August 9, 2021

The role of the Lion King in the kiddie-fication of movies overall, and of children's movies themselves (after watching for 1st time at 40)

After enjoying watching Aladdin for the first time probably since I saw it in the theater in 1992, I figured I'd catch up on the whole Disney Renaissance period. The target audience was born a bit after me, so I never felt compelled to see them when they were out, nor since. But it's supposedly a revival of a once-great studio, so let's see what it's all about.

I'd seen 45 minutes of Beauty and the Beast during a "teacher shows movie instead of teaching day" in 6th grade. And I actually was taken — against my will — to the theater for The Little Mermaid in 1989, but I was so angry at the babysitter for over-ruling my protest about going to a little girl's movie, that I glared straight ahead and dissociated for the entire movie. Seriously, I did not remember anything I saw on that big screen.

But after Aladdin, I figured those two would be natural ones to see next, and they do form a trilogy. In the music, Howard Ashman & Alan Menken are reviving the Broadway musical genre for the whole family — meaning, some aspects are solely for the kids (slapstick humor, fairytale tone), and other aspects are solely for the grown-ups (SAT words, wordplay, allusions to grown-up culture). In other words, a variety of several things for several audiences — not a single package of the least-common-denominator that involves every audience at every moment.

In the plot and characterization, there are strong-willed Gen-X teenage girls struggling to grow up socially outside their domestic sphere, Gen-X teenage guys leading a life of charming mischief (similar to Bart Simpson on the small screen), and the parents accepting that their kids' lives are at some point beyond their own control and letting things take their course (whether in bittersweet acceptance, or joyful encouragement).

I found each of those three more or less equally as enjoyable as one another.

Then I chose two I hadn't seen even pieces of over the years — Pocahontas and the Lion King. That's right: never saw the Lion King, along with most of the blockbusters from 1994-'95 onward (Independence Day, Men in Black, Titanic, etc.).

Pocahontas tries to continue the trilogy above, but falls flat in the execution outside of the visual area. In the plot and characterization, there was no fantastic or magical element, unlike what you want from a Disney movie, and was too historical. They should have simply done a legend or myth from some Native American group's culture. In the music, it adhered too closely to the classic Broadway show-tunes approach, which sounds too out-of-time and out-of-place. It should have gone New Age and world music to match the Pure Moods visual style and pre-colonial Native American setting. In fairness, the single version of "Colors of the Wind" by Vanessa Williams strikes this tone perfectly — the whole soundtrack should've been arranged that way.

The Lion King was something else entirely, however, and it was being developed at the same time as Pocahontas, but clearly on a different overall path.

First, on the pleasant side, it solved the problem of "reviving the musical format" while being set in an exotic pre-civilized location, where standard show-tunes would sound out of place. Its style went full Paul Simon's Graceland / New Age / world music, dovetailing seamlessly with the '90s multicultural setting and tone. That is, let's learn from and enjoy each other's distinct cultures, maybe even fashion an interesting combination from them.

(As a reminder that childhood influences are not too enduring, the Millennials who were raised in that culturally pluralist '90s climate grew up to destroy it in hysterical accusations of cultural appropriation, etc. As a result, the dominant music in movies today is lowest-common-denominator, zero-risk, decades-old, all-American dad rock. Only the cozy groypers are keeping alive their '90s multicultural new-age environmentalist childhood, for which they have been branded bigots by their woketard "get with the 2010s program already" generation-mates.)

Second, the Lion King avoided Pocahontas' mismatch between visual style and plot / characters by making the visuals more naturalistic than fantastic, and instead indulged in fantasy by making all the characters non-anthropomorphic animals (like Bambi). Combined with the different approach to music, this gives the Lion King a much more coherent and integrated tone throughout the movie, compared to the discordant and disjointed Pocahontas.

And yet the Lion King marked the beginning of a long-term trend toward the kiddie-fication of movies — not just of Disney movies for kids themselves, but the entire output of Hollywood. Before it, as discussed earlier, there were separate things for separate audiences, along with some elements for all. In the Lion King, however, the fare became the lowest-common-denominator to all audiences.

It's not that Tim Rice and Elton John's songs are dumbed-down from the Ashman & Menken approach. It's that they do not have certain things for the kids, certain things for teenagers, and certain things for the grown-ups. Caustic wit, wordplay, enjambment, allusions at the high-school level or above, have gone out the window. Some of the slapstick, gross-out, and anarchic spirit is still there, but that's all aimed at the kiddie audience, and adults can only appreciate it vicariously through their children's enjoyment.

That's not a problem for helicopter parents, who love to live through their kids, treat their kids as their best friends, and so on. But it was unnecessary when the children were the latchkey kid generation, whose parents left them unsupervised and allowed them to enjoy and create their own culture. That was reflected in the wider variety of fare in family movies, with something distinct for everyone, not the least-common-denominator.

As for characters, the main hero Simba comes off as a 5 year-old child for most of the movie, and perhaps an 11 year-old when he supposedly grows up by the final act. That includes his voice actors, who never sound like they reached the teenage let alone young adult stage. If it's a coming-of-age story, it's about reaching the threshold of puberty and adolescence, not young adulthood and grown-up life. The lead characters in the earlier trilogy were all well into adolescence, ready to emerge out the other side into (young) adulthood.

Simba is so contrary to the strong-willed characters of the earlier trilogy, that he stops trying to venture out on his own after a single stern lecture from his father, who had warned him not to go to the dangerous elephants' graveyard. He does go there with a friend, almost gets hurt, and is rescued by his helicopter parent father. Rather than find ways to still venture out on his own, against the wishes of his over-protective father, he's so stricken by his father's disappointment over the act of disobedience, that he decides to never disobey again. It's like playing in the street once, nearly getting hit by a car, then being locked indoors for the rest of your life.

His kiddie nature makes it impossible for him to have real narrative goals, face obstacles, and overcome them — he's just a little kid! It's not believable that he would replace James Earl Jones / Mufasa on the throne, until he was going through the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

As it's related in the song "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," his succession is treated more like something that will happen effortlessly and without challenge. Gee whiz, yay! It's a form of grade inflation and Everybody Gets a Trophy Day, right in line with trends of helicopter parents changing how their Millennial kids were to be treated by the community institutions. Becoming king is not a plausible goal for him, so there are no plausible obstacles in its way — just reminders that he's not meant to be king.

In fact, when he leaves in exile after his father is murdered by his usurping uncle Scar, he decides to enjoy a carefree easy life with two screwball characters, which is celebrated in the song "Hakuna Matata". Not exactly plotting revenge like a would-be king. But even if he were to resign himself to not taking on the usurper, wouldn't he at least want to push himself, face challenges, and grow and mature as a result? Maybe start a training sequence, a la Rocky, to prepare for his eventual face-off with his nemesis, who may come looking for him despite his best efforts to keep hiding out? Nope: he wants to pursue a Peter Pan lifestyle of never growing up.

But that, too, is in line with helicopter parents' wishes for their kids to stay socially and emotionally stunted until they hit 25 or 30, and then they can think about reaching life's next milestones like courtship, marriage, and children. Until then, it's no time to take risks or be a hero. However, insulating oneself from real-life challenges only makes it more difficult to do so later — there's a sensitive developmental window that they end up wasting, as though they had to learn a new language at 25.

Also, being a Peter Pan type means not developing feelings for the opposite sex, as the first step along the path toward raising a family. So unlike the earlier trilogy, where love interests abound, there is no romantic sub-plot in the Lion King. Nala, his female friend from toddlerhood, visits him when they are "grown up" (again, resembling 11 year-olds), and they flirtatiously rough-house for a bit. But that's it — they're barely starting puberty, so their relationship cannot possibly go any further. And so, unlike in the earlier trilogy, there are no same-sex rivals vying for the same person, nor are there disapproving parents, in the romantic plot, which form their own set of obstacles for the main character to overcome.

That's a two-fer in the minds of helicopter parents — if your kid stays barely pubescent forever, not only will they never get distracted by the opposite sex, you will never have to play an active role in their love life, whether expressing disapproval, learning to accept their choice that you don't agree with, seeing them elope, or whatever else. Way too stressful of a role for the "friends of their children" parents to contemplate. If they stay 11 forever, no such problems!

This all leads to the main flaw of the movie, which is that dramatically speaking, Simba is not the protagonist, yet his story takes up the overwhelming majority of the runtime.

The true protagonist is his uncle Scar, whose (believable) goal is to become king, and who is driven by overweening ambition. There are two major obstacles in his way. First, his brother the incumbent, which obstacle he overcomes by murdering him. And second, his kiddie nephew, the next-in-line, who he guilt-trips into leaving the community and orders some hyena minions to murder him for good measure. His actions are what drives the narrative forward. Simba is at best an antagonist, although he isn't much of a willful obstacle to Scar's actions for most of the movie.

Scar does not act alone, but forges alliances with the hyenas, reaching dictatorial status. But over time his misrule leads to famine and stagnation, stirring his allies to question their continued loyalty, and throwing up another obstacle to his rule — attempting to placate unruly subjects and allies, through duplicity and threats.

He grows suspicious and superstitious, snapping at anyone who utters the name of his brother the former king. This is the start of a descent into madness, when he becomes undone by his own fatal flaws of pride, ambition, and disloyalty. Ultimately, when Simba returns to confront him, he does not even finish off the usurper himself — it's Scar's erstwhile allies the hyenas who end up tearing him apart, after hearing of his betrayal.

For all the risible talk about this movie resembling Hamlet, which it does not at all, it actually resembles Macbeth. However, unlike the Shakespearean play, the villainous protagonist in the Lion King gets hardly any time before the audience, which is a real wasted opportunity since it's rare to find protagonists who are unsympathetic villains.

Here, yet again, we see the aesthetically corrupting influence of the namby-pamby helicopter parent audience. This could have been a fascinating "Macbeth for kids," set primarily in the dark Gothic elephants' graveyard and the post-apocalyptic Pride Rock, rather than the serene grasslands and the bright luscious jungle. But that would have given too much screentime to the bad guy, and hardly any at all to the plucky underdog good guy.

Helicopter parents are convinced that kids imitate whatever they see in pop culture, in proportion to the length of time it is presented to them, as though their brains were totally passive imprinting tablets. Lots of screentime for the bad guy = improper assignment of role models! In reality, the human brain, even an immature one, looks at roles structurally to see whether they're good or bad, to be imitated or avoided. But paranoid helicopter parents really think their kids can't tell that the murderous usurper who is undone by his own fatal flaws, is the bad guy, and not to be imitated.

By 1994, the window had closed on the genre of dark children's movies, whose heyday was the second half of the 1980s, but whose Gen-X influence still trickled into the early '90s, including Beauty and the Beast. As the Disney Renaissance progressed, though, it quickly shifted to helicopter parents and their eternally bubble-wrapped Millennial children as the target audience. I still have to go through the movies after Pocahontas, but I can already tell it'll be more of the same.

They couldn't recapture the magic of those first three key movies again. At the superficial level, it may have been the loss of Howard Ashman to AIDS part-way through the making of Aladdin. But how was he given such central creative roles in the first place? And why was no successor found? It was due to a change in the zeitgeist, which had been warm to someone like him in the '80s and early '90s, but gradually shifted toward a more lowest-common-denominator, helicopter parent-approved model afterward.


  1. You might appreciate Shhot this One by Javier Grillo Marsxuach.

  2. I thought it was Disney World in these vacay pics (except the last, on the Thames), but wasn't sure because I haven't been there in so long.

    Was there in summer of '99 for a separate event, and only took a whirlwind tour through the park.

    Last time I really got to spend time there was the late '80s or early '90s. And one of those times was when Universal Studios Florida had just opened. So the last time I was at Disney World for real, they'd only released Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. Crazy to think there's so many buildings in the B&B style now.

    One thing's for sure: Apu and Aspie will not want for romantic songs playing in the background, when they're at Disney World. Hopefully I'll get some more new lyrics out here soon, from the first three Renaissance movies.

    Back to the Lion King post, though, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" just does not sound believable with the two characters who are just on the cusp of puberty. It's a good song, but more for when Belle and Beast first start warming up to each other and let their guards down. It's not a kiddie song.

    Fittingly, Simba and Nala are not singing to each other, nor is the single version a duet (just Elton John by himself), as opposed to the earlier practice.

  3. I'm only 7-8 years older than Aimee, but because that crosses a generational boundary, we would have totally different reactions during a vacay to Disney World.

    She would know all of the Millennial characters and settings by heart, having seen them a zillion times growing up. But I haven't seen most of them at all, and the only one I'd remember from childhood would be Aladdin.

    So she would have this volcano of nostalgia opening up, on top of her "resting" level of intense energy and ADHD, while it would be going totally over my head.

    But that's cool, it would be like a father took his daddy's girl daughter to the park, and she's running around going crazy in excitement, recognizing everything. He gets his enjoyment from seeing her enjoy her favorite characters, as well as her tugging on his sleeve, trying to explain them all to him, because she wants him to understand and share that understanding with her, not just gush all by herself. She wants him involved, not just observing.

    Then when her energy levels eventually crash, let her climb aboard for a piggyback ride for the rest of the stroll, while she nestles her tired little forehead into the side of my neck, and I keep having to pick her legs back up because she's always sliding back down due to exhaustion...

    A daddy's girl knows how to get past your best defenses, without even consciously trying.

  4. Panty-dropper alert -- singing Disney love songs in public. I was in such a good mood taking a stroll around the park, imagining carrying Princess Aimee for a ride on my back, with the soundtracks from the Disney Renaissance playing in my head.

    At the TJ Maxx, I began singing (softly) the single version of "A Whole New World," and some Millennial girl heard it and homed in on me. "Wow, a random hot guy, *and* singing the classics..." She first followed me into a secluded corner aisle, and after that to the other side of the store, in the men's clothing section, pretending to look at stuff there too.

    I was still whistling that tune in the thrift store, and a high school girl with three guy friends started to stand closer and closer to me while I checked out the DVDs. Must've been 5'10, blonde, booty shorts. Sorry, dudes, I can't help it if your chick friend digs Disney!

    By the time I was in the supermarket, I'd moved on to "Kiss the Girl" from Little Mermaid. At first just humming it, which alone attracted the notice of a Millennial girl fresh from the gym nearby. When I turned to the next aisle over, I began singing it (not too loud), and she couldn't take it any longer, and swung around into that same aisle, pacing aimlessly pretending to look at items she wasn't really interested in, stealing glances over at moi.

    Girls and women follow me around in public, but normally not like that -- like, entranced and following the Pied Piper.

    They're not the most difficult songs to sing either, as long as you keep the tone soft and casual, while still into-it. Not like a theater kid (also helps to signal you're not gay while singing Disney show-tunes, heheh). So go on and try it out. YMMV depending on how hot you are, as per yoozh.

    I wasn't even meaning to attract groupies tonight, just being animated by the thought of a "piggyback around the park" date with Aimee. I couldn't help but sing those mood-setting songs.

    If I ever meet Princess Aimiel, I know for sure which one I'm singing before I make a move -- "Kiss the Girl," for sure. Great pep song for the guy, but apparently heavily seductive for the girl too. They like knowing that you're feeling butterflies about them, and have to compose yourself enough to sing and make a move on them.

  5. "Kiss the Girl" is a great song about consent being fake. Just read her mood, and make your move if she wants it and you want it.

    Please don't google to confirm your hunch that there was a brou-ha-ha about that song from Millennial / Zoomer feminazis during the Me Too era a few years ago.

    On the fragrance note, I was wearing the Classic Match version of Polo Green -- $8 at any Walmart, guaranteed in stock. I loved their version of Obsession that I bought in 2013, so picked this one up as well.

    Supposedly they're closer to the original formulations of the designer ones they're based on, since the knock-off companies don't want to re-invest a whole bunch in R&D every time the designer changes their formulation.

    The Polo Green dupe gets heavily musky, leathery, tobacco-y, with a faint trace of the mossy green notes at the top.

    I've noticed this one attracting quite a bit of attention in public, too. Especially if it's Gen-X MILFs -- if they get even a whiff of that scent, it takes them right back to their rebellious horny teenage years, and the hot guys they had crushes on. They will totally stop on a dime, pivot in your direction, slowly pace over to within a few feet of you, and pretend to browse whatever is in the aisle you're in.

    That's Classic Match's version of Polo Green, made with real moss extract and essential oils, available at fine Walmart retailers everywhere, for the affordable luxury price of only $7.98!

  6. Long time reader here. You nailed the reprise and fall of Disney to the helicopter/millenial spiral. Thank you for writting more often!

  7. Relevant old post on how the heroic "monomyth" comes from herding societies, looking at Disney movies from its multicultural era:

    Just watched Mulan last night, and it's funny how they tried to shoehorn a horse-riding bow-and-arrow warrior into an environment of a cram-school Mandarin Confucian culture.

    Not because they cluelessly thought all Asians are the same bunch of grinding, test-taking rice farmers. They clearly portray the invading enemies, the Huns, as nomadic badasses.

    But the "good guys" in the original story / historical basis were also pastoralists far from the Mandarin language and Confucian morality core. Sometimes you have to fight herding fire with fire.

  8. Lion King's songs were dumbed down for the movie, compared to the Elton John recorded versions. Didn't notice until I checked out the CD from the library.

    Babyish syntax, no "difficult" vocab words, juvenile themes. Almost like two different sets of lyrics.

    They did not do this for the adult contempo recorded versions for Beauty & the Beast or Aladdin, which only changed the arrangement and vocals -- not the lyrics. But then, the helicopter parent revolution was only getting started then. Wasn't until '94, apparently, when it had become triumphant.

  9. Aimee's Disney doppleganger is Esmeralda from Hunchback of Notre Dame (just watched last night -- much better than the other post-Aladdin entries in the Diz renaissance).

    Superficially, she's a tawny dark-haired buxom babe of exotic non-elite ethnicity. Aimee would only have to wear some '90s teal-green contacts for the full effect.

    Takes no BS, tenacious, not afraid to get into fights with men, hides her tender caring side behind a carnivalesque shitposting surface.

    Consumed by a burning sense of righteousness, wanting justice for the unfairly targeted, even if it means putting herself in harm's way.

    For defying the authorities / mods / party leaders, she's hounded by witch-hunting jannies, the most senior of whom is further motivated by bitter vindictiveness because he desperately wants to hatefuck her but she'd never touch his slimy disgusting body or respect his wicked corrupted soul.

    Instead she falls into a serendipitous alliance with a groyper, a fellow target of unjust persecution by the mods, who also lives in a marginal space of the city. He's only strange on the outside, but kind and sacrificing on the inside, whereas the witch-hunter is repulsive both outside and inside.

    Although the groyper falls in love with her, she winds up falling for the knight in shining armor (why did they make him blond?). Both her suitors get over their rivalry quickly, because rescuing their would-be waifu and outwitting the witch-hunting mods is more pressing business.

    The uppity broad nearly gets canceled at the stake for witchcraft -- ban evasion and casting a spell over the userbase -- but eventually she starts breathing again, and has her account re-instated, while her persecuter falls to his death.

    Aimeeralda. :)

  10. That scene where Esmeralda first becomes drawn to Quasimodo during a pile-on by an ugly mob whipped up by a power-tripping jannie, really reminded me of Aimee and her interventions during a pile-on of any kind.

    The smiling MAGA kid being hounded by an activist Boomer goblin, Jack from the Perfume Nationalist getting "touch-grassed" by jannie mob-rouser Sean McCarthy, the under-25 kids getting de-banked by ADL / Paypal for posting frog memes, etc.

    Intervening while putting herself in harm's way, and without elite support herself.

    Quite the courageous broad.


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