What is Appropriate?

December 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

As we were watching “March of the Penguins”, I  kept wondering how I would have reacted to the movie as a child. I remember when the film came out reading articles and hearing conversations about whether or not it was suitable for little kids. Obviously it is a pretty G movie but the scene with the gull was pretty upsetting. The entire classroom of 17 and 18 year olds was cringing and had we been 10 years younger there very well could have been tears. This got me to thinking about what is appropriate for children. I know that this was a source of controversy for “The Lion King” and “Bambi”. I came to the conclusion that the loss of a parent or a home or predation in wildlife is indeed acceptable for children to see and actually important for them to understand.

One movie that we watched this year that I however do not think is appropriate for children is “Fantasia”. When I was a little girl “Fantasia” scared me  shitless. It does not teach children to fear rational things such as death but completely insane things like Satan and vindictive Olympians. As a child I would experience an odd combination of fear and boredom during “Fantasia”. It was too creepy for me to enjoy! When I re-watched it this year it was a bit like what I would imagine an acid trip to be like. Now I recognize that the film has some very admirable qualities. It teaches children to appreciate classical music, science and mythology but it is legitimately frightening and I think I will wait until my children a bit older that I was to let them see it. 

Circle of Life

October 11, 2010 § 5 Comments

Bambi, The Lion King and Call of the Wild share many similarities. In each story there is a strong natural order and a social hierarchy in which one species dominates over another. Each protagonist also has a destiny to fulfill and inner strength that must be recognized. In Bambi, the title character had to mature in order to fill his father’s shoes as Great Prince of the forrest, Simba had to take charge and bring order back to his kingdom, and Buck must recognize the beast within. Another similarities between the three stories was the fact that all of the title characters underwent a transformation and came of age. For me the most striking similarity was a theme of respecting nature and its creatures.

Both of my parents are strict vegetarians. Despite my mother’s own refusal to eat meat she always left the decision up to me. I have never had meat in my life, not one bite (except that one time with my nanny at the grocery store but I spit it out) but my mom actually encouraged it. I of course couldn’t bear the thought of eating a dead animal and I think that these three stories actually led me to remain a vegetarian.

In Bambi, cute, lovable animals are destroyed for sport. As a little girl Bambi made me feverntly opposed to hunting and taught me to respect the natural world.

The Lion King also has some serious animal rights themes. The Lion King reinforced the respect for nature that Bambi introduced me to. It reminded me that just because you are “superior” to something does not mean that you should disrespect it just because you can. All links of the food chain are to be respected as they are all crucial aspects of the circle of life. It’s interesting that Simba ends up living off of bugs. All animals in The Lion King are personified but since the bugs weren’t it’s almost like Simba was living a off of a vegetarian diet.

In Call of the Wild, Buck is tormented by man. The first time I read Call of the Wild I became obsessed with dogs. I would wear those really ugly dog shirts with no intention of being ironic  and volunteered at animal shelters with my friend. I would never eat a dog and knew that I could never eat a pig either.

Bambi, Call of the Wild, and The Lion King are kind of like PETA’s wet dream.  Man is a source of corruption and a force of evil that exploits and abuses the natural world. Each story personified animals in such a way that they were more than cute they were human. These stories led me to respect nature and teach all children to do the same. 

Living the Teenage Dream

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

According to my personal interpretation of the Lion King, we only see Simba as a teenager once in the movie, during Hakuna Matata when Simba, Timone and Pumba are walking across a log and Simba transitions from a cub, to a teenager, to an adult lion. Although we only seen a second of Simba as a teenager, a lot of assumptions can be made about his life during that time span. It is apparent that he grew up with Timone and Pumba, apart from his family and living without restrictions or responsibilities. This is somewhat of a reflection on teenage life as a whole, reflecting on the desires and aspirations of a stereotypical teenager. As teenagers, we spend a considerable amount of time away from our families, 10 hours per day at school and sports, numerous more hours locked up in our rooms doing homework, and then on the weekend, we spend even more time out with our friends. Personally, I know that at this point in my life, I try and avoid confrontations with my family as much as possible, knowing that the painful subject of college applications will surely come up within five minutes of the conversation. Even though Simba may not have to deal with applying to college, his teenage life is still spent avoiding his family for other reasons. Also, by escaping from his community, he avoided all the restrictions and responsibilities that normal teenagers must take on and instead, got to enjoy his teenage years without worries, through the idea of Hakuna Matata. However, despite living his teenage years in total independence from his family and pride, Simba still values the lessons he learned as a cub as shown through the scene where he, Timone and Pumba are gazing up at the stars and Simba recites Mufasa’s star theory. Simba also has not lost his sense of responsibility  and loyalty even though he was living apart from the pride as visible by him returning to the Pride Lands and battling Scar. So who knows, maybe if teenagers were allowed to live by the rules of Hakuna Matata, we would all end up doing the right thing?

Christianity and the Lion King, how much do we socialize our children?

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Life goes on, Long after the thrill of living is gone”

It’s the key line in the once popular song called Jack and Dianne, by John Mellacamp.  The song tells of two “American” kids who do they best they can.  It’s what many, as parents, wish for their children.  We instill in youth the values and morals that we believe they should have.  Consciously or not kids are always learning how to behave, and we are always teaching them.

That they learn values is unquestionable.  What these values are, however, is another story.  Many things influence the way children see the world.  What they learn from their parents, those around them, the media, the books they read, and the movies they watch.

It no wonder than that parents, and babysitters, are so concerned about how life is portrayed in such movies.  For example when the Disney production of Lion King came about in 1994, there was a flurry of critics claiming that the movie instilled various false, or negative morals on children.

Annalee R. Ward analysis these various critics in her article published in the Journal of Popular Film and Television (though I found it on the gale database document number GAlEIA18299548).  In the article Ward discusses both the overall allegory of the tale as well as the various messages that is sends to kids.

She explains that the Lion King could be viewed as a allegory for religion (specifically Christianity).  The characters fit relatively with this allegory:

Mufasa = God

Simba = Christ,

Scar = snake in garden of Eden

as well as the overall plot:

elephant graveyard = garden of Eden (forbidden fruit)

Kingdom before Mufasa dies = paradise

Kingdom under scar = The Book of Matthew

and so on and so forth….

Of course the two stories are not completely alike.  For one the endings are drastically different for Jesus Christ, unlike Simba, dies for the sins of others.  Simba’s journey is also much less individual then that of christian heroes.  In The Lion King there are characters such a Nalla, Timon and Pumba, and Rafiki who influence Simba’s decisions along his journey.  The Christian allegory also begs the question “Why does Mufasa die?”   How could all powerful God be simply thrown off of a rock?

While the christian allegory fits very closely with the story of the Lion King, another argument is that the moral is much less specific.  By using animated characters Disney is able to form the tale into a generalized problem, one that children, or any person for that matter, would not have. I mean, how often do Americans get trampled by wildebeest?  With animals, animation, and over-dramatization children are able to project their own worlds and spirituality onto the plot line.

The movie itself does not teach specific morals or values.  It is more, however, a portrayal of a general society, which has problems, faults, and “shadowy regions.”  The intense colors, and exciting music, however, instill similar emotions in every child.  In this way the children they can feel the power and intimidation that comes with Mufasa’s entrance, whoever Mufasa may represent in their own lives.

Many adults have interpreted the movies to have specific morals or values based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and maybe they do.  But many children are not focused as much on these details.  They get the general sense of society, who has power, who should not, and this is the role Disney movies take as our moral educators.

oh i just can’t wait to be (or not to be) king

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Rosemarie Gavin’s article, “The Lion King and Hamlet: A Homecoming for the Exiled Child”, the Woburn Collegiate Institute professor discusses the similarities between the two different but equally brilliant works. By studying them simultaneously, Gavin’s students were able to discover that both story’s protagonists represent the archetype of the exiled child forced to restore order to his world. The students found similarities between The Lion King and Hamlet in terms of the characters, themes, ending scenes and archetypal patterns.
Gavin’s students noticed that both Hamlet and Simba are princes banished from their homes who return at the end of the story to avenge their lost fathers. Both boys’ late fathers appear to them and  help them to fulfill their duties. Gertrude and Sarabi are manipulated and used by their brothers in-law. Both Simba and Hamlet have villainous and greedy uncles. Hamlet and Simba are both overcome by guilt regarding the deaths of their fathers.  Claudius and Scar were willing to commit fratricide in order to make political gains. Gavin discusses how the themes of revenge, absolute power and innocence versus experience are prevalent themes in The Lion King and Hamlet. Gavin also highlights the fact that Disney and Shakespeare used the archetypal pattern of the exiled child to shape their heroes and how at the end of both stories peace is restored and power is returned to the proper ruler.
I enjoyed this article and felt that the similarities highlighted were quite striking. I did however disagree with her belief that her students experience similar mythical patterns in their own lives. The first time I read Hamlet I did notice similarities between Scar and Claudius and was glad that Gavin and her students did too. Simba and Hamlet are very similar characters in terms of their circumstances but I do feel that Simba is a much better hero than Hamlet because of the way he deals with adversity. Junior year my friends and I dubbed Hamlet the emo prince of Denmark. Hamlet is much more fearful than Simba and struggles to commit to his duties. The guilt surrounding the death of Hamlet’s father was based upon the fact that he, a mature and educated prince, couldn’t man up and avenge his father’s death while Simba, a tiny lion cub,  felt responsible for causing his father’s death. Simba did what Scar tricked him into thinking was honorable while Hamlet lacked the courage to be honorable. Hamlet alienates all the people who care for him while fulfilling his duty while Simba makes friends along the way. Simba is also a strong enough leader to assume the throne while Hamlet dies a whiny death and leaves the  throne  to a foreigner. There were a few differences between The Lion King and Hamlet that I was grateful for. Thank goodness that Nala doesn’t meet Ophelia’s fate! It’s also a relief that The Lion King has less deaths than its Shakespearean counterpart.

Hamlet similar to Lion King?

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Does the centuries old play really have similarities to the twentieth century children’s film? The academic article that I found, from the English Journal, is a comparison of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Disney’s the Lion King. The teacher describes how at first, her students struggle to understand Hamlet, but through connections to the Lion King, it becomes increasingly easy.

The author believes that Hamlet and the Lion King are very common stories set in different times and that each of the main characters, Hamlet and Simba, can show the students a lot about life. At first, I tend to agree with this article. Simba and Hamlet both have their fathers killed and are banished from their homes for actions they didn’t commit, where they face a lot of danger. Then both characters survive these dangers and are spoken to by their deceased fathers who motivate them to save their people. Then they both return to take on their villainous uncles, who have mistreated his people. After epic battles, both characters reclaim their thrones and are rightfully given back their throne. Finally, both movies end with a glorious final scene as both Simba and Hamlet are praised by their people. Up until this point, I can see the authors argument completely and the similarities are hard to miss.

The author takes it too far though, when he begins to describe how the children in his class too are on a hero’s journey. He says that his students are just like Simba and Hamlet which isn’t possible. I understand that the teacher is trying to be positive and make the kids feel good about themselves, but he is just filling them with false hope. In Hamlet and the Lion King, the stories are designed so that the audiences leave  glad that the main character made a miraculous journey to the top. It is unrealistic to expect these young students to do what either character did, because they are both fictional stories and it only sets the students up for failure with almost unachievable expectations.

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