/ 6 December 2022

The best moments of ‘The Lion King’

Hakuna Matata
Hakuna Matata may be the motto, but the iconic Disney film is full of life lessons.

For the past 28 years, Disney’s The Lion King, which premiered in June 1994, has given Disney lovers and the internet many iconic, memorable moments. 

The film’s menagerie of singing characters such as the majestic Simba and his father, King Mufasa; Zazu the hornbill, a know-it-all major-domo; and Scar’s cast of cackling hyenas make the film a classic. 

There are songs, lessons and moments that have stood the test of time — sans Broadway show and live-action remakes — as well as puns and hidden jokes one may have not noticed at first. 

‘Circle of Life’ 

There are few film openers as iconic as the rising sun and the first line of the song, the Circle of Life, by Lebo M and Carmen Twillie: “Nants ingonyama bakithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama”. It is immediately recognisable, even for viewers who do not speak isiZulu. Not only is it a warm awakening — used as a call to rise for many — but an invitation to strap into the wild side because “here comes a lion, father. Oh yes, it’s a lion”. 

Presentation of Simba

The celebratory moment when the royal mjuzi of the Pride Lands, Rafiki the mandrill, raises a newborn Simba is another one of animated cinema’s iconic moments. This scene has been referenced in other films and in many memes. 

This moment, known as the “presentation of Simba” is goosebumps material. You can’t help but feel the camaraderie among the Pride Landers. 

Young Simba is anointed as Mufasa’s son and heir to the throne, setting the scene for what is to follow in the film. No matter what happens, Simba cannot forget where he comes from and where he is destined to go: his place in the circle of life as the future king of the Pride Lands. 

“We are all connected in the great circle of life”, is a powerful lesson in lion philosophy bestowed upon Simba by his father. This scene speaks to the delicate balance of the natural world. 

Everything the light touches 

As the king, or the being at the top of the food chain, humans can learn from this philosophy that says, as a king, one respects everything that keeps this delicate balance in place, from the ants in the grass to the leaping antelope. It’s in this balance that prey-approaching-predator is an act of grace.

“When we die, our bodies become the grass, then the antelope eats the grass. So we are all connected in the great circle of life.

“Everything the light touches … is our kingdom. But a king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.”

Long live the king: Mufasa’s death

The tragedy of the film is the death of Mufasa. Simba yelling for help is one of the hardest scenes to watch in Disney’s cinematic history, a true tear jerker. 

Imagine being in Simba’s shoes (or paws?) watching his father die — unknowingly at the hands of your own uncle — and living with a sense of guilt that it was his fault. 

When the same hyenas who tried to eat him before chased him, Simba tapped into the bravery he was constantly in pursuit of. You’re strong too if you can watch this scene without shedding a tear. 

Hakuna Matata: no worries

When audiences finally meet the musicality of the dynamic duo of meerkat Timone and warthog Pumbaa, they are introduced to a whole new world — wait, wrong movie — their motto, their problem free philosophy. 

“Hakuna Matata. It means no worries,” are the words Simba didn’t know he needed at that time. This number is also 100% worthy of a big, group singalong at every available occasion. 

The song leads Timon, Pumbaa and Simba to the jungle oasis scattered with waterfalls, lush trees, and fallen logs covering ‘grub’, that the meerkat and warthog call home. 

This grub gave the world the best one-liner food review: “Slimy, yet satisfying.” 

Nala’s come hither look 

Can You Feel the Love Tonight? is the sensual ballad by Elton John that sets the scene for the reunion between the two childhood friends, Simba and Nala, who were betrothed from birth. One cannot forget that this is a scene that brings out their young love tension. 

In perfect harmony, as the song says, this scene is a lion love song. Nala’s bedroom eyes say “come hither” to Simba; he was always meant to bear his own heir to the throne with Nala since birth.  

For the two childhood friends, this scene is also about taking their future together to the next step: Simba has to come to terms with his past as the son of his late father, and Nala has to grapple with Simba’s secret (put on him by his Uncle Scar, who tells Simba that he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death). 

Mufasa is … alive? 

While grappling with rediscovering his past through the reunion with Nala, Simba is found by Rafiki the mandrill, who first presented him to the Pride Lands. 

Rafiki shows Simba that Mufasa lives in him, through a vision of his father. This prophetic reunion with Rafiki and the spirit of Mufasa leads Simba back to Pride Rock, where he must face his past — and his future. 

On returning to the apocalyptic scene of Pride Rock under the rule of Scar, Simba’s bitter, insecure, yet camp uncle, Simba is again faced with (imposed) guilt for his father’s death. But the grandiosity of Scar pushes him to admit that he killed Mufasa. 

This is a formative moment for Simba and the film, of course. Scar’s admission is a cathartic moment for Simba, who is working through childhood — cubhood — trauma where he once felt responsible for the death of not just his father, but of the king. 

The clash between Simba and Scar, while dramatic and action-packed, is heartfelt and morally edifying. Through this battle, it is Mufasa within Simba, who is assuming his place as the king of the Pride Lands, and returning the delicate balance to the circle of life.