The Lion King, which came out 20 years ago today, has inspired two direct-to-video follow-ups, two spin-off TV series, one Broadway adaptation, and millions of kids to question life itself. For a Disney flick, it’s shockingly filled with pathos — the goofiness is contained to Timon and Pumbaa and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and even that scene is followed by one in which Simba and Nala run away into an elephant graveyard. It’s easily the Mouse House’s most adult animated kids movie (and the 12th highest grossing film of all-time), and it’s been traumatizing kids for two decades. Here’s why.
1. When you’re a kid, your parents are perfect creature of perfection. They can do no wrong, and you think nothing scares them. You obviously learn the opposite is true when you become a moody, Smiths-loving teenager, but as a child, no one’s as strong-willed as your parents. So when Mufasa admits to Simba that he was scared, it’s a big moment between son and father, between movie and moviegoer, and between me and the concept that stars are actually dead lions.
2. Disney wasn’t even trying to hide it. The goose-stepping, the idolization of a single terrifying leader, the resemblance to the Cathedral of light that was featured in many Nuremberg Rallies — dem hyenas are Nazis. Be prepared for questions about Hitler, mom, dad, and/or closest living relative.
3. I still think about the term “elephant graveyard” at least once a week. There’s something eerily macabre about those words put together, and not JUST because it’s a burial ground for dead elephants. Get a look at this slice of sad pie: “An elephants’ graveyard is a place where, according to legend, older elephants instinctively direct themselves when they reach a certain age. They then die there alone, far from the group.” That’s a nice lesson to teach the youngsters. You’re going to get old, and rot away to bone without your loved ones. Hakuna matata!
4. Incest. So much incest.
5. Not only is Scar “helping” Mufasa fall to his demise a horrifying kids movie death — it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Quentin Tarantino joint. (Pulp Fiction…BUT WITH LIONS.) I remember not knowing how to process Scar’s cruel villainy when I first saw The Lion King. I had been trained to expect that at the last second, Mufasa would find a way to, I dunno, sport wings and fly away to safety. NOPE. He dead.
6. Not only is he dead, but Simba blames HIMSELF. Let’s see, The Lion King is about: guilt, incest, murder, Nazis, starvation, arranged marriages, graveyards, closeted gay parrots afraid to embrace their sexuality, and lions doing IT (see below), which is heavy sh*t for a young lass or lad of seven to process. I’m still not sure I have, which is why whenever I get a chance, I push family members off a cliff into a pack of wildebeest. Someone should really do something about Texas’ infamous wildebeest problem.
7. And worst of all, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” It’s been traumatizingly BORING for 20 years, and it’ll send kids to sleep for generations to come. That’s when mom and dad sneak away for a shot. Or 12.