In 1994, Disney released an animated feature titled The Lion King. The film told the story of Simba, a young lion who is heir to throne of the Pridelands held by his father Mufasa. As a young child Simba takes his future for granted until his Uncle Scar kills Mufasa and banishes Simba from the kingdom. The plot revolves around Simba’s struggle to overcome the death of his father and his decision to return to the pridelands in order to avenge Mufasa’s death and take his rightful place as King. Simba relies on the support of his two best friends, Pumba and Timon, his future wife Nala, and a few of his father’s former advisors as he challenges Scar and his army of evil hyenas for control of the pridelands.
Simba is portrayed as an ideal masculine hero. While easily relatable to kids for his often silly and slightly rebellious nature, he also emulates strength and responsibility as he returns home to save his kingdom from the tyrannical rule of Scar. In the beginning of the movie Simba is shown attempting to master and prove his masculinity, for example his attempts to roar like his father or his inability to save his father from a stampede. Throughout the movie as Simba grows, he learns to master these traits. This is symbolized by Simba’s loud and vicious roar when he returns to challenge Scar. Pitted against a man (lion) who represents evil all the way down to his name, Simba easily represents traits idolized by kids watching the Lion King.
As a young child, I was obsessed with Lion King, watching it over and over again as I clutched my favorite Simba and Pumba stuffed animals. For me, Simba was an obvious hero. This was not so true for the female characters in the film. Throughout the movie the female characters (when they are even present) are shown as unable to stand up for themselves. This is symbolized by Nala’s urging of Simba when she finds him in the jungle, assuring him that he is “their only hope” against Scar. When Simba returns to the pridelands he finds the female lions in a desolate situation, only able to act once they have male leadership. As I young girl watching the movie, there was no clear strong female for me to look up too.
Griffin showed how the the lack of a strong female character in Davy Crockett resulted in many girls emulating Davy in a way that was not necessarily intended by his creators. He writes “It is just as likely that girls used the cowgirl phase in order to complicate the gender boundaries that were already impinging on them” This is similar to my own understanding of Lion King as a kid. Without a clear strong female character I could relate too, I looked towards Simba instead, despite the original intentions of the filmaker.
My love of Lion King came at the same time as my major tomboy phase, which helped shape how I watched the film. As a 5 year old girl who hated wearing dresses and would rather play power rangers with the boys then dolls with the girls, I had no patience for the boring characters of Nala and Surabi. Rather, I wanted to be Simba, reshaping the message of the film for one that better matched my own understandings. While I was not necessarily meant to so easily relate to Simba, he offered an alternative to the traditional view of femininity shown by Nala and the other female characters. Griffin offers an understanding of media’s impact on childhood, stating “Children draw upon prefabricated characters and situations of popular culture to make sense of their own social experience, reworking them to satisfy their own needs and desires.” (Griffin 104) My interpretation of The Lion King and love of Simba represented my own desire to fit a loved movie and character in a way that fit in to my own life.
As a young girl who much preferred the boy world, I ignored the stereotypical gender roles portrayed in Lion King, preferring the strong Simba to the weak female characters. In doing so, I reshaped the meaning of the film for one that better fit my own life.