zazu: (Based on the commonly seen african bird, the hornbill.) Brilliant! If I were to personify this bird using the experiences I’ve had watching them, Disney nailed it! The voice of the great Rowan Atkinson to accompany this character is spot on. Whenever I watch these comical birds I can’t help but giggle. They may know the in and outs of all the happenings of the bush having a bird’s eye view of everything, but they are way to clumsy and ditzy to be in control. Just when they seem to have it all figured out, someone or something throws a curve ball for them and it all comes tumbling down, sending them into a panic and having to recover.
Timon & Pumbaa: (The meerkat and the warthog.) Pretty close. “Hakuna matata..” – It means no worries. This is the philosophy that these two larger-than-life characters live by. When observing these two animals in the wild it comes pretty close for both of them when everything is going smoothly, seemingly going about their daily business pretty unfazed. There is however most certainly danger lurking around most corners for these two mammals. In the form of teeth, claws, talons, fangs; most predators would enjoy snacking on either of these two. So there are some worries, but Disney made use of that poetic license in a small way.
Simba & the Pride: As I said previously, I’m certainly not trying to take anything away from the movie; its fantastic! The lion pride dynamics are slightly off though. Simba, born into the pride as a young male, is heir to the throne held by his father, Mufasa. This is unfortunately not the case in most natural systems. Lion dynamics work in such a way that young males will eventually disperse from the pride at a certain age in order to spread the gene pool around the natural system. If Simba were to stay in the pride and eventually take over, he would end up having relations with females related to him. Nature will try not to allow this, therefore the young males move off and find territory elsewhere, ideally ending up with females who they aren’t related to.
The relationship between Mufasa and Scar.. well… It’s fantastic to have a villain in the story – most classics do – but again the scenario painted in the movie is not often true in natural systems. When young male lions leave the pride, they often leave as a group. Be it two, three or four, these young males usually stay together and form coalitions. This ensures safety and betters their chances of gaining territory. Mufasa and Scar, being brothers, would more than likely share the territory – or should I say “everywhere the light touches”. Pride rock unfortunately DOES NOT exist, lions make use of their whole territory to hunt and rest. If pride rock were real, ranger’s and tracker’s lives would be a lot easier as we would always know where to find lions and not have to track them for hours on end.
The Hyenas: The hyenas in the lion king are a treat. They are basically Scar’s minions and do all the dirty work for him. They are a fantastic addition to the movie, but this is where I feel Disney were unfair and got the representation completely wrong. They portray hyenas as dirty stupid animals. Dirty at times, yes, but stupid, definitely not! Hyenas are some of the more intelligent animals in the wild. Working together or as individuals they can be extremely successful predators or scavengers. Yes they sometimes steal food from other animals, but it’s an easier option; they are clever enough to work that out; why waste energy? They are one of the most important members of the clean up crew of the bush. Without hyenas in the system, disease would be a lot more prominent and spread much more. They are certainly a very integral part of the ecosystem, and don’t even like lions, let alone work for one. I feel Disney owe the hyenas on the planet an apology.
I sure hope this hasn’t come across as cynical or pessimistic, it certainly was not my intention – I love The Lion King. I merely wanted to iron out some false ideas of certain animals in the wild, and give some characters the credit they deserve. I hope The Lion King is now in the downloads file of your computer.