The Lion King (2019) A Parable similar to the prodigal son for morality in Leadership positions

Jon Favreau’s The Lion King (2019), a musical about morality in leadership positions, personifies members of the animal kingdom to creatively express the consequences of selfish dictatorship. The entire film was created using computer-generated imagery (CGI), a special effect that Ed Sikov defines as any image that has been created or manipulated using a computer and software. This impressive modern adaptation to the classic 1994 film creates a visual progression and comparison of three different individuals in power. One may consider this film and its chronic theme of morality in leadership a parable of sorts.

"While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give" -Mufasa

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher, dedicated some time and effort to defining a parable, discovering its effects, and analyzing its purpose. In his article, “The Logic of Jesus, the Logic of God,” Ricoeur says, “Parables, paradoxes, hyperboles, and extreme commandments all disorient only to reorient us.” He continues to address what is reoriented and in what direction with “I would say that what is reoriented by these extreme sayings is less our will than imagination.” He further explains that “our will is our capacity to follow without hesitation that once-chosen way, to obey without resistance the once-known law.” He then describes imagination as “the power to open us to new possibilities, to discover another way of seeing, or acceding to a new rule in receiving the instruction of the exception.” In other words, a parable is a story that provides some part or form of a lesson.

Favreau’s The Lion King demonstrates a parable similar to the Prodigal Son and for the importance of morality in positions of power; through plot structure, camera movement, and CGI it creates a visual comparison of the effects of moral and immoral behavior in leadership roles.

This film’s story can also be compared to the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. In the parable, a father has two sons and the younger of the two leaves the family home and wastes his inheritance. When returns home to beg for his father’s forgiveness, his father celebrated his return before he could speak. The youngest son resembles young Simba, who was young and foolish to have fallen for Scar’s tricks. However, his father, and the entire kingdom in this case, forgives him and celebrates his return.

"It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."— Luke 15:32, KJV

The first few minutes of the film takes the viewer on a visual tour of the Pride Lands under King Mufasa’s leadership. These first few minutes include several scenes with different types of shots and camera movement techniques to capture the various members of the [animal] kingdom.

Mufasa is betrayed by his jealous younger brother, Scar, who pushes him off a cliff, leading to Mufasa's imminent death.

Scar’s immorality also shows through his hostile aggression towards others

He murders Mufasa and drives Simba away to deceitfully steal the throne.

Simba grows up in exile from the Pride Lands, presumed dead by members of the kingdom, because of Scar’s trickery. Along his journey he befriends a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumba.

Simba stays with Timon and Pumba until he is discovered by his childhood friend, Nala. She stumbles upon Simba after running away from Scar’s corrupt rule and is overcome with emotion when she realizes he is still alive.

Simba wins the battle against Scar and the hyenas, chasing them away and restoring peace to the Pride Lands.

The end of the film repeats aspects from the beginning, but now Simba is the king presenting his son and heir, rather than Mufasa.

In summary, Favreau’s The Lion King incorporates several parabolic elements, but two stand out over others. First, the film is a parable for the importance of morality in positions of power, showing the detrimental impacts of when it is absent. Second, the film has a connection to the Parable of the Prodigal Son through similar themes of forgiveness and redemption.

The essay fulfills the requirements set for the Final Project for Parables in Pop Culture (T/RS 228) at The University of Scranton, under the direction of Dr. Cyrus P. Olsen III, for spring semester 2020, under the conditions of COVID-19 lockdown.


Created with images by Damian Patkowski - "Sunset tree in Kenya Safari, Africa" • Eva Blue - "untitled image" • Joe McDaniel - "A brilliant orange sunset photographed from the lookout at Camp Kipwe in Damaraland, Namibia, in April." • Eva Blue - "untitled image"