Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Walt Disney, part XLV: Slimy, yet satisfying


Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by many

Spoilers: high

The Lion King
 is, by any industrial metric, the landmark achievement of Walt Disney Feature Animation in the 1990s, which is as much to say one of the four or five landmark achievements of all Disney animation: to this day it still stands as the highest-grossing traditionally-animated film of all timeholding true even in constant dollars, leaving previous landmarks Snow White and Cinderella in the dustwhereas it's also the single highest-grossing film, period, of 1994.  And there are, furthermore, its artistic successes to consider, though even in the short version, we have a more-or-less uniformly great soundtrack (it would place highly amongst the highest-grossing musicals of all time, as well), along with a stirring, epic story of generational vengeance; it is one of the masterpieces of digital ink-and-paint in animation, and I will declare it to be the masterpiece of animated feature color styling in the 90s.  Moreover, even if we'd rather not acknowledge it, its 2019 all-CGI remake is the highest-grossing animated film of any kind.  So you'd have to agree it resonated.

Famously, it did not resonate with the people who were actually making it, at least not at first, and this is indeed famous enough today that I'll dispense with any expression of surprise that the artists behind it could somehow have lacked faith in their own juggernaut.  It is still awfully curious, though, so it helps if we can put ourselves in their shoes: on the one hand, you had a movie conceived on an airplane by three executivesJeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, and Peter Schneiderwhich, thanks to its vague "Africa, lions" "concept," naturally went through several fundamental overhauls before animation began (at one point, for example, operating as a tale of lions at war with a tribe of baboons, a contest that doesn't seem grounded in even minimal ecological sense), which did not prevent innumerable, often-misery-inducing smaller changes after animation began, and all this on top of the fact that talking lions might not even be something you had an interest in; on the other hand, you had the other film in development at WDFA after Beauty and the Beast had whetted an appetite for real prestige, Pocahontas, a historical romance of deep and serious intent that, everyone assumed, would prove itself Disney's signature film of the 1990s, and the talking lion movie less so.  Things worked out quite differently, obviously, but at the time, The Lion King's directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff had to scrounge around WDFA to get people to work on their film at all.  You also had a story department and animators who remained unconvinced in the story they were telling, even once it came together, and I think you can see why, even if, to their credit as artists, they left essentially no trace evidence in the bombastic, enjoyable film they finally finished just a few scant weeks before it was in theaters.

That story, of course, can be boiled down to "what if Bambi was Hamlet?", a formulation I don't love on either end.  To get it out there, The Lion King is no Bambi, a film that could only have been made under the administration of a terrible businessman like Walt Disney (Bambi, for all its reputation, lost money in its day).  There was a brief window, I don't know how long, where The Lion King was conceived similarly, as a film about "real" lions and, thus, about the majesty of nature, which Bambi had explored through a mostly-realist depiction of the life cycle of a deer rendered magical, not so much through a talking deer, but despite thatmore by how elemental and profound his existence felt while you were watching him.  It seems Bambi is always the starting place for ambitious cartoons about animals, but it never takes.  And so on to lions fighting baboons, or whatever, and then on to the actual concept of The Lion King, which treats the idea of an animal monarchy so literally and so anthropomorphically (to the extent that we can identify that the succession law of these animals is, specifically, "agnatic primogeniture," and it's so central to their identity that even the villain implicitly respects it) that I wouldn't necessarily think to compare it to Bambi, unless forced; and I'm not even sure The Lion King could ever work quite the same way as Bambi anyway, considering the key difference between the films' respective protagoniststhat is, lions:Bambi::Man:Bambi.

As for Hamlet, that is likewise part of the production history, and the storypeople were indeed nudged into leaning into that, though what this actually means is only that William Shakespeare is the English language's paramount teller of stories of dynastic conflict, so any story with a monarch or even monarch-like figure who's being undermined, or killed, or flattered, or anything, is obviously comparable to something in the large and varied body of work which William Shakespeare produced regarding royalty.  It doesn't even resemble Hamlet the most within that body of work, besides the fratricide (tell me how many other plot points resemble Hamlet, and no, the warthog and the meerkat are not meaningfully "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern"; hell, man, Hamlet doesn't even have agnatic primogeniture).  It's at least as much like Macbeth; some say it's like the Henry IVs; I find it to be above all like Richard III, in that its villain is its most interesting, dynamic, and, arguably, likeable character.  What it's most like*, of course, is Star Wars: a chosen one is cast out into the wilderness and has adventures alongside wacky sidekicks until he avenges the death of his father, James Earl Jones, while in the meantime he makes out with his sister.  Which is pretty much the only way to understand where his love interest came from, anyway, in accordance with anything like real-world lion reproductive behavior; and while I suppose it's possible that she could be his cousin, since the actual plot of The Lion King is, in concrete terms, "a gay lion unaccountably vies for sole control over a pride of lionesses he clearly doesn't have sex with," probably not.

This found Disney going for full-on Campbellian monomyth, then, almost for the first timeand that the very first was the featureless void of The Black Cauldron might explain why so many people at Disney had doubtswhile, beyond that, it represented a break from the successful formula they had established for their musical cartoons (this Star Wars would, also, be a musical), which were less about doing battle and more about escaping from some intolerable state of being, whether that was "being a fish" or "being a literate French villager in a jerkwater town" or "being a 10th century Arabian loser" (all of these stories ending with giant battles anyway, because movies simply work better with an action climax).  The hero of The Lion King does not have a yearning, even if he has an "I want" song," he has only violent destiny.  And it's something one can make too much of, so I will not, but you could essentialize this as a "masculine" storytelling mode, in opposition to the Disney Princess Musical's "feminine."  The unfortunate fact is that the success of The Lion King on top of Aladdineven though the latter was a glittering example of that "escape and transformation" mode of storytellingtaught the relevant decisionmakers the worst lessons.  They didn't even recognize these as modes, just "boy shit" and "girl shit," and this wound up coming back to bite Disney in the not-even-that-long run.

So, for our story, we must swoop down upon the African savannah, to witness the birth of the firstborn male heir to a pride of lions, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas)the film concludes with a pleasing symmetry that replicates this opening because, whatever problems I have with this movie, it's artful as fuck.  We follow the cub as his father Mufasa (Jones) lovingly teaches him the ways of lions and the world (and, for the record, we left "Bambi" territory before this, with the uncannily-human-like ritual undertaken by the savannah's symbol-manipulating, wisdom-dispensing, sometimes kung-fu-wielding primate shaman, Rafiki the baboon (Robert Guillaume)).  What Mufasa does not know, however, is that the brother whom Mufasa has sort of let just hang around, the black-maned Scar (Jeremy Irons), resents his subordinate station.  (And while I will henceforth attempt to abstain from literalistic bullshit, I will note that, all the traditional "God, Scar is so incredibly gay!" observations aside, this is one remarkably unreproductive lion pride, even when Mufasa's still arounda dozen mates, one male child?and frankly the siblings appear to share some serious fertility issues.)  Well, Scar abhors Mufasa, more-or-less openly so, yet he suffers under the need to still offer the occasional token of his submission.  And so he plots his brother's deathand now Simba's as well, if Scar wishes to be kingand to this end, Scar has made a treasonous secret alliance with the hyena pack his pride competes with for prey, notably Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin), and Ed (Jim Cummings).

Scar finds his opportunity during a wildebeest stampede, and here Mufasa dies.  Simba, still unaware of Scar's scheme and primed to believe that his father's death will be adjudged his fault, for he has been a most obnoxious and irresponsible princeling, flees into the wasteland.  But Simba does not perish: he's rescued by Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella), raconteurs and voluntary insectivores, who, in recognition of the usefulness of having a lion in their debt, drag him back to the jungle that appears to exist alongside this desert, raising him to adulthood (Matthew Broderick) while teaching him the ways of their carefree lifestyle.  And Simba is happy, but troubled by the past.  He's confronted with it directly when his sister/lover Nala (Moira Kelly) finds him out here in the junglenot long after, he meets Rafiki, tooand they charge him with his mission, to vanquish Scar and take his rightful place as king.

I've groused about it, but this has, basically, perfect bones.  It becomes seriously troublesome in only two respects, and I'll lead with what, as a matter of temperament, bugs me more: the joints on these bones are misshapen and weird.  I'm more accepting of the climactic clunk (which only flows from the fundamental narrative issue, anyway), whereupon Scar's perfidy is "revealed," but only with Simba's claws at his throat, so not exactly a situation where he'd provide a true confession; but then, I'm also not a lioness with a medieval mindset, either.  However, even when I was twelve I was unconvinced by this story's principal pivot, built around the absolute narrative requirement that Simba blame himself for his father's death, which maybe wouldn't be so all-important if it weren't on these particular facts, or if it didn't define the emotional state of our protagonist the entire remaining forty-five minutes of movie.  It sits very uneasily atop much diligent foreshadowing (Scar has already manipulated Simba into almost getting his father killed once already, after all; Simba even has a whole song about how he has no sense of responsibility), but Goddamn it, what happens this time is that trusted adult Scar explicitly instructs Simba to sit in one specific spot in a ravine, claiming to relay his father's instructions, and Simba dutifully obeys, whereupon a seemingly-unrelated crisis occurs.  Even accepting that Simba is a child, it's difficult to see how "blame" needed to be apportioned at all.  (I almost wonder if this was a late-in-the-game reconception: if Simba simply knew that Scar was evil now, and ran and never came back, he could indeed blame himself for being a coward, but I guess we can't have a movie about a confirmed coward any more than we can have one about a protagonist we actually do blame for his dad's demise.)  They're trying to trick us into thinking Simba believes his pitiful roar caused the stampede, but this weak gesture doesn't take.

It's infuriatingly sloppy work on the level of story (yet, almost confusingly, not ever on the level of storytelling, the visuals letting us know, with flawless efficiency, exactly what Simba, Mufasa, and Scar know at any given moment throughout this hugely-complicated sequenceand that's on top of its bravura spectacle and its considerable emotional impactthough however much I'm moved, and I'm not unmoved, by the perfect detail of Simba nestling himself against his father's cooling corpse, I greatly dislike the cloying liberty taken, of having a lion shed tears).  But the insufficiency of the plotting just drives me nuts, far more than the merely-medium-sized problems of the film, like our pair of Simbas (not counting their two separate singing voices!), Thomas and Broderick, who are each suboptimal in their distinct ways.  (Thomas is arguably just too good at being unbearably smug; Broderick is expectedly good at Simba's long stretch of diffidence, but just doesn't have the tools to fully persuade us that Simba is now a lion king, like his father before him.  Maybe they should've just hired Mark Hamill.)

I dislike it even more, in fact, than The Lion King's irritating injections of kiddie and/or anachronistic humor.  I have room in my heart for Timon and Pumbaa's gooferyup to and including the should-be-intolerable affront of their impromptu belting of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (hey, maybe they wrote it in this universe), or even Pumbaa's fart jokesbut the "sly" reference humor, and especially "they call me Mister Pig," and all of the action around that, can eat shit, especially coming where it does, in the midst of leonine gotterdammerung.  The most aggravating of the comic relief characters, despite less screentime, is Zazu the hornbill (Rowan Atkinson), the pride's avian chief-of-staff; or he gets the worst single anachronism, anyway, a moment that could only exist in a post-Aladdin world.  And so that film's negative influence can be felt immediately, in a stomach-churning reference to "It's a Small World" that is more-or-less expressly presented as the song from the fucking Disneyland ride, whichevidentlyScar has been on.  On the other hand, there are the hyenas, who are sort of bumbling, but manage to keep a nasty, still-threatening edge, and they're great.

But I said two serious problems, and accepting that our tangent into The Lion King's littler problems found nothing serious, that leaves only the one option, and I apologize in advance for doing it, but yes, I'm afraid it's that time where we discuss how The Lion King is possibly the most unintentionally fascist movie ever made.  At least I think it's unintentional, although Allers or Minkoff do use the term "degenerated" in their commentary track, referring to the post-hyena pridelands.  No, I'm quite sure it's unintentional; I'm also tremendously disinterested in talking about the poor pattern-recognition complaint, of how (two) people of (different) color were cast as hyenas, in a movie that has already made the deliberate move of casting Jones as the most noble, powerful figure around, and has the white guy, Cummings, play the most (well) degenerate of the hyenas, anyhow.  (I also do not care that the British lion is a brunet.)  And some of it is frankly more amusing than disquieting: the flop-sweat effortfulness of Mufasa's philosophy, about why it's actually righteous and necessary that the rulers of the pridelands eat their subjects, is grotesquely authoritarian if you forget that it exists, mainly, to justify predators as the protagonists of a family film to an audience of idiots who are themselves almost uniformly carnivorous, yet would likely experience genuine trauma if they had to confront that.  (I'm also amused that a number of the lions' "subjects," notably elephants and giraffes, would be rather more the natural rulers here.)

But there's so much that gets in by accident anyway, starting with the almost-nonexistent moral case the film makes for Mufasa's rule over Scar'sit gets itself into trouble with the over-anthropomorphism here, in that it locates pure evil in the peacemaker of the two brothers, before just going ahead and positing integration as a sinister conspiracy hatched by a literal race traitor, which will also literally make the rain stop falling, because Mother Nature hates it so muchthough the thing that really gets me is that the one time we see how Mufasa treats his second-class subjects, it's in the way he uses his trusted advisor Zazu as pouncing practice for his shitheel cub.  And I'd dismiss this if it were meaningfully "about" lions, but Scar is surrounded by a dozen lionesses who could have killed him themselves, at basically any point.  (I mean, there is Scar's hyena army, and apparently only a kingly male lion can scare away the bad, dirty outsiders.  In point of fact, they just kind of wander away, after foolishly turning against Scar, stupid and cowardly.)  I think I will remain amused, however, that it even prefigures one of the more salient features of actual American neo-fascism, the fascists describing their opponents as fascists; I can remain amused because "Be Prepared" is still awesome.

And that's a lot, I realize, for a movie I'm still going to ascribe no small measure of awesomeness to.  You have, of course, seen The Lion King, so you know it looks and sounds incredible.  On every level of craft it sings, starting (fittingly enough) with its music, with a soundtrack courtesy Tim Rice and Elton John (after an invitation to ABBA fell throughI am curious about that alternate timeline), and a score by Hans Zimmer that's one of his earliest great successes.  The latter is easy to sneer at for its white guy Africana, though Zimmer's collaboration with South African composer Lebohang Marake and their incorporation of South African choral music into the score lends it a nice sense of, simultaneously, specific place and unspecific timelessness.  (It is also integrated extremely well into the sincerest, most-soaring parts of the story; it's doing a tremendous amount of the emotional heavy lifting.)  As for Rice and John, they kick things off with "The Circle of Life," a statement of purpose that, given I don't remember much of it besides its title, is even better as an excuse for a gobsmacking "cartoon as nature documentary" sequence, that utilizes CAPS for a shimmering world teeming with beautiful life.  It also indicates The Lion King's flexibility as a musical, in some respects a throwback, surprisingly willing to use non-diegetic songs coming from nowhere like a 70s or 80s cartoonthe romantic interlude, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," is even kind of weird, because some of it is non-diegetic, some of it isn't, and it's sung by at least four characters, sometimes in their heads, and that's when it's sung by the characters at all (some of it's Kristle Edwards on the soundtrack), while Timon and Pumbaa's homosocial grief is used as the song's comic framing device around the central romantic part.  (All told, it's great: I enjoy its frolicky montage, and while Aladdin's "A Whole New World" maintains its place with the most openly-sexual Disney lyrics, Simba and Nala's tussling may involve the most explicit "then they fucked" editing.)

Nevertheless, The Lion King maintains access to the innovations Howard Ashman and Alan Menken pioneered, and when it wishes, it's just as much an integrated musical, demonstrated soon enough by "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," at once the "Under the Sea" colorful showstopper and the "Part of Your World" character-defines-themselves number, with the small caveat that young Simba sucks.  His song doesn't, and it's in the running for The Lion King's best musical sequence, thanks to the extreme abstraction of the animation, a cartoon counter-attack upon the reverent realism of "Circle of Life," that takes an already very colorful movie up to eleven in its rendering of backdrops as basically just jagged blocks of color (so expressive that I would have happily allowed a full minute for its abstraction of "flowing water" into nothing besides a bunch of sharply-defined teal and yellow shapes), with animal chorines doing a Berkeley riff with wondrous implausibility.

There is also "Hakuna Matata," the joke song about Timon and Pumbaa's easygoing bad influence on the once-and-future king, and it functions well enough on this count, while also pulling the thankless plot duty of demonstrating that the lion cub grew to robust adulthood by eating several ten thousand insects every day (apparently), in a series of cool quick dissolves as they swagger across the world's longest fallen tree, that spans several geologically-distinct zones.  (There's some great animal "butt" animation in their rhythmic sashaying during their "dance's" denouement, too, and there's a fun, real throwback, 30s and 40s "isn't animation magical and aren't you impressed by movement at all?" quality to that.)  This was the big hit, I believe, at least for the under-twelve set; perhaps accidentally, since this second-most-fun song is also counter to all the values the movie holds dear about duty and responsibility.

Which is to say, I'm not sure how anyone could misidentify the most fun song, which is, after its fashion, all about "duty and responsibility."  But as "Be Prepared" is bound up in so much of what else is going right here, we have to unravel that first, and the natural place to begin there is Scar, in a dead heat for Andreas Deja's masterpiece with Jafar, and I honestly don't know, I could go either way; if I choose Jafar, I'm sure it's only that I like the movie he's in more.  Scar is tremendous; he is also beneficiary of the film's by-far-best vocal performance in Irons, who defined the parameters of Deja's supervision of the character as much as any Disney VA ever has (including Robin Williams), and if between the two we get the quintessential evil queer Disney villain, well, you're not wrong, though it may be valuable to remember that Deja himself is gay.  Scar's so cool, and this is a huge part of that, the slinky, sultry, "sensational" movement, counterpoised against his hostile, bored stillness, all leading up to the (very-Jafar-like, now that it occurs to me, though he's colder-blooded) explosion of mad ambition in "Be Prepared."  There is a surfeit of amazing, well-observed quadrupedal character animation in The Lion King, in this regard as strong as anything since at least Fox and the Hound (and certainly richer)I'm also very fond of Ruben Aquino's and Tony DeRosa's work on adult Simba and Nala, and of any time the lions fight like lions; and I'm more than fond of Alex Kuperschmidt and David Burgess's supervision of the angular, punkish hyenas, whose spiky, rather-more-animalistic antagonism even bolsters the beastliness of our more genteel main antagonistbut by any metric Irons and Deja's Scar is the champion here, the one who just bleeds malign personality, and the one who best reconciles the tripartite tension between atavism, anthropomorphism, and mythopoeism that's always this movie's unresolved problem.

That's essential, but maybe not even the biggest deal about how "Be Prepared" represents all the currents of The Lion King coming together; if I had to choose, that would be the color design, which is properly credited to about a hundred people, but, more conveniently, production designer Chris Sanders (a name to remember, that one), art director Andy Gaskill, and artistic coordinator Randy Fullmer.  In its most quotidian scene, The Lion King remains an eye-pleasing study in color, its characters each defined by very limited palettes, so that the whole world here is a creation of angle and shape, which in turn makes it, outside of Aladdin, maybe the most two-dimensional of Disney's last run of two-dimensional cartoons, and without even entirely meaning to be (the layout definitely would like you to think otherwise), with those shapes really given dimensionality solely by the liberal use of CAPS shadows.  But a lot of The Lion King is not quotidian, and it uses color with a shocking amount of expressionism, downright eager to get to every heightened moment where it can throw hell-reds onto its slavering hyenas with the merest diegetic justification, or, to signal the encroaching peril of Scar's alliance, some supernaturally-tinged, completely-unmotivated green floodlights splashing across the rocks as his hyenas enter the pridelands with no big strong king to oppose them.  (And there's how color style relates to adjoining scenes: the hard transition from "To Be King" to the chalky decay of the elephant graveyard is dizzying.)  I could point to dozens of other things, but I won't, except to praise, no matter how dumb it is, the moribund hyena-ruled savannah, rendered in apocalyptic, ashen grays so powerful that the story must contort itself to accommodate it.  And so now can we really appreciate "Be Prepared," the single least "quotidian" thing in the whole movie, and its own special triumph of color style, which does all of this while also offering the best song in the film as a piece of musicdriving, soaring, evil.  It does all this, and it pins it to one-to-one Nazi imagery, notably Albert Speer's Cathedral of Light, even deploying an unmotivated color scheme seen nowhere else in the film, with its sickly yellows; except it's also a Nazi rally held inside an angry volcano.  This helps move it away from mere gauche grimness, and back to the matinee good time a movie like this still needs to be.  The nerve it took to put this in a kid's movie (and it almost didn't happen!) is worth congratulating, and it all builds upon itself for a powerful, frightening, but still utterly joyous sequence, that holds up as one of the best in the Disney canon.

That isn't even what The Lion King's makers are most proud of, and I can see their reasons; the centerpiece wildebeest stampede is, in a technological sense, one of the profoundest big deals in traditional animation history, only slightly short of The Rescuers Down Under's, well, everything, as Disney's first CAPS film.  One will not-infrequently see the sentiment shared that The Lion King is the greatest exemplar of Disney's digital ink-and-paint era, and I can see the reasons for that, too.  Besides the feast of color and line already described, it's another exercise in the ever-more-ambitious three-dimensional layouts CAPS made possible.  But I'm of two minds about this: it also demonstrates the bad side of CAPS, more objectively bad in its marked tendency to use post-animation digital zooms just because that was a tool they now had available, so that in numerous shots we start with or end up with these chunky-ass outlines shoved into our faces.  This, however, at least rests on some sort of articulable storytelling purpose.  What doesn't is the coked-up party Allers and Minkoff are having with the focal plane, by which I mean "the focal plane," since if I wanted to see "cinematography," maybe I wouldn't be watching a 2-D cartoon.  This is deeply intentional.  They wanted it to look like a live-action movie, even citing nature documentaries that don't have a distinguishable focal plane (because they had to be shot with telephoto lenses) as an aesthetic to avoid; and it's grating, because the flatness with pretend three-dimensionality is one of my favorite things here.  It's even salutary in small doses, of course (there's a nice shot right at the beginning, with ants and wildebeests widely separated by tangible-feeling space), but it can be distracting in its overuse.  It reaches its nadir, I think, with a conversation between Simba and Nala in the foreground while Zazu glides overhead and the entire awkwardly-framed shot doesn't appear to have any reason for existing besides justifying a focus rack.

But these are somewhat minor, whinging complaints in the grand scheme of things, a grand scheme of which that wildebeest stampede is a major part: it was a sequence three years in the making, principally the work of story artist Thom Enriquez (whose entire job for over a year was only this) and CGI supervisor Scott Johnston, and as that implies it found Disney animation once again integrating CGI, only this time truly well.  Obviously you couldn't hand-draw a thousand stampeding wildebeestsonly with computers is that feasiblethough Disney's previous flirtations with CGI would not prepare you for how good it is.  (Even its previous flirtation in this film: the CGI'd goosestepping hyenas are, in fact, too rigid, the one part of "Be Prepared" that isn't perfect.)  Yet it's striking how they went straight from "not-very-good CGI environments" to "a credible stampede of CGI characters," and didn't stumble; however long it took to get it right, it was worth it, another more-or-less perfect sequence in a film that has quite a few, utilizing a brand-new technology that, nevertheless, feels ready in a way brand-new technologies usually don't in animation.  (And for all this, I don't want to take away from the fiery finale, which is excellent in its own right, let down only by the tonal idiocy that Allers and Minkoff, who definitely aren't Clements and Musker, failed to resolve, and by the fact that Scar is almost the ideal villain, but unfortunately kind of gets thrown around by Simba, when he could have been a full physical equal.)  The Lion King has its problems, and in some respects it's a movie I find a little difficult to like.  But paradoxically, it's easy to love: if I compare its incredible strengths to its weaknesses, the strengths outweigh the latter, and it's not even close.

Score: 9/10

*As for the 60s anime, Kimba the White Lion, and the accusations of plagiarism that have followed The Lion King ever since its release, this is massively overlong already.  "Simba" is just Swahili for "lion," though, and "Kimba" is just the copyrightable version of that.


  1. I don’t disagree with the better part of your essay, but absolutely refuse to see Nala & Simba as anything but cousins: Just because a villain is Fabulous doesn’t have to mean he can’t be a little bi-curious (Especially when played by Mr Jeremy Irons).

    Endogamy is a bad habit of monarchy, but not even GRR Martin will convince me that full-blown incest is the rule, not the exception (Not in history, not in Fantasy).

    I would also like to suggest that, given hyenas and lions have a habit of killing off each other’s offspring in real life, given Our Villain has a whole … giggle? … of hyenas playing henchman and given that Scar has clear ambitions to be unchallenged king, it’s not exactly surprising that there’s a serious shortage of lion cubs in this particular pride.

    Finally, it bears pointing out that Scar isn’t exploiting the thwarted hopes of a traditional underclass to make himself King: he’s building himself a Praetorian Guard out of foreign mercenaries, on the order of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire (Or their much earlier predecessors the German Guards of I, CLAUDIUS vintage).

    1. I'm probably on record somewhere as saying cousins aren't best practice but, if I understand my science correctly, not the biggest deal (is your spouse in your ethnic group? not that far from being a cousin! then again, there's a reason Ashkenazim and a few other very endogamous populations have to worry about Tays-Sachs), though in any case I expect Disney would probably shy away from that, too. As I recall, one of the Lion King sequels seems to have had to scramble to remove a more explicit incest-based plot, after they'd already animated what is very clearly supposed to be Scar's son.

      I would, hypothetically, watch a Lion King with more hyena politics. Unless that's something 2019 Lion King does, in which case, in practice, I probably won't.

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