Hollywood Structure and "The Lion King"

Posted: August 27, 2011 in essays

I thought I would share something different this time. This is an essay I did for my summer class on Hollywood story structure, which I just finished. I got an A in the class, so I figure I did something right. It goes over major structure points and the Hero’s Journey, as defined by Joseph Campbell. Enjoy.

            The Lion King was one of the most successful films of 1994. The film owes much of its success to its mythic impact.  It is a metaphor for human experience and growth which touches us on a profound level.  The film is also a classic quest or Hero’s Journey.
            When we first see the Pride Lands, it is with an absolute sense of wonder. We are treated to sweeping vistas full of life and natural beauty. From here, we are brought closer to Pride Rock, which is surrounded by throngs of animals gathered en masse. It quickly becomes evident that there is a ceremony of some kind taking place, and the gathered animals are very excited. We then see the regal lion Mufasa and his mate Sarabi, obviously full of pride at what is about to take place. The mandrill Rafiki, an eccentric shaman, is holding a very young – and very cute, so we are attracted to him right away – lion cub. He anoints him with a blessing, and then holds up the newborn cub – Simba – to the crowd. The animals rejoice in their beloved leader, and we are introduced to the ‘royal family’ of Pride Rock. This is our Point of Attack and our Home Culture, as we now know that we will see Simba’s story and what follows in the Pride Lands, as well as the dynamics there.
             Simba is a playful, innocent, attentive cub who only wants to follow in the steps of his father and become King (Life Dream).Born into an unfamiliar and complicated world, he is inexperienced and naïve. Starting off, Simba is impulsive and rash: he does not think ahead. He rushes into dangerous situations with his best friend Nala (the Soul Mate), trying to imitate his brave, strong father, but in turn, places his own life in jeopardy on numerous occasions. Unaware of his own limits, Simba is like a child who has not yet felt the consequences of actions. At the beginning of his journey, Simba is also extremely dependant on others. With no sense of self-worth, he does not acknowledge his potential to be as great as his father, but merely lives in his shadow. Doubting his own potential, Simba is the stereotypical adolescent: insecure and self-loathing.
            Scar, Mufasa’s brother and the antagonist (which is obvious, since he first emerges from the shadows and is always seen lurking there), schemes to take full advantage of this. He desires the throne for himself, and knows he must get rid of both Mufasa and Simba to do it. Enlisting the aid of the hated hyenas from the “dark place” as his minions with promises of abundant food and luxury, he sets in motion a trap to take advantage of Simba’s reckless nature. In our first really tense scene, Simba must scramble for his life when he is caught in a stampede set in motion by the hyenas. Mufasa, alerted to the danger by the steward Zazu, comes rushing to his aid. But in the process of saving Simba, he is caught and cannot pull himself up. Unbeknownst to Simba, Scar is there, and in one of the most intense and loathsome acts in the movie, Scar pulls Mufasa’s claws off of the edge he is clinging to, sending him plunging to his death. Scar then blames Simba for Mufasa’s death. This is a turning point for Simba and initiates both the Main Tension and creates Collision in the movie when he “run[s] away and never return[s]” like Scar tells him to. Due to Simba’s inexperience and lack of knowledge, he grows up thinking that he was the reason behind his father’s tragic death. This is where Simba’s innocence is abused and manipulated to satisfy his devious uncle.
            In exile, Simba meets the secondary characters Timon and Pumbaa, a meercat and warthog respectively. They take him in, and during Simba’s time away from Pride Rock, he matures physically and mentally, living by their motto of “hakuna matata” which means no worries. His life is carefree and he goes where the moment takes him accompanied by his two friends, which shows that nothing is of concern to him, an indicator that he is not yet fully mature. As the story progresses, his responsibilities are still minimal and he has managed to block out the memories from his childhood.
            Simba hears the Call when a now-mature Nala attacks Pumbaa and he stops her.  When she realizes who he is, she assumes that he will return to Pride Rock with her and challenge Scar.  At first, he refuses (Refusal of the Call), keeping himself from growing and achieving his destiny.  He still thinks that he is responsible for his father’s death. Not to mention, Simba is embarrassed that he ran away and doesn’t want to return and face his friends, mother, and his past. Nala, however, insists that he is not living up to the greatness of his ancestry by refusing to return.
            Facing his shortcomings represents the greatest Trial of his life – the abyss – for Simba.  Angry with Nala, he storms away to pace under the stars by himself.    “You said you’d always be there for me,” he wails to his dead father, lurking among the stars, “but you’re not.  And it’s because of me.  It’s my fault.  It’s my fault.”  Recognizing his self-centeredness shows the start of Simba’s transformation.
            It is at this point that Rafiki also finds Simba again. Rafiki helps Simba complete his transformation, and becomes Simba’s mentor and source of Supernatural Aid.  He says that he can show Simba that his father is not dead and leads him in an all-too-quick journey through snags and tangles, branches and thorns (which represent a number of Trials), to a quiet pool.  Simba looks at his reflection and eventually sees his father’s face mixed with his own.  Confused, Simba heads onto the plains alone, where he sees his father’s image in the clouds.  “Remember who you are,” the image implores him.  “My son and the one true king.”  The vision fades, but Simba has found the path to atonement: to fulfill his destiny as a great king.
            Speaking of his intent to return to the pride, Simba tells Rafiki that it will be hard to face the past which he fled from for so long.  Then Rafiki helps Simba to the revelation he needs to make the change:  he hits him with a stick.  Simba asks him why he did that.  Rafiki replies, “It doesn’t matter…it’s in the past.  The way I see it, you can either run from the past or learn from it.”  He swings the stick again, but Simba ducks.  He’s learned and is ready to return (The Midpoint/First Threshold). Simba decides to leave paradise with Timon and Pumbaa (who are reluctant at first, but ultimately agree to help their friend in a bit of character growth for them) and return to Pride Rock. Simba realizes he must take responsibility for his kingdom and he must be ready to fight his uncle and the hyenas in order to save it.
            As Simba makes his journey to Pride Rock, he realizes that he is also leaving behind his childhood there. In doing so, he is ready to accept his rightful place as king and is ready to finally take responsibility for his kingdom. When they reach the Pride Lands, Simba sees the full extent of the damage Scar and the hyenas have caused. The land is no longer lush and vibrant with abundant life. Rather, it is withering and dying in the absence of its true king. At this sight, Simba is filled with a new sense of urgent purpose (Overcoming Temptation).
            Simba descends on Pride Rock and confronts Scar (Crossing the Return Threshold). Timon, Pumbaa, Nala and the rest of the Pride hold off the hyenas and free captives while he does so (Chase and Rescue). However, ever the manipulator, Scar makes Simba tell everyone he is responsible for his father’s death. After he does so, Scar backs Simba up to the edge of Pride Rock. Then, lightening causes a fire beneath the rock and Simba slips off the back, hanging onto the edge like his father did just before he died. Confident in his triumph, Scar arrogantly reveals that he killed Mufasa, not Simba. Simba, shocked at this revelation, now lets his old self go. Now that he has no reason to hold onto the burden of his father’s death, Simba now becomes one with himself and realizes he must fight not only for his right to be king, but also for his father (Viewing the Whole Picture). Simba pounces on Scar to get off the ledge. Simba then sees a stunned Scar running away and chases after him. He corners Scar and they battle, but Scar is outmatched. Once again trying to use his clever tongue to the advantage, he tries to double-cross his hyenas in favor of mercy, but Simba banishes him from the Pride Lands instead. Furious, he attacks Simba one last time, but Simba catches the attack and knocks Scar off the ledge. The hyenas, not amused with Scar’s betrayal, kill him for calling them the enemy. In doing so, Scar is defeated and Simba shows that he is serving as a leader in the True Culmination (Ultimate Goal).
            With Scar and the hyenas gone, Simba is greeted by his mother and Nala in reconciliation. Then, Simba takes his rightful spot as King of Pride Rock. He walks through the newly-falling rain, a symbol of renewal, to hear his father speak to him as he takes his position atop Pride Rock. Taking a deep breath, he lets out a mighty roar reminiscent of his father’s great voice. The Pride joins in, and Simba is now Master of Two Worlds.
In the Resolution, we see that Simba’s story truly has come full circle. Using the knowledge he has gained from his life, Simba rebuilds Pride Rock after Scar nearly destroyed it. It is now as lush and full of life as it was under his father’s rule. Simba is at peace with both himself and his responsibilities. By accepting himself as king, he has matured and taken on the accountability that he will protect his land and his people, and has recognized the world he now lives in and himself. Simba and Nala are mated, and in a scene directly mirroring the opening, have a cub of their own anointed  by Rafiki to be the next king. As Simba looks at his family, he lets go of the anger brought on by his father’s death and anticipates his new life. He has been given the Freedom to Live.

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