Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Disney Phobia

It's been long debated whether Disney, the beloved creator of characters which children have grown up with, is providing a hidden message wrapped in its stories. As Naomi Rockler-Gladen argues in Race, Hierarchy, and Hyenaphobia in The Lion King, she states that in just this animated film alone, Disney is promoting the idea of segregation and class hierarchy through how certain animals interact with each other. What Rockler-Gladen fails to realize is the context from which the story was written.

The Lion King is based on Shakespeare's play Hamlet, in which the protagonist, Hamlet, is confronted by the ghost of his father, who tells him he has been murdered by Hamlet's uncle in order to lay claim to the throne of Denmark. Like many plays written by Shakespeare, there is no recognizably surface level of good and evil in many plays. For example, in Caesar, the audience is left to debate whether the assassination of Julius Caesar was for the greater good of Rome, or whether Brutus and the other conspirators should be charged as murderers. Children as such a young age are still grasping the concept of right and wrong, so to present a story such as this would only create confusion on their part.

It was for this reason that the Lion King, in order to be adopted into a children's film, must be presented in more drastic terms. For this reason, the protagonist must be drastically portrayed as right and the antagonist is shown to be wrong. This is the reason that the Lions are the kings of the the Pride Land and the Hyenas are subjected to life in the Elephant Graveyard. Segregation and class hierarchy is not the point of the film and any perception that it is is due strictly to how it's interpreted.

The article further makes two outlandish claims. 

"In addition, "Be Prepared," the musical sequence in which Scar invites the hyenas to support his coup, alludes visually to Hitler's propaganda film Triumph of the Will."

What? Last time I checked, Hitler was in power when he put out such propaganda films, not suppressed, as Rockler-Gladen the hyenas were in the Lion King. It further discredits the article because at this point, it becomes contradicting. But the quote that really gets me is this one.

"At no time in The Lion King do we learn that segregation is not a good thing and that lions ought to learn to overcome their "hyenaphobia" and create a more multicultural society."

If the article did not already destroy its credibility, this statement just put it in the ground. It is a pompous, arrogant statement to make because it is trying to make The Lion King into something it's not, a civil rights message. It's neither a civil rights message nor a message to promote segregation. It is simply exactly what it is, a dramatic display of right and wrong, good and evil necessary for children to be able to grasp the concept. 

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