February 10, 2007
It’s funny how your perceptions of things change as you get older. Books and movies are one place where it’s really noticeable. Disney movies are a good example of this. While many of the storylines, at least of the ones I grew up with, are borrowed or based on other stories, they still resonate. Some gain meaning as we grow older, as we’re more able to appreciate emotions in certain situations or as we gain a new sense of how things are as we outgrow youthful naiveté.
For me, an instance of this is with the song Be Prepared from the Lion King. When the movie first came out, I had a cassette of the soundtrack. Be Prepared was my favorite from the beginning. I guess I’ve always been attracted to the dark, foreboding quality of Jeremy Irons’ voice and the surrounding melodies. I enjoyed the lyrics too, but it wasn’t until recently that the truth behind the song really struck me. For those that haven’t seen the movie, the song takes place as Scar is planning the assassination of Mufasa, his brother, the king of the lions, and his son, Simba, the heir to the throne. He realizes that he’s going to need some help, so he is trying to recruit the hyenas, who have been pushed to the edge of the land where they struggle to survive.
In the opening lines of the song, he tells the hyenas that they’re stupid and not worthy to be in his presence, but he’s going to help them to better times. He’s going to bring them up from the depths of their misery and marginalization. By the middle of the song, the hyenas have accepted him as their leader. The hyenas are excited, and in lockstep, say how good it’ll be to be connected to the king of the lions.
Then Scar brings in the small print: that they’ll have to do something in exchange for his goodwill. They’re blissfully ignorant. Then we descend into his pomposity. “You won’t get a sniff without me,” he growls. He’s their all-knowing master. However, listen to the final section, which is where it becomes chillingly clear that Scar is in it for himself. The marginalized hyenas are focusing on how they’ll rise out of poverty, “We’ll have food/ Lots of food”. All they care is that Scar, their savior, says that he’s going to make sure they’ll have food to eat, that they’ll no longer be oppressed. At the same time, Scar is making it clear that all he wants is power: “Decades of denial/ Is simply why I’ll/ Be king undisputed/ Respected, saluted." The “benevolent” master is only using the poor hyenas to place himself upon the throne. They think they’re going to be taken out of hunger and poverty. He knows that they’ve become pawns.
If you watch the movie, this whole scene is filled with parallels to Hitler, which is amazingly appropriate, given he did much the same thing. He promised them a return to glory, and he used the people to carry out his plans for his “master race”. But Hitler was an extreme example. Think about how many times a leader has rallied the people with visions of better times, only to turn a blind eye to them in order to advance his own personal agenda. Think about it, because history repeats itself, and there won’t always be a Lion King to save us.