Ellen Leabeater: Calla, I hate 1994 movie The Lion King. Is my heart made of tin? Yes. I have hated it since first forced to watch it at age four. In fact, I’m pretty sure I fell asleep out of sheer boredom during the opening scene, and any subsequent attempts to remain awake and finish the film have failed. I mean the opening scene is four minutes long and nothing happens! And even if you convince me to watch the film, you will not convince me to like the soundtrack. The syrupy, gleeful singalong tunes make me want to throw my screening device into a pack of hyenas. Ditto any adult who decides Hakuna Matata is their karaoke song or life mantra. Can you give me a heart? Doubt it. But prove me wrong, Calla.
Calla Wahlquist: I also saw the Lion King for the first time when I was four. It was in the Regent cinema in Albury and I tried to hide under my chair during the stampede. Two years later, because that’s how long these things took in the 1990s, I was given a copy of the VHS for my birthday. I can recite it, beginning to end. We listened to the soundtrack on tape during long car rides. I also had one of those Simba dolls that growled when you hugged it and a copy of the VHS of Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.
I haven’t seen the remake because absolutely no one, watching the beautiful animation of the original, thought: I wish these singing lions looked more realistic.
Now that my credentials are established, time to correct your wrong opinion. The Lion King is the best Disney movie, which is what happens when you rip the plot from Shakespeare and the look from Osamu Tezuka. It is a classic hero’s journey, and a way to explore class issues and the inequities inherent in a monarchy (“But dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”) without using actual people.
While I am with you on adults who use Hakuna Matata as their life motto, that song is a masterful and efficient way to show Simba’s character growth from princeling to carefree outcast, just in time for it to be completely undone in Can You Feel The Love Tonight, the song in which everyone developed confusing feelings for Nala. Be Prepared is the best villain song in any Disney film and introduced most westerners under the age of 35 to the concept of goose-stepping.
I will say that a big part of the attraction of the film for me as a kid was the presence of the ultimate 90s crush, Jonathan Taylor Thomas. If you’re not down with JTT, well, you’re younger than me. But the rest of the cast is spectacular: James Earl Jones! Rowan Atkinson! Whoopi Goldberg! Jeremy Irons, in his best ever role unless you are extremely into horny popes!
And don’t think I’m sleeping on Simba’s Pride, the equal best Disney sequel with Toy Story 3. The late great Suzanne Pleshette is so filled with malice as Zira. My Lullaby is an amazing villain song and you gotta hear the hippo hit those base notes in Not One Of Us.
It’s not just the songs. The first scene between Mufasa and Scar could be lifted from an HBO prestige drama. The direction of the stampede in the gorge, from Simba trying to roar to the discovery of Mustafa’s body, is an amazing piece of direction. The crack in JTT’s voice when he pleads with Mufasa to wake up makes me cry every time, even on the millionth watch.
But before we go much further, I have to ask: do you actually like musicals? If you do, and you don’t like The Lion King, I don’t know what to say to you except that you have terrible taste.
If you do hate musicals, I have a challenge for you: watch the Lion King but turn the volume off during the songs. I promise that although they are all amazing, you don’t need them to enjoy the film. But I’d also suggest you try to find a pre-2002 version, without the Morning Report song. In this one case, I am with you: that song is absolutely terrible.
EL: Calla, you’ve actually forced me to dig deep into my family history to find answers for why my hatred of The Lion King runs deep.
I call my only sister, and ask, does she remember watching The Lion King as a child? No. Any Disney movies at all? No. Does she think this is strange? Yes.
So perhaps this stems from my mother. Surely she does not like Disney movies, and refused any showing of them in our household. I call her, and ask why we never watched Disney films as children. She said, “what’s a Disney movie?”
Her ignorance explains why I never watched the film as a child, but doesn’t explain the intense dislike. My mother did tell me that when we went to the video store to hire movies I was in charge of choosing what I wanted to watch, “you had your own firm ideas about that,” she said. And I guess, even as a young child, Disney movies did not appeal to me.
But the time has come to confront my demons.
You ask if I like any musicals, the answer is no. I took your advice and watched the original Lion King with the volume turned down for (or in my case, fast-forwarded through) the songs. I was surprised to find some childhood trauma resurface as soon as I saw Scar’s face – that lion is creepy. And the hyenas! I forgot how much that skeleton-strewn landscape gave me the shivers.
Apart from that, the movie was actually quite enjoyable. With age and a comprehensive study of Hamlet under my belt, I found the dialogue to be engaging and found myself laughing out loud in points. Will I be singing Hakuna Matata next karaoke night? No. Never. I may, however, seek out Simba’s Pride over the holiday break and skip the songs again.
Prove Me Wrong is a new summer series in which Guardian Australia colleagues argue over whose tastes on popular culture, food and leisure activities are right … and whose are wrong.