Disney has a plethora of characters who, for one reason or another, come under some serious emotional turmoil during their life. I’m going to start tackling these characters, going through each Disney movie I’ve seen (hint: pretty much all of them) until I finish up. It’s going to be a long process, and I may stray from the path a little bit. But really, it’s my column, my rules. So I’m starting with Simba.
I’m going to assume you know the majority of The Lion King, so if you don’t, know that there are some spoilers.
I never understood why Simba, lion and heir to the throne of Pride Rock, felt guilty when his uncle, Scar, killed his father, Mufasa, in cold blood. To my young mind, I saw Scar as evil. I thought Simba would’ve seen that it really wasn’t his fault and that Scar was trying to take over and kill the young lion cub. Man, I really wasn’t a smart kid.
How could Simba believe anything but that his father’s death was his fault? Trusted Uncle Scar just told him so. Simba has to be thinking, “Uncle Scar would never lie to me, right? So it must be my fault.”
There is a great article by Dr. Robin B. Dilley on the process of emotional healing. In it, Dilley breaks down the emotional roller coaster that Simba goes through. After running from the kingdom, he ends up on the outskirts and is found by meerkat Timon and warthog Pumba. Timon and Pumba enable Simba to run away from his problems. After all, his father is dead. Why wouldn’t Simba, who acts about 8–12 in human years, want to forget the pain that comes from thinking about his father? His father is dead, and it’s his fault. Why remember him in any way?
That’s why I believe ‘Hakuna Matata’ was so appealing to young Simba. While Mufasa taught him about the Circle of Life and the process of keeping that circle moving along, Timon and Pumba were praising the concept of “no worries.” Simba didn’t need to think about his mother or his dead father. He didn’t need to think about his abandoned kingdom. No worries.
But the guilt festers. How could it not? Simba is in deep denial over the situation. It takes a magical baboon going after him to snap Simba out of his funk. The entire part of the movie where Rafiki shows up to Simba and the entire Mufasa speech are amazing.
Simba has attempted to forget who he is. In essence, he’s forgotten everything Mufasa taught him. Simba needed to admit that despite Mufasa being physically dead, his spirit endures inside of Simba. This is enough to push Simba to return to the Circle of Life.
“Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king.”
-Mufasa, in ‘spirit form’
Simba admits that he’s afraid of the past, but Rafiki shows him that despite the fact that the past can hurt, Simba can learn from it. It is with this information that he overcomes his fear, conquers his demons, and returns to Pride Rock.
In his final clash with Scar, Simba learns that Scar was evil and that Scar wanted to be king. Even with this new information, even knowing that his uncle set him up and made him think for a good bit of time that he killed his father, Simba shows growth by telling Scar that he can live if he leaves Pride Rock forever. Of course, Scar being evil means a fight to the death, with Simba winning out to capture his destiny as king of Pride Rock.
The growth that Simba experiences from the time he loses Mufasa to the time he returns to Pride Rock is inspirational, and a great story for children. It’s obvious that Simba did not kill Mufasa, but to a child, bad things can sometimes make a child feel guilty, even if they did not cause the bad thing. Simba experienced that, and by overcoming his guilt, Simba showed children that you can overcome anything by facing the past and learning from the mistakes.