(note: this is actually a day late, by the time I noticed it was really late at night)
On this day in film history, The Lion King was released to theaters as the next installment in the now booming Disney Renaissance. The Lion King tells the story of the Pride Lands, ruled by the benevolent Mufasa (James Earl Jones), whose son and heir Simba has just been born, much to the chagrin of the king’s younger brother Scar (Jeremy Irons). I vividly remember watching this movie in the theater with my dad, mostly because right before “Be Prepared”, the film broke and it took a long time to fix it! (In fact, my dad was in the process of taking me out of the theater when thankfully the movie started up again). I also remember this movie because of a certain traumatic event. You see, like many milennials my age, The Lion King is how I was introduced to the concepts of death and the fact that the villain sometimes gets away with it (at first anyway).
See, Scar really wants to be king, but with Simba thriving and growing up, there’s no chance he’ll ever succeed to the throne. So, after an initial attempt to have Simba killed fails, Scar comes up with an even better plan: he’s going to literally kill two birds with one stone by arranging to have Mufasa AND Simba die in a wildebeest stampede. I remember quite well, when Scar laid out this plan in “Be Prepared”, I clearly thought “Oh Mufasa is going to stop this for sure, Scar will NEVER get away with this, it just can’t happen!” And then the stampede started. Imagine if you will, being five years old and seeing a HUGE screen filled with rushing and stamping animals; wouldn’t you be more than a little frightened? I was!! In fact, this entire scene scared me so much, that it was YEARS before I could sit all the way through this movie again.
The entire time Mufasa is racing to rescue Simba, I’m like “He’s going to make it, Scar’s going to get caught, it’ll all be fine.” And then came that infamous scene on the cliffside. That look in Mufasa’s eyes when Scar whispers “Long live the king…” and THROWS Mufasa to his death!! If I didn’t outright scream when that happened, I surely gasped in horror because OH MY GOSH THEY JUST KILLED MUFASA!! It had never occurred to me that the bad guy’s plan might actually work! (They usually don’t in a Disney movie).
This scene is very reminiscent of when Bambi’s mother was killed by man in Bambi (1942). In that movie, you don’t expect her to die either, and the shock and horror at her death is palpable. If a more recent equivalent of this moment exists, I’m not aware of it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in one or more of these upcoming Disney films if they recreated this moment yet again.
So I have to ask: where were YOU when Mufasa died? Did you see it coming, or did you think Mufasa would make it? That’s all for now! -Bex
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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