Tuesday, October 4, 2011

3rd Grade Kathryn Is Changed Forever

In case you hadn't heard, my all-time favorite movie, The Lion King, is being re-released today to inspire and delight a new generation.  As part of the release, Disney ran a special 3-D engagement of the film in theaters over the past two weeks.  I couldn't pass up this rare opportunity to see my favorite film on the big-screen and wasted no time getting myself to the theater with my Lion King-loving little sister.  When the lights went down and the "Circle of Life" started blaring, raising goosebumps all over me, I found myself transported to 1994 when 3rd Grade Kathryn stared up at the same film in complete awe.

I remember that moment vividly.  3rd Grade Kathryn was mesmerized from the opening title to the end credits, crying when Mufasa died, laughing at Zazu's lame jokes, and gaping open-mouthed when Simba triumphed in the end.  The movie captured my thoughts long after I left the theater and manifested itself in a large collection of Lion King plushies, clothes, toys and trading cards.  I saw the movie twice in the theater during the first run, watched it a bazillion times on VHS, and was able to recite most of the script from memory (and I probably still could!)  Once the story and characters grabbed hold of me, they just wouldn't let go.  I've never been affected by a movie in such a way before or since.

As an adult, I still love the movie as much as I ever did, but now I can put words to my appreciation.  Though it may sound silly, The Lion King is one of the three biggest influences that shaped my writing and, ultimately, my life.  (The Legend of Zelda video games and Harry Potter books claim the other points of my influence trifecta.)  So what's so great about The Lion King?  In my opinion, practically everything.  (Um, apart from Timon and Pumbaa.  I don't like fart jokes.)
Simba Sketch Day 12--he's happy, yet still sad...

What impresses me the most, is that Disney accomplishes something remarkable by taking an incredibly deep and dark plot and making it completely accessible to kids.  Over the years, I've learned that people normally fall into two Lion King camps and either loooove the movie or don't like it at all.  I can understand why people wouldn't; overall, it is not a happy movie.  This really hit home while I was drawing my "30 Simbas in 30 Days."  In the second half of the movie, adult Simba is rarely happy.  His expressions are riddled with pain, remorse, anger and uncertainty, and even when he does smile, his furrowed brow still reveals the turmoil within. 

Considering the plot is essentially Hamlet (minus all the boring parts) + lions, I suppose this darkness should be expected.  I've spent just a wee bit of time with Disney movies over the years and truly think The Lion King is the weightiest of them all (followed by The Fox and the Hound, Brother Bear and Mulan).  The sheer amount of heavy and not-so-PG topics Disney throws at kids in The Lion King is astounding: regicide; fratricide; identity-crisis; betrayal; self-loathing/guilt; usurpation; revenge; death; grieving; the afterlife; persecution; exile; and ultimately growing up and self-actualization.  I didn't know that's what I was being fed when I was little; I just knew the movie was powerful and so much bigger than myself.  If you think about it, these concepts are topics most parents would shield their children from, but the sugar-coating of cute, fuzzy lions makes it acceptable and easy for kids to digest.  Just think if Simba was an eight year old boy who grew up believing he killed his father while his uncle took over his kingdom.  Whether animated or acted out by real-people, I think the movie would have quickly left the realm of kid's films and entered PG-13 cinema.  Having these terrible things happen to animal characters, though, removes the audience just a degree, making the themes and concepts a little less scary to young minds and a lot more pallateable. 
Aww!  I have a puppy AND Lion King lunchbox

This combination of a mature, powerful story conveyed through animal characters simply amazes me and ignited my respect for animal fantasies.  Add in animation that is an artistic masterpiece and an achingly beautiful musical score, and I don't know what more you could ask for in a film.  Like the other legs of my influence trifecta, if I had never experienced The Lion King, I'm not sure I would have chosen to follow my writing path.  Even in 3rd grade as I watched the movie for the first time with a jumbo bucket of popcorn in hand, I knew deep down I wanted to do this.  (Heck, I'll be happy if my characters and stories are even a fraction as resonating!)  And though my love for The Lion King may make me sound a teensy bit crazy, I'm glad a new generation of kids will have the opportunity to experience this film and maybe find themselves in Simba's epic story, too. 

Now that you've had the chance to gaze into the inner-workings of my (slightly-insane) creative mind, are there any movies, books, games, or other works that have profoundly influenced your life?  

And in case you're wondering, "Hey!  Where are those 30 Simbas you promised?"  I am terribly sorry to disappoint.  I had to pause in the middle of the endeavor to work on my SCBWI calendar contest entry instead.  (At least I was still doing something artsy!)  But you can bet those remaining Simbas will be finished up and posted just as soon as I can!  :)

Note: Simba, The Lion King, and anything Disney-related in this post (including the poster artwork) is respectfully owned by Disney.

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