THE LION KING
SUBJECTS — The Environment; Science/Technology;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Grieving; Redemption; Friendship; Ambition; Running Away;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility.
AGE: 8 – 11; MPAA Rating: G (we disagree, there’s too much frightening violence);
Animated Musical; 1994; 1 hr. 27 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
“The Lion King” tells the story of Simba, his birth, the murder of his father by his Uncle Scar, Simba’s exile, and his return. The film is a Disney animation with excellent music.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1995 Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Song.
Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Cheech Marin, Rowan Atkinson, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“The Lion King” deals with the death of a parent, betrayal, guilt, running away, denial, ambition, coming of age, redemption, and friendship. See Social-Emotional Learning and Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions. The film can serve as an introduction to Africa, food chains, the interdependence of the hunter and the hunted, lions, hyenas, meerkats, and warthogs. The movie contains an excellent example of an adult manipulating a child that can be used to help children identify, defend against, and report this type of conduct. (See An Example of Manipulative Conduct by an Adult below). Finally, this movie can introduce children to the fact that Africa has a history of rulers and conquests some of which has come down to us in oral traditions. See Sundiata in the Helpful Background section.
MODERATE. This animated feature contains disturbing violence. We therefore do not recommend it for children below the age of eight. Parents or teachers of sensitive eight year olds should probably wait a year or two before they show the film. The violence includes: blood thirsty hyenas chasing Simba; a wildebeest stampede from which Simba is saved in the nick of time by Mufasa, his father; the murder of Mufasa by Scar, Mufasa’s brother (Scar throws Mufasa off a cliff into the herd of stampeding wildebeests); and a violent fight at the end of the movie between Simba and Scar.
Simba grieves touchingly for his father. This could upset sensitive children especially if there has been a recent death in the family. (This could also be a strength of the film, allowing a child who has suffered a loss that he or she has not dealt with to find an outlet for his or her grief.)
For some, the message of the film may be overpowered by the infectious musical numbers in the “hakuna matata” scenes (“you won’t get hurt if you don’t care about anything therefore to avoid being hurt, don’t care about anything”) and the alluring personalities of Timon (the meerkat character) and Pumbaa (the warthog character). After the movie is over, adults should point out that by the end of the film, not only Simba but also Timon and Pumbaa, reject “hakuna matata” in favor of involvement. When Simba returns to face Scar and the hyenas, Timon and Pumbaa help him out.
Watch the movie once with your kids. Over the next several weeks or whenever your children see the movie, select a theme to emphasize in a brief discussion. See the Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions for ideas. TWM suggests at least pointing out that by the end of the movie none of the characters lived according to “hakuna matata.” Even Timon and Pumbaa went to help Simba free the lions from Scar. In addition, ask the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar relating to mistakes that Simba made. Lead children through a discussion of most of Simba’s errors. These discussions can be at meals, while driving in the car, or at any quiet time.
Print out this Learning Guide, show children the photographs of the real animals, and discuss some interesting facts about them. Talk a little about the concepts of the circle of life and the food chain. Give examples that the children will recognize. (See the Circle of Life.) Suggest that the children find more pictures and more information on the Internet about the animal portrayed by their favorite character. Extended quiet times are also good for sharing the story of Sundiata with children. You can read the epic myth from the sites provided in the Links to the Internet. Show your children a map of Africa and point out the modern country of Mali. That is where Sundiata lived and ruled.
Be sure to review the “It’s our little secret” scene with your kids.
Very few parents will be able to get through all of this. Pick and choose just a few of the comments or discussion questions. Take your time. Most kids will watch this movie repeatedly. You can start a new discussion each time they look at it. Select the questions that will raise issues that are important to your children.
An Example of Manipulative Conduct by an Adult
The following dialogue from the film is an excellent example of how an adult can manipulate a child.
Simba: My dad just showed me the whole kingdom. And I’m going to rule it all….
Scar: So, your father showed you the whole kingdom, did he?
Scar: He didn’t show you what’s beyond that rise at the northern border.
Simba: No. He said I can’t go there.
Scar: And he’s absolutely right. It’s far too dangerous. Only the bravest lions go there.
Simba: Well, I’m brave. What’s out there?
Scar: I’m sorry Simba, I just can’t tell you.
Simba: Why not?
Scar: Simba, Simba, I’m just looking out for the well being of my favorite nephew.
Simba: Yeah, right. I’m your only nephew.
Scar: All the more reason for me to be protective. An elephant graveyard is no place for a young prince.
Simba: An elephant what? Wow!
Scar: Oh dear, I’ve said too much. Well, I suppose you would have found out sooner or later, you being so clever and all. Just do me one thing, promise me you’ll never visit that dreadful place.
Simba: No problem.
Scar: There’s a good lad. You run along now and have fun. And remember, it’s our little secret.
Read and discuss this dialogue with children. The final line “And remember, it’s our little secret” protects child abusers and people manipulating children by keeping other adults from knowing about their actions and makes the child feel important by sharing a secret with the adult. Caution children that when a person asks that they keep a secret from either or both of their parents, unless it’s for a surprise party or a present or something similar, an alarm bell should sound in their head and the child should immediately tell an adult: a parent, a relative, or a teacher. If one parent asks a child to keep a secret from the other parent, the same rule should apply.
Step by step analysis of the conversation: Line 6: Scar piques Simba’s interest. Adventuresome children will want to think of themselves as brave. In line 8, Scar plays on this by saying that he “just can’t” tell Simba. But Scar implies that he regrets this, which gives Simba hope that he can change Scar’s mind. Line 12: After tantalizing Simba, Scar lets slip information about what’s on the northern border. Line 14: By telling Simba he is clever, Scar encourages Simba to think that he can make the decision to go to the elephant graveyard despite his father’s injunction. In fact, Simba is a child, who doesn’t have the judgment or experience to make a good decision about going to a dangerous place. The promise sought by Scar, that Simba will not visit the elephant graveyard, is not real. Both Scar and Simba understand this. The request for secrecy in line 16 is a tipoff that Scar is probably doing something which he knows to be wrong and that Simba should immediately tell his father or mother about the conversation.
Children should be alerted to the fact that in the movie, Scar’s tone is exaggerated to signal to the viewer that Scar is doing something that he knows he shouldn’t. In real life, an adult manipulating a child will make the situation appear normal and appropriate or that it is the child’s fault. Children must learn to step back and look at what they are being asked to do to see if they should in fact do it. In this case, Scar’s request for secrecy should have been a tipoff to Simba that he needed to be very careful about this decision and that he should tell his parents about the conversation.
“The Circle of Life” and “Food Chains”
These are related concepts. “The Circle of Life” refers to the fact that plants and animals are born, mature, procreate, and then die, unless they are killed early in the cycle. Plants take nutrients from the earth, many of which come from decayed plants or the bodies of dead animals. Animals eat either plants or other animals. While animals live, they help nourish plants with their droppings. When animals die, they nourish other animals or plants. Each component of this process is related to the other components, either directly or indirectly, and if one is modified or interrupted, many of the other components will be affected as well. “The Circle of Life” is not a scientific term.
The “food chain” is a scientific term that refers to the fact that each living creature survives by feeding on other animals or on plants. Those plants or animals that are eaten are said to be lower on the food chain than the creature who eats them. Thus, a lion is said to be higher on the food chain than the wildebeest that the lion kills for its supper. The wildebeest is higher on the food chain than the various plants that it eats. An animal that catches another animal and eats it is called a “predator.” A species is at the top of its food chain if it has no predators who eat it regularly. Lions and humans are said to be at the top of their respective food chains. (See discussion question #5 which raises the issue of which species is really at the “top” of the food chain when bacteria and viruses feed on and sometimes kill lions and human beings.)
An Introduction to Some of the Real Animals:
Lion: See Learning Guide to “Born Free“. Additional interesting facts about lions: They can jump nine feet. Lions are not the largest of the big cats. A tiger can grow to be larger than a lion. Male lions sometimes play with their cubs. Lions can spend as long as 20 hours each day sleeping and resting. Adult male lions are 50% larger than female lions. Usually, only the female lions hunt game. They hunt cooperatively. One lion will charge the prey and drive it toward other lions waiting to attack it. When the prey is killed, female lions allow male lions to eat first. Lions usually hunt at night and rest during the day. All of the females in a pride are related to each other. The male is related only to his cubs. When a new male takes over a pride, he will often kill all of the existing cubs.
The Meerkat (“Timon”): Meerkats are small members of the mongoose family, about 8 inches tall, weighing about two pounds. Their home range is the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. They have dark eye markings that reduce glare and serve as built-in sunglasses. They have good vision and see in color. (Many animals, dogs, for instance, don’t see in color.) To gather warmth, meerkats often stand facing the sun with their tails serving as a third leg.
Meerkats live in a “mob” or “gang” of between 5 and 30 individuals. Meerkats are one of the most cooperative species on the planet. Mature offspring often stay in the group into which they are born instead of dispersing to breed. Each year many meerkats, about half in most cases, are lost to predators (usually martial eagles and jackals). Members of a “mob” take turns performing risky sentinel duty. Only the alpha male and alpha female will breed but all meerkats, male and female, participate in child rearing. A “gang” will share a common place to deposit their droppings.
Meerkats eat insects such as scorpions, beetles, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, worms, and crickets. They will also eat small mammals, small reptiles, birds, eggs, tubers, and roots.
To capture the feeling of meerkats, the Disney animators studied the animals living at “The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens” located in Palm Desert, California. (Just a few miles from Palm Springs.) This is an excellent zoo and museum featuring desert plants and animals. See their website.
Laughing Hyena: The laughing hyena, or spotted hyena, is known for its distinctive call. Laughing hyenas can weigh up to 175 pounds and grow to be five and a half feet long (not including a foot long tail). They are found from Africa through Southern Asia all the way to eastern India. Traditionally, hyenas were thought of as scavengers who lived off the kills of other animals. Recently it has been discovered that hyenas will hunt and kill small mammals and reptiles as well as the newborn or young of larger mammals. When hyenas are in large packs, they have been known to attack larger animals. Hyenas will also eat eggs, insects, fruits, and berries. Hyenas and lions compete with each other, stealing each other’s kills. Sometimes a large pack of hyenas will drive a pride of lionesses from their kill. Female hyenas dominate the males, the opposite of the situation with lions. Hyenas have a highly developed sense of smell, and their eyesight is poor.
Specialized teeth, strong jaws, and an all-purpose digestive system allow hyenas to eat more bone than other predators. Thus hyenas provide a benefit to the ecosystems they inhabit by eating the remnants left by large predators, such as lions. In some parts of Africa, hyenas are allowed to wander through the villages eating the garbage. In a few African cultures, dead human beings are placed out in the open to be eaten by hyenas and thus returned to the earth in that manner.
Warthog (“Pumbaa”): Warthogs are large-headed members of the pig family. They have blackish or brown skin and stand about 30 inches at the shoulder. Warthogs can grow to four feet long and attain up to 330 pounds in weight. They feed on grasses, roots, berries, bark, and occasionally carrion. They have sparse hair and a coarse mane extending from the neck to the middle of the back. The tail is long, thin, tufted at the end, and held high when the warthog runs. Warthogs have poor eyesight and rely upon their sense of smell.
The most distinctive thing about the warthog is its large head. Both male and female have two sets of tusks. The tusks from the lower jaw are sharp weapons. The tusks that grow out of the upper jaw curve up and if they get long enough will form a semicircle. Males have prominent warts on their faces. The tusks protect a warthog’s face during fights. The warts on the faces of female warthogs are smaller than on the males. Warthogs also have thick pads of skin on their knees to allow them to slide along the surface of the ground as they feed. Using their snout and tusks, warthogs churn up the soil looking for food. This is beneficial to the land because it allows the soil to be aerated.
Warthogs shelter in burrows which they enter backward so as to be able to defend themselves. In the morning, some will burst out of their burrows at top speed in order to get a head start on any predators who may be waiting for them to emerge. Male warthogs are usually solitary, joining the female groups only for mating. A group of warthogs consists of one or two sows and their young.
Like Pumbaa, warthogs would rather flee than fight. They will grunt or snort, flatten their ears, and then bolt for underground cover. But if cornered and forced to fight, warthogs can be fierce.
Warthogs have a symbiotic relationship with certain birds, such as the yellow hornbill. Warthogs allow the birds to eat parasites that live on their bodies.
Sundiata Keita (also called Sunjata Keyita) was born at about 1190 C.E. and died in about 1255 C.E. He was the founder of the Mali Empire and is celebrated as a hero of the Mandinka people of West Africa. His tale is told in Epic of Sundiata, various forms of which have survived in the oral tradition kept alive by generations of traditional Mandinka “griots.” Although nominally Muslim, Sundiata respected the traditional religions of his people. He kept the peace and allowed trade to flourish. One of his names was the “Lion King.”
The story of the film, “The Lion King,” is very loosely based on the story of Sundiata. They share the name and the circumstance of having been exiled only to return in triumph. See Links to the Internet for several websites discussing the epic of Sundiata.
No Suggested Answers.
2. What is the “circle of life?” Explain how it works.
See the Helpful Background Section.
3. What is a “food chain?”
See the Helpful Background Section.
4. What does it mean to be at the top of the food chain? Name three animals at the top of their “food chains.”
See the Helpful Background Section.
5. Can it be said that bacteria and viruses which prey upon and sometimes kill humans and lions are really at the top of the food chain?
No. The concept of the food chain relates to complex organisms such as mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, and to activities such as hunting and feeding. It hasn’t been applied to diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. The relationship of disease to the food chain is an interesting thought showing the limitations of the food chain analysis.
6. In the film, one of the hyenas refers to lions as being at the top of the food chain and implies that hyenas are not. Is this correct?
Only partially. Both lions and hyenas are at the at the top of their food chains. Hyenas have no natural predators and compete with lions for food. Lions will kill hyenas as competitors but they generally don’t eat hyenas. Lions, like hyenas, will eat the kills of other animals. The film assumes that hyenas do not hunt and kill their food but are only scavengers. This is incorrect.
7. How did Scar convince Simba to go outside his father’s territory where Simba could be killed by the hyenas?
Scar aroused Simba’s curiosity by telling him it was an elephant graveyard. Then Scar challenged Simba by saying that only the bravest lions went there. Finally, Scar asked Simba not to tell anyone and to keep it “our little secret” See the analysis of this dialogue in the Example of Manipulative Conduct by an Adult.
8. What were the results of Simba’s disobedience when he went to the elephant graveyard against the instructions of his father?
Simba was disobedient and almost got himself and Nala killed by trying to find the elephant graveyard.
9. Was Scar really smarter than Mufasa?
No. Mufasa could manage the pride lands so that they continued year after year. Scar mismanaged the pride lands and ruined them. Scar was able to kill Mufasa by betraying him. Disloyalty is not evidence of intelligence.
10. What did Mufasa warn Simba against when he said, “I’m only brave when I have to be”?
Don’t go looking for trouble or taking reckless risks.
1. Simba felt responsible for his father’s death because his father was trying to save Simba when his father died. Should Simba have felt that way?
No, Simba didn’t do anything wrong this time. The situation was caused by Scar, who lied to Simba about a surprise for his father and put Simba in the way of the stampede. Scar also had the hyenas start the stampede and then murdered Mufasa by pushing him off the cliff.
2. Did Simba do the right thing by running away?
There are two parts to this answer. First, the initial decision to do what Scar suggested, and run away from home, was not good. Especially if Simba had done something wrong, he should have stayed and taken responsibility. However, once the hyenas started to chase Simba, he had no choice because the hyenas would have killed him. In general, running away from home is not a good idea because it removes children from the protection of their parents and exposes them to great danger. For example, Simba would have been eaten by the vultures had not Timon and Pumbaa happened to be “bowling for buzzards.”
REDEMPTION AND COMING OF AGE
3. While Simba was in the forest with Timon and Pumbaa, he thought that he couldn’t go back to his home because he had been responsible for his father’s death. Was he right about his?
No. Simba needed to go back and take responsibility for what he thought he had done. When Nala found Simba, her revelations about Scar’s mismanagement of the pride lands also became a compelling reason for Simba to return. Simba responded to this later challenge only to find that he was not responsible for his father’s death.
4. In the story, Simba was blameless in Mufasa’s death, but he didn’t know it. What if Mufasa had been killed in the elephant graveyard while trying to rescue Simba and Nala from the hyenas? This would have been partially Simba’s fault because Simba had disobeyed Mufasa by going there. Was there any way that Simba could have redeemed himself if his disobedience had been a major cause of his father’s death?
In normal human experience, there is almost always a way for a person to atone for what he or she has done and to achieve at least some level of redemption. Simba could have redeemed himself by getting rid of Scar, the bad king. In addition, for his self-esteem and to permit him to move on, Simba should have atoned for what he thought he had done, rather than run away. Atonement is frequently missing from modern responses to negligent conduct. Atonement is an important way to restore internal moral equilibrium by putting effort into righting a wrong one has committed or providing compensation to an injured person.
5. Did Simba do the right thing in waiting for such a long time before he went back home?
No, but the important thing is that he did go back when Nala found him.
6. What was the most courageous thing that Simba did in the story?
Going back to challenge Scar when Simba still thought that he was responsible for his father’s death. Just going back was more courageous than fighting Scar; it took moral courage.
7. Does this film marginalize the role of women?
Yes. Simba’s mother had a very small role and the female lions did not challenge scar when Simba was gone.
8. How do Timon and Pumbaa show their friendship to Simba?
By going back to lion country to help him fight Scar and the hyenas. They had to give up their philosophy of “hakuna matata.” Point out that Simba didn’t even ask for their help, probably thinking that, as adherents to “hakuna matata,” Timon and Pumbaa wouldn’t be interested. They came without being asked. That’s what a friend does.
9. When is ambition a source of evil?
Ambition is bad when it leads people to do something wrong or prevents them from doing the right thing. Ethics and morality should channel ambition into paths which cause people to do good things that benefit society as a whole.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. When Simba snuck off to the elephant graveyard, he lied to his mother about where he was taking Nala. What did this lie almost cost Simba and Nala? By lying, what did Simba not have that a young lion could have used?
The lie almost cost Simba and Nala their lives. Being young lions, Simba and Nala didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to properly assess the danger of a trip to the elephant graveyard. Decisions based on lies are almost never valid. By lying to his mother, Simba did not have the benefit of her superior knowledge and judgment about the dangers of what he intended to do. Nala went along with the lie and therefore became a party to it.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
2. What do you think of “hakuna matata” as a philosophy of life? By the end of the film did anyone live by that credo?
It’s irresponsible because a person living by “hakuna matata” would never accomplish anything, would not meet his or her responsibilities, would not face up to the challenges in life, would not mature or grow up, and would not be part of a caring community. By the end of the film, no one, not even Timon and Pumbaa, lived by “hakuna matata.”
3. Evaluate Nala’s role in the trip to the elephant graveyard.
Nala had a responsibility to her friend Simba not to let him lie and not to let him go to a place that was outside of the area in which she knew she was protected. This was especially true when she didn’t know enough about that place to know if it was dangerous. She also had a responsibility to her mother and to Simba’s mother to try to force Simba to correct his lie to them. By not speaking up, she participated in Simba’s lie.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
There are a plethora of children’s books on lions with interesting text and beautiful pictures. Examples that we have seen are: Lions, a Carolrhoda Nature Watch Book by Kathy Darling, 2000; Lion: Habitats, Life Cycles, Food Chains, Threats Natural World series, by Bill Jordan, 2000; Eye to Eye With Big Cats: Lions by Jason Cooper; Lions from the NatureBooks series by Sandra Lee; Lions from the Animals Series; by Susan Schafer, 2001.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Mr. Dowling’s Sundiata Page contains a simplified retelling of the story suitable for elementary school; and
- Background to the Epic of Sundiata Keita prepared by Jim Jones, Univesity of West Chester.
- African Wildlife Foundation Article on Warthogs;
- Warthog at Spooks Photography Page; and
- Warthog article on the Enchanted Learning Site.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- “Carnivore.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 27 Jun 2003.
- “Hyena.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 27 Jun 2003.
- “Warthog.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 27 Jun 2003.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009.