The Deception That Is “The Lion King”

There is no doubt that The Lion King is a very good animated Disney movie. But I think that most people have been deceived into thinking that it is a great movie–deceived in the same way that romantic comedies trick us into thinking that two people belong together simply because one of them has stalked the other for long enough or finally decides to tell the truth to the other.

Specifically, we have been deceived into thinking that The Lion King is a complete movie, while really it has one huge, glaring omission: The Lion King does not have a middle. It has a beginning and an end, but no middle. Rather, the middle consists of a single scene of these three characters walking across a log:

That’s it. Simba’s entire evolution from scared young pup to fully grown lion–i.e., the most important part of the story–is condensed down to a single song, during which he walks across a log with his two buddies.

I remember watching this scene as a kid. My reaction was, “That’s it?” I knew little of the art of thirds or character evolution back then, but I knew that I had just been gypped out of the middle of a movie.

Think about it. Simba’s father dies. He runs off. He meets Timon and Pumba, who sing a song about their life philosophy. Simba misses his family and the star dust spells “sex” in the sky. He walks across a log and goes from little lion to fully grown lion by the time he reaches the other side. Then he’s ready to go confront Scar.

How is that possible? How did the writers think it was okay to skip over the whole part about Simba growing up?

Perhaps I’m missing the obvious here. Maybe the lesson is that if you ever want to grow as a person, all you have to do is sing a song and walk across a log. By the time you get to the other side, you’ll have fully evolved.

In the greater scheme of things, this is not a big deal at all. It’s a movie, one of many, many movies. I guess I’m just surprised that people don’t realize the middle is missing.

And really, those who lose the most are the kids. Think of the children! This is how they learn to tell stories. Do we really want to teach the next generation to tell stories with beginnings and endings, but no middle? No meat in those story sandwiches? I sure hope not.

Are there any movies or books that most people love, but you detect huge flaws in the storytelling?

24 thoughts on “The Deception That Is “The Lion King””

  1. I always assumed that part of Simba’s tale was edited out in a deal with the Motion Picture Association of America to maintain the movie’s G rating. Simba’s adolescence was one giant heap of double entendres (Timon & Pumba can get pretty racy), a lot of Jim Beam, a Batman-esque quest to Nepal to be train with ninja monks. (What? You thought Simba just conveniently comes back and dominates Scar, the leader of pack, because he happened to put on some weight?) All you missed was a drunken meerkat shaving “sex” into the fur of whoever fell asleep first a few times and a couple of stoic yet voilent ninjas kicking Simba’s ass until he’s trained. Pretty much the only G-rated thing that happened was the log scene, and I’m pretty sure they were drunk there too–the MPAA just conveniently edited out Pumba vomiting into a hollowed out tree stump on the far side of the log. There you have it.

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  2. Well, I think there was a HUGE and disturbing mistake in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. In the Disney version, the Notre Dame is a soaring structure of incredible heights and glorious vistas. Imagine my disappointment when I stumbled upon the REAL Notre Dame and it was practically the same size as the cafe next door.

    Fail.

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  3. It didn’t matter what Simba did in those years. The fact was, he’s the King. He’s got the fight in his blood. He got all the skills as a kid (though Nala could still pin him, but the women do all the heavy lifting in lion prides anyway). His dad told him he was responsible, so even if though he went through Trev’s version of “Saved by the Bell, the College Years”, he had roots. Nala found him, brought him back to his roots.

    Scar’s a bitch anyway. Notice, with Lions there is one male to a group of females. Scar set a trap to kill Mufasa (to prove that he’s cunning) because he knew he couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the champ. And he didn’t take his time as king to train. He let the hyenas ravage everything the light touches, and let himself atrophy in a cave. So, when confronted with a a fist-to-cuffs by the once-and-future King of Pride Rock, he didn’t stand a chance.

    now,I could see Lion King 2 being about the “College Years”, but I’m ok believing taht Simba had everything he needed to rule the rock.

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  4. I’m pretty sure this happened with Bambi too. (**Spoiler Alert!**)His mom is killed by hunters, and then really the next time you really see him he’s this much older deer salivating after his childhood friend…sounds familiar.

    As a young girl, I do remember being slightly taken aback by his sudden transformation and the gap in time that was unexplained, but I don’t think I was affected too badly in the long run. I mean, we all know that that’s not how life really happens, right?

    Except that then I looked in the mirror and I was 30 years old. Damnit.

    I think it’s in the movie Dogma where Chris Rock starts joking about the Bible and how they tell a few stories about the birth and childhood of Jesus, and then all of the sudden there’s this huge leap forward and he’s a grown man, with nothing in the middle.

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    • That’s a great point about Jesus, actually. His middle years were skipped over. Who were these guys writing the Bible, anyway!?

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  5. Disney does the growing-up-in-a-song thing ALL the time. (see: Lion King, Hercules, Tarzan…) But I think by focusing on this you’re looking for the middle of the story in the wrong spot and confusing what it means to physically grow vs.emotionally transform…

    Yes, in the most literal sense, Simba grows up when he crosses the log, but his character certainly doesn’t evolve at that point. (Just like humans, maturity doesn’t always coincide with age.) He’s still avoiding his past and is just as scared to go back as he is when he leaves Pride Rock.

    I would argue that when Hakuna Matata ends, the most important part is still yet to come. When Nala arrives in the jungle and tells him what’s happening back home, it forces him to think about what his responsibilities are as the true king of the pride. And, of course, this is when he runs into Rafiki who teaches him to put the past into perspective, and he is confronted by [the ghost of?] his father who reminds him where he comes from and that he is more than who he has become:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_OMPrqhA_4

    aaaaaaaand NOW he’s ready to confront Scar and become king.

    And, of course, The Lion King is essentially just the children/lion’s version of Hamlet so if you know that story you already know the beginning, middle, and end of this one…sort of 🙂

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    • This is the best description, Adrienne. I completely agree–this part of Simba’s life is not where he really transforms. You really hit the nail on the head. While Simba’s living with Timon and Puumba, his life is kind of at a standstill. His way of coping is to push thoughts of his father away. When Nala returns, he is forced to confront those feelings, and when Rafiki returns for Simba, I think that’s the moment in the story when he matures and accepts his responsibility.

      I love The Lion King, and despite its flaws, I think it’s a great tale of forgiving and believing in yourself. A great lesson for any kid.

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      • Amanda–That’s a good point that there are many good lessons in The Lion King other than how to grow up by walking across a log. 🙂

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    • Adrienne–I appreciate your well-conceived response. I totally agree that maturing involves much more than physically growing bigger and older. And I’m glad you pointed out that Simba has some challenging conversations with Nala (so hot!), Rafiki (so wise!), and his father (so ethereal!)

      But just as growing older doesn’t equal evolving, having a few conversations doesn’t either. They’re important, yes, but I really just wish that the writers had added one defining anecdotal evidence of Simba growing up instead of using the log prance. Just one. I’m sure you’ve heard how writers need to show, not tell, to effectively tell a good story. In The Lion King, we are TOLD that Simba grows up. If even just one good story were added in the middle, we would have been SHOWN Simba growing up, and I feel like it would have rounded out the whole story really well.

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      • For a second I thought it was weird that you thought Nala was hot, but then I remembered your love affair with cats and it TOTALLY made sense.

        It sounds like you don’t really want to be convinced, but in my mind, if you were confronted with your dead father’s ghost it would force you to reevaluate your life and mature pretty quickly, too.

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  6. Disney realized this and made Lion King 1 1/2. It’s from the perspective of Timon and Pumba, but fills in what is previously left to the log montage. Quite hilariously, I might add.

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      • Oh, it’s so much better than that. It shows Timon and Pumba growing up in their respective communities, the origins of Hakuna Matata, and details about Simba’s growing up. All of this in the form of Timon and Pumba playing Siskel and Ebert watching the events on a cinema screen.

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      • Also, if you can find the trailer, Timon and Pumba say very much the substance of your post, criticizing the first movie. Something along the lines of “That’s not what happened! They cut out the good stuff!” It’s all very tongue in cheek. And again, hilarious.

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  7. First of all, he crosses logs not “longs” as you mistyped multiple times.

    Second of all, the first film is about Simba and the Pride Land’s ongoing conflict with Scar, not about Simba going through puberty and just living in the jungle with Timon and Pumba. I believe the so called “middle” you’re looking for can be found in The Lion King 1 1/2. There’s about 10 minutes showing all the activities they did during those years, including

    -Simba frequently waking Timon up to go to the bathroom
    -Simba jumping around in a tree while Timon and Pumba tell him to get down
    – Simba swimming and accidentally falling down a waterfall
    – Simba repetitively throwing Timon into the air with his paws
    -Simba waking up Timon because he had a bad dream
    -Competitions such as Worlds Longest Bug Belch, slug Swallowing, Cricket Crunching, Grub Gulping, Maggot Munching, and Snail Slurping
    -All three of them hot tubbing

    Throughout these scenes Simba is seen as a young cub, then a teenage lion, then an adult, which is the “middle” you insist the Lion King is missing. But the reason him growing up is only worth up in 10 minutes in film time is because it is uneventful in terms to the plot of the movie. Slug Slurping and waterfalls in no way relate to Simba beating Scar in the end.

    We have to remember that this is a movie for kids, and kids have a short attention span. There’s a reason most Disney and Pixar films are 1 -1.5 hours long. Any longer than that and the kids will be bored, tired, and need to do something else. Yes, Simba doing little irrelevant activities with Timon and Pumba is entertaining to watch, but the film is already an hour and a half without these 10 minutes.

    And, in terms of this story having no middle, it does. The beggining starts when that famous scene shows the sunrise and the animals going to Pride Rock, and ends somewhere around the “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” to “Be Prepared” scenes. By then, we know that Scar is plotting to be king and that Simba is next in line.

    Now we move into the middle, where the events of the movie start to unfold. Scar kills Mufasa and tells Simba to run away, allowing him to be the king. Simba finds somewhere safe he can live, and the hyenas are overfeeding in the Pride Lands. Then Nala looks for Simba and convinces him to come back. The climax is obviously when Simba fights Scar, which ends the middle section and brings us to the end.

    The end (the shortest part of stories) occurs when the hyenas turn on Scar and he is killed. Simba takes his place as king, and it is seen that he has his own cub.

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  8. He didn’t evolve during that song tho. He buried his trauma and the song showed it. The evolution happened in the “remember who you are” part.

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    • That’s a great point! My point is that his evolution happens VERY quickly–just a few minutes compared to the beginning and end.

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