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Essay: Exploring Hidden Political Messages in Disney Movies: A Closer Look at “The Lion King’

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Tags: Disney essays

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As an individual who grew up with the forever changing entertainment company, I have come to learn that outdoor games are not popular anymore; it’s all about tv shows and handheld devices such as phones and gaming systems. Children shows are incorporating more of what appeals to today’s society. Children shows today carry underlying political messages in them. Of course when we are young we do not see these messages, but now that we are older, one can analyze these shows or movies in a completely different way. Let’s take Disney movies for example; Walt Disney films are knowing to go above and beyond with the creativity level and story line but, still manages to squeeze in hidden messages. Disney is something everyone loves no matter what age you are or how old the movies are. Disney movies such as The Lion King and Zootopia all seem as innocent movies with a great message to be learned from them but, let’s be honest Disney isn’t safe anymore hiding behind their “innocent movies.”

The Lion King is one of Disney’s most successful movies and now Broadway musical. The movie portrays a combination of leadership styles between Scar and Mufasa; following the journey of Mufasa young cub Simba, who strays away from his true identity to be the rightful ruler of Pride Rock after the wrongful death of his father. Scar sets up Simba in order to kill Mufasa, the king of Pride Rock, his plan goes well as Mufasa dies trying to save Simba from the stampede of wildebeest. Once the stampede is over Scar goes up to Simba and well basically says to the young cub that he is responsible for his father’s death and that he should run away because no one would forgive him for killing the king. At this point now Scar takes over telling the pride of lioness that Simba died too in the tragic event. Now Simba has reached a point where he is at his all time low being on his own. After much time has passed Simba returns to fight for the throne with help from his friends Timon and Pumbaa.

Now, to take a closer look at the movie in detail with a political view with the opening scene of the movie; it starts with a song, The Circle of Life, the following scene then explains the meaning of this. Mufasa, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom. A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will

rise with you as the new king.” Simba, “And this will all be mine?” Mufasa, “Everything.” Simba learns that he will one day be king and he has a very big paw to fill. Here Disney is showing that everyone has a role to fulfill in life; when Simba was born, Rafiki, the wise elder, says “It’s time.” Time for what exactly? Well Rafiki then proceeds to anoint Simba, shakes his stick, spread the juice of fruit on his forehead, and sprinkle some dust from the earth on him. Rafiki then presents the heir to the assembly of animals below, who respond with general exaltation. The clouds spread and the sun shines on the little cub. This ritual justifies and legitimizing rule by way of the divine right of kings. Simba will be the new king, upon Mufasa’s passing because it is mandatory and he has no other option in life. This is similar to the British monarchy for example, the British Royal Family has to produce a heir to the throne in order to continue the line of succession or else there will be no king or queen.

Our next scene shows a conversation between Mufasa and Scar. Scar is in a cave where he catches a mouse and tells it, “Life’s not fair is it? You see, I…, well, I shall never be king.” Mufasa comes in and basically scolds Scar for missing the presentation ceremony of his son and Scars’s response to that is, “I was first in line until that little hairball was born.” Scar is fully aware of his place in the kingdom and how the system works. Scar can be considered the outcast of the family, we never see him hanging around the pride; he is always by himself or with the hyenas. The hyenas are important because Scar can easily control them and manipulate them to do his work. So to break it down the hyenas basically feeds Scar’s ego and in return Scar acts as their savior. Scar creates a plan to purposely kill Mufasa and his young cub in the scene where he sings the song, Be Prepared, one of best Disney villain songs out there. This scene is based off a Nazi propaganda film titled “Triumph of the Will” that documents 1934 Nazi Germany. As Scar sits on top of the rock he sings in details his plans for the death of the king and his nephew, Simba, in order to rule Pride Rock. During his song, Scar promises the hyenas that “ It's great that we'll soon be connected With a king who'll be all-time adored Of course, quid pro quo, you're expected To take certain duties on board The future is littered with prizes And though I'm the main addressee The point that I must emphasize is You won't get a sniff without me!” Once Scar becomes king with help form the hyenas, he promises the them that they won’t have to starve anymore and live in the Elephant graveyard, they will all live in the Pride Lands, have a feast, and a king who they adore because Scar will be giving them what they wanted and waited for years now. As he sings, he sits upon a rock high above watching the army of hyenas marching in goose steps just like soldiers in Germany. The lighting of the scene, is also said to be intentionally copied from a German designer, Albert Speer, Cathedral of Lights which were featured during rallies held by Hitler. Scar goes about his plan and gets what he wants, to be king of Pride Rock until Simba returns home and battles for the thorne. As we can see any kid that watches this movie won’t look at this scene as a something to be compared to Nazi Germany but, a much older person who has learned about the world can be able to make connects and see the hidden details and copying Disney has done to achieve the scene they want to make their movies stand out. Now this movie came out in 1994, what about a movie that recently came out? Zootopia (2016). The Washington Post evan says “Zootopia might be the best political film so far this year.” Upon watching the movie which is what I expected to be a fun adventurous children's movie with talking animals but boy was I wrong as Disney let our society stereotypes write the movie for them. Well played Disney…well played.

In Disney’s Zootopia we have rookie bunny cop who teams up with a sly fox to solve a case that seems unsolvable to rest of the police department. In this movie some key aspects that play out are self determination, the acceptance of others in a corrupt societal system, prejudice, and race relations. Our modern human society divides us into many racial categories, whereas  Zootopia only has two, the predators and the prey. Our story starts with Judy Hopps, who has had the dream of being the first bunny police officer since she was a kid. Her parents, small town carrot farmers, basically tell her that complacency is better than chasing your dreams, her dad asked her, “You know why your mom and I ended up so happy?” and then tells her “We gave up on our dreams and settled!” Despite what her parents said, Judy is a very self-determined bunny and becomes the first bunny cop in all of Zootopia. When Judy moves to Zootopia – a city that is, 90 percent prey and 10 percent predators, she believes that the animals live in harmony; she quickly realizes that it’s not what she expected.

The city of Zootopia is made up of different ecosystems to support different species of animals, some of these ecosystems include Tundratown, Savanna Central, and the Rainforest District. Judy’s aim is to make the world a better place, so she works very hard toward her goal and graduates from the Police Academy at the top of her class. On her first day of work, Judy is called “cute” by the dispatcher, a cheetah named Clawhauser, and Judy replies “Ooh, you probably didn’t know it, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it’s a little….”  The language of stereotyping is explicitly used in the movie, as when Officer Clawhauser apologizes for calling Judy “cute.” She kindly reminds Clawhauser of the social norms that bunnies can call each other cute, but it is offensive when other animals do it. This is parallel to our society norms with the use of certain words towards a particular culture or race. Throughout the movie Judy will be judged because of the way she looks similar to our society where all of will be judged and evaluated based on how we look. The movie accurately shows how stereotypes can harm both the people doing the stereotyping and the people being stereotyped. Judy also faces prejudices as she waits for her assignment from Chief Bogo; he assigns all the missing mammal cases to everyone else in the room (wolves, polar bears, and rhinos) and tells Judy she is on meter maid duty, despite the fact that she graduated top of class. Judy is held back by the prejudices of the other police officers because she is seen as a tiny, dumb, cute rabbit and can’t be taken seriously unlike the other member of their ranks, she has to prove herself worthy of this job just because she is a minority. One can also point out that since Judy is a girl no one would want to work with her therefore she ends up being a meter maid. This is a profession that is clearly dominated by larger male predator animals, Judy is the only female in the room.

 In attempt to prove herself, Judy volunteers to find a missing otter, who is just one of fourteen missing animals in Zootopia. Chief Bogo gives her only 48 hours to complete this task. She teams up with a sly fox named Nick Wilde in order to solve the case within her forty eight hour deadline. Nick Wilde is stereotyped as a con man in a scene where Judy assumes that he's up to no good in an ice cream shop. However, her suspicions are soon resolved as she learns he has a permit for crossing between ecosystems and selling pawsicles.

Judy and Nick end up working together and gathering clues that lead them to a hidden laboratory, where they discover all the missing mammals. They ranged from a simple otter to a jaguar who have seemed to reverted back to their primitive state. Judy takes notes that the Mayor, Mayor Lionheart, clearly fully aware that these animals were here and arrests him on site. Through a press conference this information becomes known to the public, Judy knows that it's morally wrong to assume that all predators are biologically destined to be dangerous sociopaths, but as a police officer, it's the easiest narrative for her to present to the public. This news alerts Zootopia and the citizens quickly becomes divided as prey distrusts predators once again. The fear of predators, after being instilled in the public, is used as a tool to further Assistant Mayor Bellwether political career after the previous mayor had to step down. Mayor Bellwether becomes ruthless as her true colors start to show, she starts to promote the stereotypes against predators. We can see this today in American Politics with Donald Trump. At the beginning of his campaign, Trump stated that the Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This slander of another race is not new to politics as it has been used to politicians before to gather more supporters. Once again we have children’s movie with politics related to our society one way or another. The movie takes a turn as Judy discovers that Night Howler, a poisonous plant, is the reason why the predator population is turning feral. Judy later learns that Mayor Bellwether, a sheep and assistant to Mayor Lionheart, was the true culprit as to the reason why the animals started to act out. Judy is deceived by the unexpected villain in the film, Mayor Bellwether, a meek little lamb and politician that had a cruel motive to get rid of all predators and live in a world where prey animals can live in peace.

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