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'The Lion King' a Roaring Success Despite LambastingBy Steve Twomey
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 28, 1994
All right, so they looked fine.
But any untrained professional, such as myself, could quickly see that these three small-fry were masking the racism, sexism, homophobia and violent tendencies that had been subliminally spooned into them only minutes earlier by "The Lion King," the Disney fare posing as a G-rated summer diversion.
Well, that's what is supposed to have been dumped into them, based on reports from across America.
What did you think, you tiny, troubled souls?
"It was okay," Luis Blanco said listlessly.
See, he's a numbed head case.
"Nahhhh! To me, it was, like, really cool."
Luis is, apparently, an 8-year-old leg puller.
"It was, like, magic at the end."
What did you think of it, Janine? Janine Guevara, 11, is Luis's cousin. So is Emily Ochoa, 7, the third member of the trio.
"I thought it was fresh," Janine said.
"There was a lot of action and pretty sights," Janine added. "I wish I could see it again."
Emily said, "I think it was great!"
The dears hadn't a clue.
"The Lion King" is the tale of King Mufasa, who rules the Animal Kingdom until killed by his evil brother, Scar, who assumes the throne and despoils the region, aided by an army of hyenas. But Mufasa's son, Simba, who fled into exile, owns up to his responsibilities and, egged on by his true love, the lioness Nala, returns to overthrow Scar and restore happiness to the land.
The plot, in other words, resembles a Democratic Convention.
But what about the subsurface plots? I didn't know what to tell the children. Do I report what a columnist wrote in the Detroit Free Press?
The female lions depend on the males for salvation, he said, which "reinforces the stereotypes of men as power-driven competitors and women as helpless, hapless victims." And, he said, Scar clearly is meant to represent an evil African American because "while Simba's mane is gloriously red, Scar's is, of course, black."
Should I pass along what a columnist wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer? That by depicting the rank and file of the kingdom as subservient under Scar and unable to save themselves without Simba, the message to children is that they can't help themselves? "Anybody at Disney heard of empowerment?" this writer said, adding, "We must teach our children to see beyond the dependency of early childhood, beyond the sense of entitlement and victimization so many embrace, and into a world where they believe that they can and should and will be responsible for themselves."
Do I shatter their innocence by disclosing what Carolyn Newberger of Harvard University said? According to the Associated Press, she complained in the Boston Globe that "the good-for-nothing hyenas are urban blacks; the arch-villain's gestures are effeminate, and he speaks in supposed gay cliches." And another Harvard professor worried that the characters achieve goals "through violence."
Actually, I didn't catch all of these problems when I saw "The Lion King." I saw only a funny movie with mind-blowing animation and powerful lessons about obeying your parents, protecting the environment, being loyal and doing what's expected of you.
I did wonder about the violence and about the hyenas and race for a moment. Then I realized the voice of the chief hyena belongs to Whoopi Goldberg, so the hyenas couldn't be offensive, could they? Overall, it seemed more like a movie than a seminar.
But then I started reading way too much and learned how dangerous "The Lion King" is for the young, who presumably can be hit between the eyes by messages that went right over my head.
At Springfield Mall yesterday, Irene Walsh had just bought tickets for the 11 a.m. showing of "The Lion King" for herself and her grandsons, Michael Iuliucci, 9, and his brother, James, 8. It was too late to warn them off. The boys already had seen "The Lion King" twice.
"It was very good," Michael said, very seriously. "It had a lot of spiritual moments."
But what about the problems? Irene hadn't seen the movie yet, but she was dubious it had any.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "They're animals."
People seem to be thinking a bit too much these days, she suggested. Critics ought to, one might say, get a grip.
"It's just a cartoon," Michael said.
Out of the mouths of babes, eh?
Marnie Wiltrout, 27, was about to take Alexa, 6, and Samantha, 2.
"I loved it," Marnie said, adding that Samantha lasted all the way through it the first time, which is not her usual attention span, so "The Lion King" must be pretty good.
Yes, Marnie said, Alexa cried when King Mufasa was killed. But they talked about it at home and Alexa's fine. "She knows it's just a movie," Marnie said. As for the movie's other alleged deficiencies, Marnie said it was rather a shame "somebody has to pick it apart."
Next came Tracy Murray, 31, with Spencer, 3. They were going to see it.
Yes, she'd heard on the radio that "The Lion King" is a repository of isms and phobias. "I think," she said, "people are putting too much into it." (When she emerged from the 11 a.m. show, she called to report that she had kept an eye out for all the problems. Didn't see any, she said.)
Ignored in all of this is the most obvious -- not even subliminal -- problem. And talk about giving children a warped view of life, of pumping them full of incorrectness. Doesn't anyone care that these animals talk?
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company