Study Guide

The Lion King Themes

  • Family

    We know we've already said this a million times, but we feel the need to say it again: family is where it's at in The Lion King. When it comes down to it, this is the story of a family of lions trying to avoid being screwed over by one very malicious family member.

    By juxtaposing Mufasa and Scar, The Lion King is basically showing us two models of being in a family. The first, Mufasa, is one of good kinsmanship and compassion; the second, Scar, is one of self-serving manipulation and a total lack of loyalty to one's brethren.

    Questions About Family

    1. What are the qualities of a good family in The Lion King?
    2. In what ways does power affect the dynamic among Mufasa, Scar, and Simba?
    3. How does the Circle of Life relate to the concept of family?

    Chew on This

    In The Lion King, familial bonds ultimately prevail over political ones.

    What brings Simba back to Pride Rock is not a desire for power but rather a desire to be loyal to his family.

  • Manipulation

    This section might as well be titled "All About Scar" because he's the king of manipulation. Every single negative event that occurs in this film occurs because of Scar's callous manipulations of his friends and family members.

    In The Lion King, to gain power in such a manipulative, disrespectful way is anathema—a disgrace. Namely: if you've got to go around manipulating people to get powerful, then you probably don't deserve that power anyway. Scar definitely doesn't deserve his power.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. How does Scar manipulate other characters in The Lion King?
    2. What happens as a result of Scar's manipulations?
    3. Do Scar's manipulations actually work? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Although Scar manages to become king as a result of his manipulations, his reign is ill-won and doesn't last for long.

    In The Lion King, manipulation and deceit typically lead to death.

  • Principles

    Principles—otherwise known as a moral code of conduct—are very important to the ruling family in The Lion King. Mufasa is basically Captain Principles, reminding his son of how to effect justice and goodness in the world.

    Keep in mind: principles (specifically, who's got them and who doesn't) are a powerful way of distinguishing good from evil in The Lion King. The good characters have a unique understanding of the universe and its machinations, and they strive to respect all things. The evil characters, on the other hand, could care less.

    Questions About Principles

    1. What principles are part of Simba's education?
    2. Which characters adhere to a set of moralistic principles? Which don't?
    3. What happens when the principles of the Pride Lands are abandoned?

    Chew on This

    The Lion King adheres to a moral code which involves the fair and just treatment of all living things.

    In The Lion King, the good principles of one character tend to positively affect other characters close to him or her.

  • Good vs. Evil

    In The Lion King, the struggle between good and evil is very, very real. It's good versus evil every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And here, "good" means "respect for all forms of life and all natural laws," while "evil" means "total disregard for pretty much everything except yourself."

    At the beginning of the film, Mufasa—the good king—informs us that the animal kingdom exists in a delicate balance of plant and animal life, and that a good and just king knows and respects this most excellent of facts. When the kingdom is overtaken by Scar, everything pretty much goes to seed. Why? Because he has no respect for the natural order of things. Why? Because he's evil.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. How does Simba come to understand who/what is good and who/what is evil?
    2. What characteristics help us distinguish evil characters from good ones?
    3. When in the film does the battle between good and evil see its climax?

    Chew on This

    In The Lion King, Scar's evil is the opposing force against which Simba defines his own goodness.

    The ongoing battle between Scar and Mufasa is allegorical for the age-old struggle between good and evil.

  • Coming of Age

    Ah, coming of age. Who doesn't want to grow up? Oh, everyone? Okay, then. Sorry for asking.

    But seriously, The Lion King is in many ways the story of Simba's maturation from impetuous young cub to grown-up. When Simba is young, his father's wisdom is confusing to him. But as he grows up, he gets a better handle on all that crazy stuff his dad said, and what it actually means. (Kind of like how the older you get, the more the stuff your parents say makes sense. Spooky, right?)

    In the moment that Simba defeats his conniving uncle, he's fully mastered what it means to be a just and responsible king. Only then is he ready to assume his place on Pride Rock and start his own family.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. In what ways is young Simba different from adult Simba?
    2. How does Simba's time with Timon and Pumbaa help him grow up?
    3. How did the trauma of Simba's childhood shape him?

    Chew on This

    As Simba grows up, he learns that the world is more complicated than he first thought but that doesn't necessarily make it less manageable.

    Although Simba must face some difficult realities as a child, he remains invested in the idea that good can ultimately avenge evil.

  • Society and Class

    Even though Mufasa claims to be all about equality, the Pride Lands have a pretty rigid class system. It goes like this: all animals are respected and equal … except for the hyenas. They're horrible and banished forever. Why? We never find out.

    Forced to live in the elephant graveyard, the hyenas become bitter and vengeful toward the royal regime that cast them out. Scar preys upon their angry vulnerability to turn them into his evil army, and by the time that army invades the Pride Lands, all heck breaks loose. The reasons for this remain unclear, but the antipathy between the lions and the hyenas bears closer investigation.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How are hyenas portrayed as different from or inferior to the other animals?
    2. Do the hyenas benefit from Scar's new regime, where "lion and hyena are to live in harmony"?
    3. Are there other characters in the film who appear to rank lower, socially speaking, than the lions?

    Chew on This

    Mufasa's antipathy toward the hyenas can be read as an allegory for white racism and xenophobia.

    It is the hyenas' hunger and desperation, and not any innate evil, that motivates them to collaborate with Scar.