Why latest Lion King misses a huge opportunity
WARNING, SPOILERS, BUT NOT REALLY BECAUSE YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
I was a bit late to the movie to be honest. I arrived at the theater just after the iconic opening where Rafiki shows baby-cub Simba to the kingdom of Pride Rock.
But really, there was no rush to have to see everything, everyone already knew the plot, and we all knew the filmmakers didn’t stray far (if at all) from the original.
Even the kid I sat next to (I would venture to guess he was nine or 10) knew exactly how the plot would unfold; when Scar brought Simba to the rocky ridges where Mufasa would die, the kid pointed to the screen, looked to his parents and whispered: “ [stampede…]”
That, perhaps, could be the greatest upset from this whole remake. The fact that in its entire million dollar production, no one really stopped to think about whether or not people would be invested enough to see something they know and grew up with so well, unchanged.
Was the CGI really that spectacular that people would go back to cinemas to see it?
In fact, it was this refusal to not venture away from the original plot that leaves this new remake open to seething criticism, the first was always a difficult mark to overtake.
Some key points I noticed; Beyonce’s Nala stole the show, she saved the songs, baby Simba’s voice was a bit off, some of adult Simba’s lines that were new (albeit few) were a tad bit cringe-worthy!
In short, the only selling point for this whole remake was that it was a technological innovation. But that itself isn’t original when we remember that the first Lion King was also a technological innovation, bringing animation to new heights whilst showcasing great songs and a fresh plot.
The latest Lion King missed a huge opportunity to make its plot more contemporary and relevant. If I were part of the production crew (something I say a lot to movies I felt should have been better), I would have geared the entire movie to be centered about climate change… Yup.
It sounds far fetched for a kids movie yes. But hear me out.
Climate change needs all the coverage it can get these days. Long gone the idea that only leaders and policy makers need to be the most informed about climate change. Today, we know it needs to be a collective effort, that everyone, regardless of age or nationality, needs to begin doing their part to mitigate and adapt to the changes of our environment.
This movie, because of its nostalgia to my generation and its original genre for kids, had the perfect audience, the people who are going to be the most affected by climate change in this long yet dauntingly short term future.
Specifically, here’s where the plot could have been thicker by inserting concerns around climate change.
Scar Having the “Lion’s Share” of the Brains
We all know Scar is the smarter of the two brothers. Both the original and the latest stick to concept that Mufasa won his throne by fighting the slightly weaker Scar.
This is fine. Let’s keep this.
But, instead of just having Scar desire the throne so he can feast on all that he wants due to hunger, why not have Scar be the first of the lions to realise that their environment is changing, that rising temperatures around them are causing more droughts, less rain, more extreme weather; all the more disrupting the circle of life and leaving less abundance for the land of Pride Rock.
Scar is the smart one. But we’ll maintain his holier-than-thou attitude, resulting in Scar’s reluctance to convince the rest of his lion family that the environment is changing for the worse, choosing instead to continue looking down on Mufasa for not noticing the changes.
Mufasa of course is the strong traditionalist. Proud yet caring, Mufasa doesn’t know about the changes to the environment because it’s naturally a hard concept to grasp. Unlike Scar, Mufasa is too busy running and keeping order in Pride Rock to notice the little changes in climate.
The other lions can’t tell either, they think its just a bad year or that the droughts are more prevalent because of simple fluctuations in the weather, that it would just go back to normal soon enough. Its a concept too big for simple lions to care about or do anything about. (Sound familiar?).
Frustrated with what he knows, Scar revolts, plotting to take down Mufasa’s dynasty because (and this is where his character flaw is exposed) he believes the lions should just take as much as they can before the warming environment wipes out everything; that they shouldn’t think about the future and just eat as much as they can now whilst they still can.
So the plot unfolds, Mufasa dies, Simba runs away and Scar takes over Pride Rock with the sole purpose of leading his gang of hyenas to eat as much as possible before climate change wipes everything out.
Simba Meets the Environmentalists Pumba and Timun
Maybe we won’t call Pumba and Timun the environmentalists per se. But the concept is there. Hopeless, Simba finds the duo who themselves are outcasts.
Why are they outcasts? Because they were the first to notice and say something about the change in climate, warning their own specifies to be more conservative about how much is consumed and that traditions need to be altered to mitigate the new reality.
Simba tags along the singing duo who have somewhat given up on society, “when the world turns their back on you, you turn your back on them.” Pumba and Timun,—although haven given up on warning the rest of the animal kingdom—still practice conservative ways of eating, (the slugs and bugs).
And so the plot continues, Simba grows up learning how to roar and fight like a real lion without having to eat any antelope. In essence, he’s learned to adapt to a diet that was once unheard of, a solution to the changing climate and the otherwise vulnerable lion menu that was killing off the rest of the lion pack due to shortage.
This is where Nala comes back. Against Scar’s very short term minded solution to climate change, Nala opts to seek for help, looking for ways the lions could survive despite their lands and environment changing for the worse.
She meets Simba and convinces him to return to his home…the new and rightful king who can help teach the animals at Pride Rock how to be conservative, mitigating the new realities of a dry and tumultuous future that is climate change…
That’s my spiel. It probably won’t catch the eye of anyone in Hollywood. But one could only try.
The beauty of films like The Lion King is that they can continue to revolve around the imaginations of a whole generation of kids. And to remain relevant, its creators need to continue innovating, not just through technology, but through issues that are contemporary, valuable and contributive to the global conversation.
* The writer is from the centre for governance and political studies.
**The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Astro AWANI.