The theater lights slowly dim and the dark screen slowly comes to life with rich, brilliant colors. The African landscape spreads out before us on the big screen, and we are reminded that this is how we are supposed to view The Lion King. Walt Disney’s 1994 animated film is currently in theaters (only one week left!) in 2D and 3D.

As the tribes of African animals migrate to Pride Rock to witness the baptism of young Simba, we are filled with peace. There is order in the land. As Simba grows up, his innocence deteriorates. After a lively musical number (“I Just Can’t Wait to be King”), Simba and Nala roll playfully into the elephant graveyard. The bright colors have suddenly left us, and we are filled with the darkness of the graveyard.

The graveyard is the place Simba is not supposed to be. Yet it was the elegant temptation by Uncle Scar that raised Simba’s curiosity that seeks this place out. And no matter how brave Simba attempts to be, this dark place is too much for him to handle. Cornered by the hyenas, there seems to be no hope. Refuge from the graveyard is only found when Mufasa shows up and scares off the hyenas.

It is during Simba’s walk of shame home that he experiences grace. For as much as Mufasa is upset and disappointed, he is loving and gracious. And it is in this moment of grace that Mufasa tells Simba to look up at the stars. In an Abrahamic kind of way, Mufasa reminds Simba of all the kings who have gone before them. Mufasa tells Simba, “Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

As the film progresses Simba is tricked into believing that he was the cause of his father’s death. Not able to handle what his mother would think, he runs away from home. His journey crosses the path of Timon and Pumbaa who share with him their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.” Eventually Simba is discovered by Nala (cue Elton John love songs), and is challenged to answer his call as King of Pride Land. After receiving a few bumps on his head from the priestly prophet Rafiki he accepts that calling. And Simba returns home to challenge Scar.

Returning home to face Scar means Simba has to face the past he left behind, including his mother. We can see in his animated face all the guilt and shame returning to Simba as he meets his mother again for the first time. It’s a bittersweet reunion. But it is this reunion where Simba finally learns that the truth he has carried with him for some long was a lie crafted by Scar. Scar is the one who is responsible for Mufasa’s death, not Simba.

As the rain begins to fall on the barren and broken Pride Land, new life is bound to arise. And we are reminded that we are Simba. We are tempted into the elephant graveyard where life does not exist. We are cornered until there seems to be no hope. We are recipients of grace: a grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We abandon our callings in life for “Hakuna Matata.” And we find ourselves returning home to new beginnings.

The Lion King is one of the best epic films of our time because it is the story of all of us. Prodigal, but welcomed. Wayward, but returning. And so, let us all take our place in the circle of life.

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