Animation Review Part Five: Howard Ashman’s Death, The Lion King, And The Fall of the Disney Renaissance

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Things were all handy dandy for the Disney studio after releasing increasingly successful films now labeled as part of the “Disney Renaissance.” The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast. Aladdin. These classics were all released in a time span of three years. The Disney renaissance marked a renewed interest in the general public about animation and about the Disney company. People sang their songs, watched their films, and bought their merchandise. To put it simply, Disney was once again relevant in mainstream American culture at levels not replicated since the time of Walt Disney himself.


Much of this success has been attributed to three major players: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Alan Menken, and the late Howard Ashman. While Katzenberg struck the necessary tone for his workers to be productive and Menken wrote some of Disney’s most memorable tunes, I’d like to credit Ashman for being the true motivator of the resurgence in quality from Disney’s animation department. I know this because after he died, Disney produced what has to be one of the worst films of their repertoire, The Lion King. Call me crazy, but The Lion King was an early indicator for the fall of the Disney renaissance. Coherent stories with lovable characters and thematically resonate messages are no where to be found in what has to considered one of Disney’s most overrated movies of all time.


The beginning scene of The Lion King sets the stage for the birth of a great new prince with majestic effect. This was largely in part of the animation. The animation is consistently fluid and colorful and what’s more, the soundtrack is amazing throughout the entire movie. No easy feat, and at least in this sense, this movie does offer something to its audiences. From an animation standpoint, this movie is a masterpiece. But unfortunately, this is where the compliments end. Let’s progress to the story…


Zazu delivers a message to Scar telling him that Mufasa is angry at him for missing the ceremony of his son, the future king. Scar, as Mufasa’s brother, clearly feels he was the one entitled to the throne after Mufasa, and through his sarcastic apologies we can see that Scar missed the ceremony on purpose. Whew, at least Disney gave Scar a reason to be evil.


Maybe what’s more interesting about the dialogue, however, is that we get some insight as to how Mufasa dies.

“I wouldn’t dream of challenging you… as far as brains go I got the lions share, but when it comes to brute strength, well, I am afraid that I am on the shallow end of the gene pool.”

In these subtle lines of dialogue, Disney hints that Scar will overthrow Mufasa using his intelligence. So far, so good.


I’m not sure if Disney was trying to be ironic with this, but we leave that graceful picture of our newly born price held up by that baboon to the same lion head-butting his father to wake up. I don’t know, he turns out to be… sort of… annoying.


Mufasa, as promised, wakes up and gives Simba a quick outlook on the beautiful kingdom. When Simba asks about the elephant graveyard, Mufasa immediately tells him NEVER to go there. Scar then tells Simba to NEVER go to the elephant graveyard.


“Hey Nala, come on I just heard about this great place.” Oh great, he can’t go to the more than likely dangerous graveyard alone, could he?
“I’m brushing up on looking down.” Uh…
“Free to do it all my way!” Uh…


I hope he doesn’t become king.


So they go to the graveyard… lying to Zazu on the way. Wait a second, let’s take a count on the number of elders that Simba lied to: Mufasa, Scar, his mother, and Zazu. That is four! Four elders that Simba has lied to. And we’ve only been 20 minutes into the movie. That’s a lie every 5 minutes. Thanks for making a protagonist that I actually like Disney.


Mufasa saves his son for some reason, and gives his son a lesson. I must say here though that Mufasa is an awesome father. How is his son so disobedient and selfish?


We then cut to a scene of Scar singing about how he will kill Mufasa and Simba, and then he almost accomplishes his goals employing a well-thought out plan. In this fashion, we see how brains beat brute strength. Wait a second, but Mufasa never got a chance to prove his intelligence. I mean, how is trying to save his son an indication of a lack of brains? Good try making use of earlier characterizations Disney…


And to close the first part of the movie, Simba escape! Man, what a truly tragic first half of a movie we got here.


Sorry, I couldn’t help myself—back to being serious.


Scar delivers the tragic news to the rest of the herd that both Mufasa and Simba have passed away. Disney gives more screen time to that baboon guy and we see Simba again. He is met by two obnoxious characters. One is portrayed as stupid but well-natured, and the other is… well…


“Hey, I got it, what if he’s on our side, you know, having a lion around might not be a bad idea… who’s the brains in this outfit?”

EVIL! You know who this sounds like? Yeah, Scar.


And again with the brains thing Disney… is this a theme that you’re trying to explore?

Pumbaa then asks Simba, “What did you do kid?”

“Something terrible.” Whoa whoa whoa. Hold the breaks here. What did Simba do? Really. I’m being serious. Wait, why is the movie progressing? Stop the film! You need to tell us what Simba did! Hello? Is anybody writing this thing???


Timon, in response, tells Simba, “When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.”

Simba says, “Well, that’s not what I was told.” Maybe that’s because Simba had a good father… I’m glad that Simba retained some of the lessons Mufasa taught him.

And then, and then, we get the most misleading phrase to sum up what Timon is trying to teach Simba: Hakuna Matata. For more on how I feel about this particular song, I have written a separate post on it, which will be posted later.


During the song, we witness Simba grow up in this paradise land following this philos… wait, what? SIMBA GROWS UP??? What was the point of watching Simba be… annoying if he wasn’t going to keep any of his characteristics? Now he’s just… boring. I don’t know who this guy is anymore. Sure he’s not annoying anymore, but we have Simba 2.0 here. He resembles nothing of old Simba. Why not just start the movie here and somehow incorporate the circumstances… all that time spent in developing Simba as a disobedient, selfish, and annoying prince was useless!!!


Sigh… the review must go on…


We are sent back to see how Pride Rock is doing, and it’s quite… terrible. But wait, I don’t really understand why. Wasn’t Scar supposed to be smart? I mean, sure, maybe he miscalculated that joining the hyenas with the lions would amount to a… drought that wipes out all the green grass, but wasn’t that a GOOD thing? I mean, the hyenas are established as a sort of lower class representation, so how is giving them the luxuries of the upper class lions such a bad thing? I mean, come on, did these lions work their way up to the upper-class? But no, Pride Rock needs to suck when Scar is at helm, so it does.


Then we are sent back to the paradise location, where Timon makes fun of Simba for what he thinks are the “sparkling, dots are up there (stars).” Yeah, you know, watching Timon making fun of his… peers for what they think is sure making me like him. And this cannot be continued to be ignored; Disney has messed up seriously on its characters. Simba is either annoying or boring, Timon is border-line evil, and the very loyal Zazu is depicted as this sort of slave. I don’t know why our heroes are our heroes anymore. Simba simply has the royal blood, Timon is… funny, and I don’t really know why I’m supposed to be enjoying seeing Zazu being treated like a slave. Are we supposed to want Simba to take the helm away from Scar? What if he becomes selfish again with all the power? These are all questions that have yet to be addressed.






Baboon guy gets more screen time. Pumbaa gets attack by Nala, but then Simba comes to save the day by fending her off…


“See I told you that he’d come in handy.” Shut up Timon!

and then Nala does her signature pin on Simba, and so Simba realizes that this is Nala! They rejoice…

“Everyone thinks you’re dead! Yeah, Scar told us about the stampede.” Uh, Simba, tell her that Scar lied to you.
“What else did he tell you?” *Face palm*

Simba explains the situation to his… peers…

Simba: Look, I’m still the same guy
Timon: But with power!
Shut up Timon!

Goes on a date with Nala…

“I tell you Pumbaa, this stinks! Our trio is down to two!”
Shut up Timon!

Cue in love song!


“So many things to tell her, but how to make her see, the truth about my past, impossible. She’d turn away from me.” Uh… did Simba get a zit when he was growing up? I mean, seriously, what are you afraid of? Just tell us what you did already.

“Why won’t he be the king I know he is.” Are you referring to the lying, self-centered Simba 1.0?

And then, finally, some logic is displayed on the part of Nala…

“But I don’t understand something, you’ve been alive on this time. Why didn’t you come back to pride rock?” Yeah, Simba, explain yourself. Were you fat as a teenager?
“I can’t go back” Why not?
“Why?” Yeah, Simba; explain yourself.
“You wouldn’t understand” Why not?
“What wouldn’t I understand?” Yeah, Simba; explain yourself.
“No, no, no. It doesn’t matter, Hakuna Matata.” Oh boy, not this phrase again.

You know what Simba, I’m beginning to think that you think you killed your father or something. But that’d be ridiculous. I mean, Scar PUT Simba 1.0 on that rock. “Just stay on this rock” said Scar. “You might want to work on that little roar of yours” said Scar. I mean, sure you didn’t see Scar kill Mufasa, but you certainly didn’t kill him either. Blame those animals in the stampede! Yeah, okay, at least we knocked out one of the possibilities explaining Simba’s strange behavior.

“What happened to you? You’re not the Simba I remember.” Are you referring to the lying, self-centered Simba 1.0? Disney, stop trying to refer to Simba 1.0 as some noble prince. He wasn’t! This can be a tale of a prince who learns how to be king, but not if the prince had nothing to change in the first place. You need to focus your efforts on being consistent. This movie is a mess.


We witness Simba and Nala’s first fight, after their 5 minute relationship, and then Simba goes away to get some space. He calls out to his dad, “You said you’d always be there for me, but you’re not, and it’s all because of me.” Uh, how so Simba? I stress this to you again, depressed Simba 2.0, you didn’t kill your father.


Then the baboon guy makes his father appear in the clouds? To be honest, I don’t know what his role in this move is, but he seems wise.


Mufasa-cloud-version convinces Simba 2.0 to ditch Hakuna Matata and he runs home to “save” Pride Rock.


“Hey what’s going on here! Who’s the monkey?” Shu… Oh wait, Timon actually asks a legitimate question.


Simba sees Pride Rock for the first time since a while, and then Nala arrives, pledging her alliance to Simba. Timon and Pumbaa actually shows up too… for unexplained reasons… and I guess when the film needs them to be good friends, they are.


Scar: I’m king, I can do whatever I want. [Hmm, who does that remind you of?]
*Slaps Simba’s mother*
Cue in lightning!
*Simba tends to his mother*


Mother: Simba? You’re alive? How can that be? [Umm… maybe Scar lied to you? Go on, tell them the truth Simba.]
Simba: Doesn’t matter, I’m home. [What do you mean that it doesn’t matter? Tell your mother that Scar lied to your face!]


Scar: I’d hate to be responsible for the death of a family member. [Hmm… is Scar actually going to admit that he killed Mufasa? This is turning out to be a strange ending.]
Simba: That’s not going to work Scar. I’ve put it behind me. [Uhh… what is Scar up to again? I thought he was going to admit that he was responsible for Mufasa’s death or something here. And what do you mean you’ve put it behind? What did you put behind?]
Scar: And what about your faithful subjects, have they put it behind them? [What’s happening? Lions, attack Scar! Stop staring at him; he lied to your face. Simba isn’t dead! He’s rightful king!]
Nala: Simba, what is he talking about? [Yes! I like this girl. Explain to us please.]
Scar: Ahh!!! So you haven’t told them you’re secret. Well, Simba, now’s your chance to tell them; tell them who is responsible for Mufasa’s death. [Umm… what are you talking about Scar, you are the one who killed Mufasa.]
Simba: I am.


HAHAHA very funny Simba… holy smokes, is he not joking? Wait a second, are the lions really this stupid? Scar told you guys that Simba was DEAD. He is clearly ALIVE, making him a LIAR. He also told you guys that mufasa died in a STAMPEDE; he didn’t say ANYTHING about Simba being “responsible for Mufasa’s death.” Is anybody, not one single lion, going to question Scar’s honesty? Not a single lion is going to ask HOW Scar knows this sort of information? Not even Zazu, who got slapped by Scar at the incident of Mufasa’s death, is going to question Scar’s claims? NOT A SINGLE LION IS GOING TO ASK HOW A TINY CUB WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF HIS OWN FATHER?!? BECAUSE IF SOMEBODY ASKED, THEN IT WOULD BE OBVIOUS THAT SIMBA WAS NOT AT ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER!!!


Scar: Now, this looks familiar. Hmm… where have I seen this before? Oh yes, I remember, this is just the way your father looked before he died. And here’s my little secret: I killed Mufasa.



You know what Disney, here’s my little secret: this movie SUCKS.

The End

Hi there. A less emotionally-invested Kevin Tae is talking now.

The last thing I would like to discuss before I close what I hope is a deal-breaking argument against The Lion King’s reputation is a discussion on what The Lion King is ultimately about. I think when it comes down to it, this is actually the biggest problem I have with this movie. It’s not the plot holes; it’s not the useless characters; it’s not the forced romance. It’s that The Lion King lacks direction, it lacks intention, it lacks justification—it lacks a meaningful message.

For argument’s sake, I’ll give you anything you want. Sure, Simba is acting just like how a kid should/does act. Sure, the fact that Simba was acting like a kid makes Mufasa’s death more profound because he feels guilty about himself as a person. Sure, Hakuna Matata is a bad philosophy, but it was good for Simba at the time. Sure, Nala’s childhood relationship justifies a romance between them. Sure, the cloud was just an artistic way to articulate Rafiki’s teachings. Sure, Simba’s experience with Rafiki was so profound that it made him ditch Hakuna Matata. Sure, Timon and Pumba’s experience with Simba was so profound that it made them ditch Hakuna Matata. Sure, gravity doesn’t exist. I’ll give you all of that.

Even if you interpret the plot’s occurrences in this fashion, there is no feasible way to get past the ending: it just makes no sense. Sure, Simba goes through this journey from a noble but also selfish prince to an ill-responsible teenager to a majestic king, but he would have never gotten there without Scar, or for that matter, without ever committing the charges of murder. Despite the fact that Simba learns his lesson from Rafiki, he learns the hard way that “you can’t change the past,” which is a blatantly wrong message to be telling kids. Despite the fact that Simba grows from his experiences, nobody believes him at the time he needs everyone to have faith in him. Despite the fact that Simba knows that he can change the future, he is unable to rally his kingdom against Scar and the hyenas. The tale of Simba is a cautionary one that says: even if you take responsibility, if you have already committed the crime, then you cannot change your future. If Simba had been responsible for Mufasa’s death, then he would have been burned in the fires below, and the directors just trick its audiences by using a double negative instead of a double positive: if Simba isn’t responsible for Mufasa’s death, then he should not be burned in the fires below, which obviously supports the same misleading message—taking responsibility doesn’t always pay off in the end.

You know, maybe The Lion King has a point with that, but then I would have liked to see Simba die, happy, knowing that he took responsibility for his actions. But no, it’s dumbed down so much to the point where I don’t know what message they are trying to tell me. Do they think a noble prince is one who lies to their elders? Do they think funniness equates to friendship? Do they think that Hakuna Matata is a good thing, or a bad thing? Do they think that the past can be changed or that it can’t be changed? Do they think that taking responsibility is something that pays off or doesn’t pay off? In the end, I think the directors didn’t care about the message. I think they cared about making a movie that sounded and looked great, and to their credit, they achieved their goals.

But you know, I don’t think these are the things that make movies great. I think what goes further than a technically superior film is a story that makes sense, characterizations that are consistent, and a message that is deeply profound. If you value these things, then I don’t know how you justify liking The Lion King.



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