The Lion King as a Christian Story
For my project I have decided to depict Christianity as a main theme in The Lion King. There are several examples of Christian themes from the bible and many allusions to biblical characters.
Walt Disney once said: "I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful influence on a person's whole life. It helps immeasurably to meet the storm and stress of life and keep you attuned to the divine inspiration." This leads me to believe that Walt Disney would intertwine religious beliefs into his stories.
Mufasa: Before his death, Mufasa is the king of Pride Rock. All in the savannah worship and bow to him. He is the father of Simba. Mufasa tells Simba that after his death, he will exist in the sky and that he will be watching over him. This comparison is similar to God, Jesus’s father, watching Jesus while guiding him through life. Some could also argue that Mufasa is more of an allusion to Jesus himself. His sacrifice for Simba is similar to the sacrifice Jesus made for his followers on the cross. After death, he ascended into heaven, much like Mufasa says he will ascend to the skies to continue watching over and protecting the people.
Simba: Simba was born of the king, Mufasa, and is next in line to hold the throne. As Rafiki holds him up in front of the other animals, they bow out of respect. If Mufasa is God, then Simba is the son of God, Jesus. Simba learns from Mufasa, just as God taught Jesus very important life lessons as he progressed through life, because one day he woud need this knowledge and experience to be mighty himself. However, Simba can also be compared to Eve in the Garden of Eden. He gives into the temptation of the forbidden fruit. Mufasa told him that the shadowy places in the savannah are not to be touched, but Simba is tempted anyway. When Scar speaks to him, the temptation of the forbidden land, much like the forbidden fruit, becomes too much for him and he gives in and visits the Elephant Graveyard, against the advice of his father. Another biblical character Simba represents is Moses. After Mufasa’s death, Scar tells Simba it is his fault, and tries to pressure him into leaving Pride Rock. In the bible, Moses leaves his home after killing an Egyptian. Though for good reason, and not trying to cause harm – like Simba – people were unhappy and blamed him for his doings. The Pharaoh ordered Moses to be killed, like how Scar set the hyenas loose on Simba. So both Moses and Simba fled their lands to live with a new family far away.
Scar: There is no denying Scar is symbolic of Satan. In a land of good, Scar represents the bad. He is mischievous and conniving, and will do anything possible to try and be ruler. The Satan in him wants everyone to follow him and not Mufasa, and he does everything he can to try and ensure he is next in line to rule while brigning his evil upon everybody else. Satan is unforgiving, unlike God who will forgive sins. Scar tells Simba he can never be forgiven for "killing" Mufasa, showing his dark Satanic side. Scar can also be a symbol of the snake in the Garden of Eden. As he tells Simba of the Elephant Graveyard, saying only the brave go there, he is enticing him to something that will have negative repercussions. This is just like how the snake enticed Eve to eat the apple off of the tree.
Biblical References and Religious Themes
The beginning of The Lion King shows the baptism ritual of Simba. Much like the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Son of God, the animals worship and bow to Simba as he is held in front of them. This is the first indication to religion within the film.
Next we watch as Mufasa explains the land to Simba. Telling Simba he must never go to the shadowy place, curiosity is sparked within Simba’s young mind. He is very tempted, and with a push from Scar, acting as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Simba sets off to see the equivalent of the forbidden fruit – the Elephant Graveyard. Mufasa is furious but rescues his son from danger nonetheless. This part of the film both follows the story of temptation in the Garden of Eden and proves God’s forgiving nature of our sins.
The Lion King can be said to be loosely modelled after Moses journey after being exiled. Moses saw an Egyptian beating another person, so in order to “help”, he killed the Egyptian and left him buried in the sand. When word of this got out, the Pharoah sentenced him to be exiled, and so he had to leave. In The Lion King, Simba’s circumstance is a little different. After being tricked by Scar, he gets caught in the wildebeest stampede. When Mufasa tries to rescue him, Scar pushes him off the cliff and he falls and gets trampled to death. Scar convinces Simba he is to blame and must flee the land. So Moses and Simba are in similar positions, being sent away from their homes. Both Moses and Simba find a family in their new land. Both experience something which makes them return: for Moses, the burning bush tells him to return, and for Simba, the vision of his father. Both experiences tell them that they must save their people. With Moses believing God is within him, and Mufasa within Simba, they are both able to return to reclaim their rightful followings.
Mufasa did everything he could to rescue Simba from the wildebeest stampede. So much, that ultimately – with the help of Scar – he got trampled and killed. This is a heartbreaking example of sacrificial love. Simba’s father died for his son so that he could live, just like Jesus sacrificed himself for his followers so that things could be better for them.
When Simba decides to return, he sees Rafiki. He tells him his father is dead, but Rafiki is adamant that he will show Simba his father. He guides Simba to a pool of water. Looking down at his reflection and seeing his face and the stars in the night sky, he is at first unsure, but then sees his father in himself. This shows that Christ lives within us, just like Mufasa lives inside Simba. Mufasa also comes out of the sky as a vision to Simba. This shows that though his father is not physically there, he is still watching over him and guiding him as he makes his way through life, much like how we cannot see God but he is helping his followers along their own path.
While I believe that there are Christian themes and people referenced all throughout The Lion King, this is not the only opinion. Jonathan Barfield, although he does agree that there are biblical characters and themes, believes that that best way to explain Simba’s journey in the movie is through existentialism. Existentialism is “a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook” (allaboutphilosophy.org). Barfield believes that all of the references mashed together make The Lion King a “messy and confused Christian allegory”. He challenges the religious ideas because he believes that when Mufasa explains the Circle of Life, it goes against the Christian belief of heaven. He tries to argue The Lion King through an existentialist approach but I don’t think he can just disregard the blatant references to specific biblical events while saying that Simba is just trying to search for himself through life. I don’t believe that the finding of self can be seen as the main philosophy behind the film since this is a background theme in countless coming-of-age films and not grounds for disputing the religious allusions.
To contrast, Mark Pinsky believes that this reference of the Circle of Life is Hindu. He claims that this continuous cycle through life, all the way finding yourself, is not representative of Christian tradition because there is no promise of resurrection. Pinsky finds it strange that without these Christian beliefs, they would use the Christian ritual of baptism for Simba's birth.
Why is The Lion KingReligious?
There can be many lessons learned through biblical passages, and by putting them in a piece of youth pop culture, children are more likely to be engaged in the material and it can make teaching them easier. If you are able to tell them Simba's journey is like the story of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, it makes the biblical story more enjoyable and a child more eager to learn about it.
Walt Disney made the deaths in his movies relatable back to American cultural religion because it offered a great source of understanding for the viewers, old and young alike. The presence of death is significant because the death offers a lesson relatable back to the bible, which we learned in class is a fulfillment of our need for stories about Christ and a Christian worldview. Mufasa's death modelling the death of Jesus Christ is important because it allows the viewers to keep their faith alive through a story they have been told since youth. It offers understanding and the relatability can invoke greater emotions in practicing Christians, and let younger children understand that the death is more than just sad but can be meaningful.
In my opinion, Christian themes are found in children’s movies such as The Lion King because countless children are taught religion growing up in religious homes, and by making the entertainment they see relate back to the biblical stories shared with them in church, there is an enrichment of the lessons and motives they are being taught. This is an attempt to emphasize the importance of religion in their lives and give it a “real life” application from a young age. By associating the characters with biblical characters, and being taught the life lessons Simba experiences, children in religious homes may be more inclined to stick with these religious beliefs and carry these messages through life.