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  • Alicia Takaoka

The Role of the Lands in The Lion King

Setting is super-important! The role of a setting is to convey nonverbal and subtle context cues to the audience that help enhance each character’s journey. Settings can be obstacles. A setting can be a harrowing cliff face The Cliffs of Insanity (recommended by Gretchen of Hamakua Farms) that our hero is trying to climb like in The Princess Bride. Settings are comprised of time, place, season, and geography. The setting also consists of the socio-political climate and culture of a place. The setting can evoke emotions that help the audience become emotionally invested in the success or failure of the character accomplishing a task.

What is your favorite setting? What feelings or emotions does it bring up for you? What are the colors, and how do you react to them? Would the setting still have the same impact if everything was different, or is the world built to be chaotic, predictable, and ever-changing like in The Magicians?

When you think of The Lion King, what are the settings you think about?

The major ones are Pride Rock, The Elephant Graveyard, The Gorge, and The Oasis.

What do these evoke in you?

In the 1994 animated version of the movie, the setting is dynamic. The Pride Lands is lush, green, and fertile under Mufasa’s rule. During Scar’s reign, the Pride Lands become desolate and barren. The resources are exhausted. The water has dried up. The sky is even a different color.

After Simba flees The Gorge, the audience is shown the land and sky from a new perspective. Not only has the audience never seen this place before, the view is disorienting. The land is cracked, possibly mirroring the dehydration of our protagonist. The sun is radiant, indicating the heat of that new place. The birds are of a kind the audience did not see before. For all intents and purposes, the land is harsh like the new reality Simba is facing, convinced that he killed his father. That is, until Timon and Pumba find Simba.

The Oasis is as colorful as the characters who inhabit it. Simba sees creatures he never knew existed, and they are bold and brightly colored. Their existence is natural but also strange. It is not for everybody (for more on Timon and Pumba’s sexuality, read Sweeney’s essay in Diversity in Disney), but it is safe. It is healing and healthy. It is a place of comfort. This setting allows for an undefined passage of time to occur as Simba learns to accept himself and become part of a family and community.

The next time you are watching your favorite show, try taking some time to look past the action. See what the unsung, yet most important character is doing in the background.

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