And here's why I think it should not be put down as such.
The accurate category for it is: a family film.
The main reason why I wish to discuss this topic is that people who think of this (and Disney classics in general) as kids' films, judge and try to tell off people who hold these films in adult standards and discuss them in depth and seriously.
I will dig into The Lion King specifically later, but first let me start with a general look into the topic.
This article is not meant to offend anyone, but merely to offer another point of view.
I think the three main reasons why many people put these films down as nothing but kids' films, are:
1.) It's from Disney.
2.) It's animated/cartoon.
3.) It has (anthropomorphic) animals as characters instead of humans.
But come on, now. Would you stop and think for a little longer than that, please?
Yes, this film was produced by The Walt Disney Company. But whenever has animated characters and stories created in Disney's name, been suitable only for children or even mainly? They've had aspects and themes intriguing for and speaking to adults as well, some the kind children couldn't even understand or catch at all in them while watching or reading. More on this later in this article.
And sure, this film is animated but animation is nothing but one form of art and there are tons of animated films and stories that are absolutely not meant for children's eyes and ears. So please consider to stop ruling this as a kids' film just because this is animated/cartoon film.
(Anthropomorphic) animal characters? Please consider that aspect may be so in order to make the story more appealing to children, but the crucial matter to the film is the story and the crucial matter to the story is what the characters are inside and what their choices try to teach the viewer.
Let me take you to a little trip into some of the Disney animated classics:
- Bambi (1942)...The death and destruction a man brings to young Bambi's life and to the entire forest. While it of course is affecting to people of all ages...Does an avarage little kid actually grasp all its depths and meanings, are they capable or interested in pondering them for all that it is? I daresay not. But older children, teenagers and adults do. Should we not care so much about the message and moral it sends, just because the characters are animated animals?
- Robin Hood (1973)...Has animated anthropomorphic animals for characters, but they are human inside and the story, messgaes and morals are basically the same as in the other versions wherein they're all physically human. Why should the adult appeal of the story be thought non-existent just because the characters come alive in a different art form and look different from you and I and the film footage may have occational childlike humour added?
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)...Basically this is a story about how even natural enemies can become best friends instead if only the world didn't teach them to be enemies. And how later, even when unfortunate misunderstandings turn them into genuine enemies, the friendship they originally got to form proves to be stronger than anything else and they end up saving each others' lives. I personally cry every time when Todd lies in the water, all given up, and Copper goes and protectively stands over Todd who is about to be shot by Copper's master. This dog's loyalty and love for his "natural enemy" who in fact was his dear friend, won over his loyalty to his master whom we humans consider that should be his best friend. They didn't let the ways of the world and humans' morals blind their hearts from the truth, or take away their courage to rebel against the wrongs for the better. And they won.
Why shouldn't this be appealing to adults or important to discuss, just because Todd and Copper are animated animals?
- Beauty and the Beast (1991)...Already just the intro scene, the setting of the story should make it clear this film is for adults, too. Should we dismiss it just because this story was portrayed through animation and it has magic involved? No, I don't think so. Also, Belle fell romantically in love with a beast whom she didn't consciously think to be human. She sings;
"New, and a bit alarming. Who'd have ever thought that this could be?"
That throws in a slight beastiality-like touch. Note that not actual beastiality as there is no sexual tension but something similar anyway. That is something children aren't likely to catch or think about even with those lyrics there.
Gaston is the worst male role model ever and he is passed off as a male role model in the film. While children surely do get that he's a villain, could an avarage child really grasp all the complex ways he is so? I doubt. (Sidenote; I've never hated a Disney villain but gosh do I loath Gaston. Every time the Beast has his chance to off him, I keep thinking 'Drophimdrophimdrophim–awww damnit!”)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)...You dare to tell me that young children would know what Frollo's song ”Hellfire” is about? If they do, I feel sorry for those kids, 'cause in my world view by all rights they shouldn't. You tell me that aspect of the story earned a song sequence in the film for children? I really don't think so.
- Hercules (1997)...If you've seen this film you don't need explanations. But for those who have not seen it; this film is riddled with sexual implications. The character of Meg throws countless implications to sex, the kind only teenagers and adults could possiblty catch. (Well, kids today grow up too early so maybe today's younger kids could catch them too, but back then...likely not.)
- The Lion King (1994)...Has more or less anthropomorphic animated animals and no humans at all. So, this means adults shouldn't be interested in the film or dig into the story and characters, and discuss them in adults standards? Come on, now. The story is based on Shakespeare's Hamlet and some Biblical stories; there's a brother murdering his brother and intending to murder a young child, then a young child is exiled with a false blame of his dear father's death in his heart. Then this murdering uncle rules so that his home land is destroyed. The story's theme is the circle of life. The story is about growing up and taking responsibilities as its creators put it on the commentary track (or some other bonus featurette, I don't remember for sure.)
So, let me ask you what in God's name makes this film so much a kids' film that it shouldn't be taken seriously and thought of and discussed in adult standards?
ConfusedMatthew says he doesn't hold this film to any adult standards. I think he should, maybe then his review would make more sense and include more valid arguments.
I once started a poll about what people think; did Mufasa let cub Simba off too easy after the Elephant Graveyard thing, or should he have disciplined the child more? Someone got upset that that kind of discussion especially if in depth is destroying ”the Disney magic” and that we're not supposed to to think so much logic with them.
I disagree because I think that the story being about growing up and taking responsibilities means there is more to the story than just Disney magic and naturally would be logic included. I actually think that purpose the story has, makes the mentioned poll topic quite fitting and the more psychology facts you bring into it the more you get out of it. After all, the scene in question is essential to how Simba would grow up and what he learns or doesn't learn about responsibilities.
Of course, his life took a dramatic turn, to upside down, the next day. But nonetheless, it could be discussed as if it hadn't taken that turn, because the characters at that moment didn't know what tommorrow would bring.
So what if Simba and co. are anthropomorphic animals? They're clearly supposed to be human in essence, human inside – the humans of the story. To a far extent they have the same responsibilities, morals and family dynamics as you and I. The only difference is that they're pixels on screen, we are flesh and blood. They don't really feel anything and their specific story never really happened. But this leads me to...
...how many people keep not realizing that while fiction isn't real, it mirrors real life. It's something we're supposed to look into, possibly relate to, analyze, discuss and learn from. Something we may draw strength from when we can relate to and learn from the story and character. Fiction is not there just for our entertainment. It's there as one of the ways for us to safely learn and grow by. That is if the story doesn't glorify all the wrong things.
Same goes for the people who always say ”It's only a movie! Why are you getting so worked up over it!” I mean...Yes it's only a movie, a fictional story. But fictional stories are made to speak to us, make us feel, learn, find strength, and relate to. Fiction mirrors real life and can sometimes help in life. It should be in depth discussed and analyzed. It is not just for children even if the physical form happens to be more appealing to children. And it is natural that it stirs strong emotions, both negative and positive. Of course it is always important to still keep in mind that it indeed is fiction and there is no need to get too upset or into denial about a fictional character matter. I think it's best if you take the golden middle road; do not brush it off as insignificant but do not take it too seriously either.
And do not judge the book by its cover because it's the inside that counts. The animated form and antropomorphic characters are only the cover.
Simba may be an anthropomorphic lion cub in a Disney cartoon film, but more importantly he is a fictional equivalence of a human. And that is how he should be thought of and his life discussed as. Even the person who composed Mufasa and Simba's theme, got this. He's said that while he composed, he wasn't thinking about a lion cub. He was thinking of a 10-years old little boy who lost his father.
One more thing that I appreciate about The Lion King is that it doesn't think children are mindless fragile little flowers. It teaches them life in somewhat realistic way; it doesn't sugar-coat darkness. The main villain is actually menacing instead of made into a clown, unlike captain Hook was in Disney's version of Peter Pan. And unlike in so many other Disney classics, in The Lion King the dead stay dead. But the story shows that still we can face our past and find future happiness.
As in, this and other films like this, while giving children a lot to enjoy as children, also think of children as future adults and people who will face trials and sorrow in their lives. Being another reason why this film should and can be held in adult standards.