Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It Cannot Be Sweetened

The Nostalgia Chick reviews The Lion King

Now, normally I love The Nostalgia Chick, and the rest of this website. But c'mon…it's not that she inadvertently disagrees with part of my critique of The Lion King, namely the hyena-based bits of that whole "the natural order cannot be changed" thing, but that she does it in that particular way. It's the theory that the legitimacy of complaints about a film's unsettling subtext is measured by whether or not said subtext actually drives people to commit similar actions.

Naturally, that would make The Lion King SOL, since of course nobody was driven to support racial segregation because of its positively-portrayed analogue in The Lion King, or to dislike hyenas even more than they already would. But discussing the progressive values of films, or their lack thereof, isn't about literal goals or literal expressions…it's a discussion for its own sake. If it serves any political purpose, it's about calling attention to tropes which reflect rather than create the attitudes of society, and these tropes often don't reflect things literally.

Hence why I agree that pointing to the hyena's VAs as evidence of the "racial segregation" subtext is pretty flawed, because Simba's parents are portrayed by black actors, too, and Jim Cummings was white. Instead, the hyena plot is part of the film's larger theme that there is a natural order that should not be changed, and the hyenas living where they did, and apparently being unable to better themselves, is part of that natural order--it's the unspoken dark side of the "Circle of Life". These kinds of themes aren't expressed maliciously, or intended to refer to anything in the real world: this is all about subconscious, nigh-universal themes that are, sadly, expressed in stories all over the world. Nobody at Disney wanted to use this as racial propaganda.

However, I was in a different way uncomfortable for what's basically an argument from popularity. Hyenas aren't as liked by the public, so nobody would go to see a movie called "The Hyena King" (or wouldn't it really be a "Queen"?). …and? So? It serves as a justification if you're asking why a film that wanted to make tons of money went with "majestic" animal protagonists, but this argument seems to be more about storytelling--that if an animal stereotype exists, there's no complaint to be made against using it.

Even if this logic is restricted only to animal stereotypes, it's still trying to justify a formula solely by its longevity, and often these issues are just a matter of presentation. After all, look at Ratatouille. It took mammals that were as much maligned as hyenas and made something that was a mainstream success out of it. This fits with the video's notion that Pixar is more risky, but the issue isn't discussed in terms of the stuido's willingness to take risks, but just that no one would be interested in a film about hyenas. Come on, what if the hyenas looked like this? Or if you want to just go to Disney, think about Gaston from Beauty and the Beast--he was an intended subversion, and it didn't hurt the film at all.

Also, also, also, my interpretation was that Scar's reign was meant to have caused the drought somehow. Over-hunting by the hyenas (it would fit the rest of the movie so well if their desire for food was from greed rather than starvation) or whatever you want to say, it's meant to be symbolic. This isn't just the dry season, this is Fisher King territory.

Timon and Pumbaa are still annoying.

The Kimba thing isn't just about rhyming protagonist names and lions on cliffs. It's the fact that many of the TLK characters have Kimba counterparts in terms of species/role/appearance, and that Disney is keeping its lips zipped about the idea. Still quite a shame.

Dammit, Scar, you used to be so cool, slithering around and snarking on the pomp and circumstance of the kingdom, but you turned out to be a moron.

I've gone over and over on it in my head, and I still can't accept that the later plot hinges on the entire cast doing absolutely nothing until Simba grows up.

Finally, I did see the film in 3-D, too, out of nostalgic value. But I had watched it just prior to making my blog post, and of course nothing changed between that viewing and the theatrical one. My heart soared at the beginning, but my rational mind soon set in. Things have changed with me.

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