Scar from Disney’s “The Lion King” was actually the film’s hero
If you are of a certain age, you probably harbor cherished memories of Disney’s 1994 animated epic, The Lion King. It’s not a bad film by any means, however it is deeply problematic.
I distinctly recall watching the movie as a young man and feeling something was not quite right. Maybe you did too? After revisiting the film as an adult, I can confirm that while The Lion King is indeed a technical marvel, it is also actually really fucked up.
The film glorifies ass-backwards notions of political organization which run in complete opposition to contemporary liberal democracy. But perhaps even worse, it is unnecessarily cruel and dismissive to the one character who sought to bring some sense to The Lion King’s heartless universe.
Myth: Scar was a bitter villain
When watching The Lion King back in the day, I clearly remember taking umbrage with the way that Scar, King Mufasa’s brother and eventual usurper, was treated by the other characters right from the movie’s start.
When we are first introduced to Scar, he is berated by both Mufasa and his annoying sycophant Zazu for missing newborn Simba’s presentation ceremony (the whole initial “Circle of Life” scene). Perhaps this was kind of a dick move on Scar’s part, but his reluctance and bitterness is entirely understandable.
During this first confrontation, Scar bemoans the fact that Mufasa is the one to reign just because he is larger, even though Scar has greater intelligence. We also learn through this initial conversation that Scar will probably never become king now that Mufasa has an heir. ALSO, while not clearly detailed in the film, the filmmaker’s have subsequently stated that Scar and Mufasa are not actual blood-relatives, but rather generational contemporaries of the pride. They are classmates at best.
Keeping all that in mind, Scar’s lack of enthusiasm for Simba’s arrival is completely reasonable.
The lion political system is evidently one based on lineage and brute strength. From a modern perspective this is absolutely regressive, bordering on offensive. Does Disney really expect its audience to completely disregard all modern notions of meritocracy and support a status quo built on divine totalitarianism?
Also, Scar’s claim to superior intelligence is not some bitter boast. While the film never provides insight into the state of Mufasa’s intelligence, Scar’s genius is put on full display. For the time being, put aside any ethical quibbles for Scar’s “betrayal” (we’ll address those in a bit), his plan which eventually removed both Mufasa and Simba required abstract thought on the highest order: Scar had to recruit and persuade the hyenas to join his cause, coordinate logistics of a stampede on a plain-wide scale, and convince Simba that it was all his fault. And Scar nails it!
However, Disney really expects us to simply accept the idea that Mufasa is the rightful leader, simply because he’s bigger? As someone who is on the shorter side of the physical spectrum, I say fuck that noise! Mufasa is a bully.
Myth: Mufasa was a hero
And yes, Mufasa was indeed an asshole. We know this because following the initial confrontation between Mufasa and Scar, Zazu and Mufasa have a conversation lamenting Scar’s attitude problem.
Mufasa asks idly “what am I going to do with him?” to which Zazu answers (without a hint of sarcasm, mind you!) “He’d make a very handsome throw rug.” Hearing this, Mufasa smiles and exclaims “Zazu!”
To reiterate: Mufasa smiles.
Zazu then jokes “And just think, whenever he gets dirty, you can take him out and beat him.” To which Mufasa laughs — heartily!
Let’s not gloss over the fact: Mufasa and Zazu were just joking about murdering Scar. And, it seemed to be with some seriousness on Zazu’s part. (Serious question — could you imagine Zazu not helping Mufasa murder his brother if asked?) Conspiracies begins with joking around before shit gets real.
Also keep in mind that while Mufasa is toying with the idea of murdering and skinning his supposed friend, Scar had just walked away from the scene. This is important to note! Let us consider the fact that Scar actually caught wind of this exchange. According to Mom.me’s section on lions, “A lion has good hearing, enhanced by movable ears that can adjust to the direction noise is coming from. As a result, he can hear prey at long distances — up to a mile away — as well as listen for his pride members.”
Remember, Scar had scampered away from the scene less than a minute before all the murder talk started, so he was definitely within a lion’s earshot. If you were Scar, wouldn’t you want to listen in on what Mufasa and Zazu were talking about? Of course, you would. We can be assured that Scar definitely heard this scheming taking place. Thus, all of Scar’s subsequent actions become justifiable.
Yes, Scar eventually conspires to kill an innocent cub, but it was either going to be Mufasa and Simba or him! Self-preservation is the right of all!
Myth: Scar was a poor leader
Later in the film, after Mufasa is killed and Simba is banished, Scar becomes the undisputed ruler of the pride lands. We learn later that under Scar’s rule, the pride lands have fallen into chaos and famine. This, we are made to believe, proves that the thwarted divine-totalitarian model was the only thing keeping everything in check. There are problems with this analysis.
First, is the film really suggesting that everything turned topsy-turvy because certain undesirables (i.e. the hyenas) were freed from their designated place in society (i.e. the shadowland)? Second, we can’t say with any certainty that Scar’s rule was at fault.
To move forward with this question, we must attempt get a hold on how long Scar was actually in charge, because it’s not well-defined by the film. Most viewers probably assumed seemed that at least decade had passed during Simba’s banishment (and thus, so was the length of Scar’s tenure as ruler). At the very least, there was enough time for Simba to transform from a Jonathan Taylor Thomas-voiced cub to a Matthew Broderick-voiced young adult. However, the time was most certainly much shorter as lions age much faster than humans.
According to the 1964 book The Management of Wild Animals in Captivity, male lions reach maturity at three years of age. The first time Simba is introduced as a talking lion, he is no longer a newborn, so he’s probably already around one or even two years old. That means that by the time Simba is fully grown, only a few years have passed — no more than three, and perhaps even as few as one.
In fact, the end of the “Hakuna Matata” sequence features a montage of Simba the cub growing into a full-grown lion. But notice that neither Pumbaa nor Timon appear age. We can therefore assume that Simba has undergone quite a growth spurt in a short period of time.
While we can’t be sure of the exact passage of time, we must assume that Scar did not rule for very long. This is important because when we find out that things in the pride lands have gone to shit, the implication is that it’s all Scar’s fault. Once again, this is a conclusion not necessarily supported by the facts.
There may have been an unmentioned natural calamity which Scar would have no control over (drought, floods, disease, etc). Also, we must assume that Scar wasn’t proactively trying to destroy the pride lands, so given that it went so bad in such a short period, we must also assume that there were some long-standing problems that had their roots under the previous Mufasa administration. Scar was left to try and fix Mufasa’s mess.
At the conclusion of the film, after Scar is deposed by the vengeful Simba, we are given a glimpse of a renewed pride lands in which Simba presents his newborn son to the world. Considering that the average gestation period for lions is only three-and-a-half months, this event isn’t necessarily that far in the future.
The film would, of course, like us all to believe that Simba fixes everything due to fulfilling his divine destiny. I, however, refuse to accept that an outsider with little knowledge or experience in the pride lands could simply come and fix everything in short order. The far more likely scenario is that Scar’s initiatives to fix Mufasa’s various messes were finally taking hold, leaving the bully Simba to reap the rewards.
Now that Disney has decided to go forward with a live-action Lion King remake, I hope they will flip the script in order to correct one of cinema’s greatest wrongs.