When The Lion King first came out, I was a slightly self-righteous nine-year-old with an ax to grind against Disney for all the "circle of life" nuances in the movie. My irritation didn't stop me from loving the movie itself (in fact, my baby sister who was just two at the time watched it every day for nearly a year, and I joined her quite regularly), but it did prevent me from noticing some of the overtly biblical themes woven throughout the plot. It's amazing how a crew of Disney filmmakers can write such a redemptive story, probably without even realizing it! It speaks to John Eldredge's theory that the story of redemption is written all around us in the world, and especially in movies, precisely because God created the world to speak of His Son.
Probably the most striking example of this, at least in my mind, is the relationship between prince Simba and his uncle, the villain Scar. Scar is jealous of his brother, Mufasa, the true king, and of Simba, heir to the throne and is plotting to take over the Prideland. There are two critical events as all of this is unfolding. In the first, Scar, knowing that Mufasa has told Simba not to venture outside the Prideland, practically dares the young cub to do so. He lies to Simba about an elephant graveyard where only the bravest lions go. Suddenly, we can see the resemblance between this devious lion and the Father of Lies, that serpent who dared Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Of course, once Simba has taken the dare and been rescued from near death at the hand of the hyenas, Scar is the first to cast shame. "Simba, everybody knows about that," he says looking down his nose at embarrassed Simba. And isn't this just how our Enemy comes against us?! By first tempting us and making sin look so desirable, and then pointing the finger in our faces once sin has yielded its painful consequences.
Second, Scar creates a plan with the hyenas to kill both the king and the prince. Scar tells Simba that his father has a gift to give him, but he must wait patiently in the gorge. Meanwhile, the hyenas startle a large herd of wildebeests, creating a frantic stampede headed straight for Simba. Scar plays the hero by fetching Mufasa and alerting him to what is about to unfold, and Mufasa hurries to rescue his cub. But just as the king hurls Simba safely unto a rock above the pounding hooves of the wildebeests, Scar cruelly throws him down into the stampede, out of Simba's sight. When the dust has settled, Simba finds his father lying lifeless in the middle of the gorge. Scar approaches and, with a look of sheer evil, asks Simba what he's done. As Simba tries through tears to explain what has happened, Scar tells him to run away and never return. Simba does run away, leaving Scar to take the throne and weave a tangled web of famine and hunger. And this is the most cruel tactic of our Enemy as well: through his lies he convinces us of our guilt, rendering us useless for the Kingdom of God as we run away from our calling with our tail between our legs.
All of this symbolism, and we haven't even gotten to the redemptive part of the story yet!! After hiding out in the jungle with Timone and Pumba, Simba's childhood friend Nala finds him and tells him about the awful things that have happened since he left. Simba stubbornly refuses to go back, until he happens to meet Rafiki, the baboon. Rafiki, who understands Simba's place as the true king, reminds Simba of his calling. "I know who you are," says the baboon. "You're Mufasa's boy!" The monkey wisely reminds Simba that who he is isn't nearly as important as whose he is. Simba goes back to the Prideland and does battle with Scar in order to restore the Prideland. We all need a Rafiki in our lives to remind us that we belong to the King and have been called to defend His Kingdom!
The spiritual implications of this movie speak to our lives in Christ. It is true that we are in a battle for the Kingdom of God and for our own hearts! To quote Eldredge again (from Waking the Dead), "You have an Enemy who knows what you could be and fears you!" And friends, this is perhaps the truest lesson of The Lion King: that just as much as we serve a God who is after our hearts, we also have an Enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy them (this is after all, why Paul commends us to "put on the full armor of God"). We can choose to allow the Father of Lies to defeat us with our own guilt or we can choose to remember the One to whom we belong and to courageously fight, taking our place in the Kingdom as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).