Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Lion King -- the gospel story in Africa

Directors: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994.

Although less than two decades old, The Lion King is a Disney classic. It has spawned a Broadway smash hit. And it sold more videos than any other Disney film; indeed, at 55 million copies sold, it is the best-selling movie of all time. That says a lot. It might be the best Disney movie ever. Although the animation is flat compared to the recent cgi animated movies like Disney's Bolt or Pixar's Wall-E, it is the story itself that captivates the hearts of young and old alike.

In preparation for seeing my daughter in a musical theater version (she played Timon with the comic delivery of a natural; Nathan Lane watch out!), I watched this with my family again. This time we did it as a sing-a-long. Elton John's songs in The Lion King are phenomenal, and he won the Oscar for Best Song ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight"). Add to this Hans Zimmer's wonderfully atmospheric score and you have a winning combination. Songs, score, tremendous vocal talent, and a story that is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (and in many ways mirrors the gospel story), in combination you have a movie that sits atop the food chain.

Opening with the theme song, "Circle of Life," Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the old and wise lion king, presents his new baby son Simba to the animals who live in the realm of Pride Rock, with Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) and Zazu (Rowan Atkinson, the fabulous Mr. Bean) at his side. A beautiful realm and a beautiful picture, the animals all live within their place in this circle of life.

But Mufasa's brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) is the only animal who is not pleased at Simba's birth. This little fur-ball moves him down the line of succession. He will not be king. "I WILL BE KING!" he shouts to his hyena cronies in the song, "Be Prepared."

Scar is symbolic of Lucifer, the devil. Satan is a usurper who wants to rule the kingdom of God. A creature and part of creation, unlike Scar he has no legitimate claim to the throne. So like Scar, Satan rebelled against the rightful ruler, taking with him a third of the angels to cause destruction and devastation to God's realm (Rev. 12:4, 8-9). Sin has tarnished even the wonders of nature, both via human greed and inherent changes (Rom. 8:22). So we have rivers run dry, toxic landfills, massive deforestation, eco-corruption, and prospects of worse to come. Pride Rock humbled, earth despoiled.

Through a deliberate and deceitful plan, Scar puts Simba in the way of danger and then tells Mufasa who puts his life on the line to save his son. And although it is Scar who murders him, his life is sacrificed saving his son. Though not analogous to the gospel story, it reminds us that it cost the Father, the ruler, dearly to save his people (Rom. 5:10). God had to send his son as the sacrifice that would save us from the death and separation spawned by sin, initiated by Lucifer's lies (Gen. 3:1-5).

Like Satan, who Jesus called "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), Scar is a liar to the core. He lies to Mufasa. He lies to Simba ("Simba, truth is in the eye of the beholder"). He pours guilt on the young Simba, making him believe he caused his father's death and pushing him away from the kingdom that was his to rule.

Guilt is one of the weapons that Satan uses to combat and defeat Christians. Guilt itself is not wrong. It is the state of having committed a crime or an offense. We are all sinners and live in a state of true guilt against a holy God (Isa. 1:4). Guilt, in this sense, should cause us to draw near to God "having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience" (Heb. 10:22). In contrast, Satan pours false guilt on us, a guilt that tells us we are not good enough, can never be forgiven for what we have done. He tells us to go far away from God and never return to him, just as Scar did to Simba.

In the wilderness Simba meets and befriends Timon (Nathan Lane) the meercat and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) the warthog. These two comic characters have the funniest lines in the movie, even throwing in classic movie references. (Pumbaa declares, "They call me Mr. Pig!" -- In the Heat of the Night, as well as, "You talkin' to me?" De Niro's line in Taxi Driver.) They live by the philosophy of "hakuna matata": no worries for the rest of your days. Live free of cares. Worry about nothing. Though this sounds like a throwback to the hippy days of Woodstock, it is actually a biblical concept. Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). We must live the day we are in, not worrying about potentialities that lie in the future, and not looking back to the past in guilt. We can learn from the past even if we cannot change it. But we must live with Jesus today, in this day that he has made for us (Psa. 118:24).

The adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) struggles with the guilt that Scar infused in him as a child. He cannot face up to the person he is. It takes Nala (Moira Kelly), his long-lost friend, and Rafiki, the witch-doctor, to find him and remind him of his identity. As followers of Jesus, we find our identity in Jesus, as children of God (Jn. 1:12). Yet, Satan wants us to disbelieve Scripture and forget who we are. If he can get us to live our lives in quiet desperation, in the gutter instead of the palace, he has won a victory over us. We are then out of the game, and of no use to Jesus in the ongoing spiritual battle surrounding us (Eph. 6:12). Apart from Jesus, apart from his power, we cannot help the emergence of the kingdom.

When Rafiki enables him to see Mufasa once more, his dead father calls out, "Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king." Shades of the Father's proclamation about Jesus, both at his baptism and at his transfiguration (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). It also highlights Simba as rightful king and returning Savior. Jesus, the true Savior, will return some day to reclaim his throne and kingdom (Phil. 3:20). It will result in a great battle with Satan predicted in Revelation (Rev. 19:11-21), although Christ's victory is foretold and assured (1 Cor. 15:53-55).

Who would have thought that such a fun family film was also "Intro to the Gospel: 101."

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs


  1. Great blog! have you ever seen "17 again"? i am going to watch it tommorow night and was wondering if you had seen it? I also thought that your daughter did a great job as Timon!


  2. Charles,
    You must have been busy lately or out of town as I had not seen any comments from you in recent weeks. It's good to hear from you finally. No, I have not seen "17 Again" yet although it is on my short list of movies to watch with my kids. Perhaps I'll have a review soon. Thanks for the input and recommendation.

  3. I just watched "17 again" it was good. Can't wait to see the blog on it. Yes I was on vacation i went to Texas to visit my brother Thomas.


  4. I didn't know you had a brother. Does he watch movies and read reviews?

  5. I have a blog on this very thing!!! So much Biblical Analogies in the Lion King