What "The Lion King" can teach us about Purpose
Hey everyone! These blog posts have been a bit sporadic of late (my schedule has turned upside down switching our youth group meetings from Wednesdays to Sundays and beginning our parish study of The Chosen on Tuesdays), but they'll still be coming as often as possible. This week, I wanted to share with you a bit about our most recent youth group meeting.
The first meeting of each month will be a Faith in Film meeting, where we'll watch a popular, non-overtly Christian movie and discuss how to examine it through a Catholic lens. We are called to exercise our faith in all aspects of our lives, media included! As I searched for a movie to base our first discussion on, I ran into some difficulties.
Sure, there are obvious popular movies that have Christian themes and influences. Things like Lord of the Rings, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and even The Mission are all very popular movies with clear thematic ties to Christianity. But those are some high bars of entry! What about something more palatable, relatable, and easy to understand?
Nobody wraps important themes in an easy-to-understand animated package quite like Disney, and there's no Disney movie quite like The Lion King (the original, I'm not crazy). While it draws some story beats from Hamlet, it's a wonderful retelling bolstered by bright colors and the best top-to-bottom Disney soundtrack* of all time (take a seat, Frozen).
*The best individual Disney SONG is definitely "I'll Make a Man Out of You," but the rest of Mulan's soundtrack doesn't quite hold up.
The Lion King, at its most fundamental level, is about purpose. Underneath the instantly gripping opening sunrise and the joyous strains of "Circle of Life" lies the clear idea that Simba is special. He is literally anointed by Rafiki before being raised above the entire animal kingdom to wild adulation. It's almost messianic! From the very start, Simba's purpose is central to the movie.
As the film moves through its first act, we see even more of this. Mufasa tells Simba that he will one day rule over everything the sun touches, and Simba sings about all of the things he'll do as ruler in "I Just Can't Wait to be King." He is destined for greatness from birth. But of course, we wouldn't have a movie if he just fulfilled his destiny without any roadblocks.
The inciting incident of the movie, the action that sends Simba off on his journey (and us into the second act), is the death of Mufasa. Betrayed and killed by his brother Scar, Mufasa leaves behind a son who still has much growing to do. In a truly horrific act, Scar leads young Simba to believe that his father's death was his own fault, and encourages him to flee the Pridelands forever.
Alone in the wilderness, all seems lost for Simba. But then he meets two of the movie's most important characters: Timon and Pumbaa. These guys are just awesome. So much fun, and with a memorable (yet questionable) catchphrase: Hakuna Matata. This, right here, is where Simba's purpose comes into question.
Hakuna Matata is an attractive idea! No worries for the rest of my days? Live for the moment and squeeze all the pleasure I can from life? Count me in! But remember, Simba is meant for more than this. His purpose remains, whether he's ignoring it at this point or not. It's not quite clear how long he spends goofing around in the wilderness with his new friends, but it's likely at least 5-10 years (plenty of time for a lion to grow to adulthood).
So here Simba is, living life for himself and enjoying every minute of it. Until, that is, two people (and a spirit) show up to remind him of who he is meant to be. Nala (his childhood friend), Rafiki, and especially Mufasa's spirit urge him to "remember who you are." They encourage him to remember his purpose, the fact that he is meant for more than this.
Simba, to his credit, eventually does remember his purpose. He returns to the Pridelands, defeats the traitor Scar, and claims his rightful place as a good and benevolent king. Movie over, roll credits! That's the easy part. Now the part that requires something of us: applying this message to our own lives.
Clearly, we are all like Simba. We all have a greater purpose for our lives. Sure, we might not be kings and queens on earth, but we all have a grand and glorious purpose in God's eyes. We've been anointed in Baptism, just like Simba was. While our Father is certainly more powerful than Mufasa, the original Lion King takes on heavenly qualities while appearing to Simba to kick off the movie's third act.
The world, of course, is Timon and Pumbaa. It's fun! It's lively! And it wants you to kick back, relax, and forget all that silliness about purpose, duty, and responsibility. Hakuna Matata, am I right? It's a seductive and dangerous lie that our society loves to tell. Should we be able to relax? Yes. But "no worries for the rest of your days," is neither realistic nor good!
The fact is, sometimes there are worries. Now more than ever, we can attest to that! But that's life. And our purpose remains, whether we ignore it or not! Don't worry if you struggle with this. Simba screwed up and still fulfilled his purpose. It's like we read in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: your failures don't define who you are or make you less worthy of what God has planned for you. Let Him make that judgement.
Always remember that you are a child of God and that you have a divine purpose. You are destined for greatness, and have been since birth. Don't let the world convince you that you're meant for less than that! "Remember who you are."
God Bless you,