Pop Culture

The Lion King and Grief

Have you ever noticed that death is mentioned in almost every Disney movie? A deceased parent, a hero’s tragic end, or a villain’s demise are just a few examples of what we are exposed to when watching these films.

Why is this? What lessons can we learn from these Disney movies about loss? Can this help children work through their grief?

I loved Disney movies when I was younger, as I’m sure most of you did. One of my favorites was Peter Pan. The idea of never growing up was enticing, and I thoroughly enjoyed the magic surrounding the film. However, I have officially grown up (much to my dismay) and now watch these movies with my niece and nephew.

A few weeks ago, we watched the Lion King.

This Disney animated film follows the adventures of Simba, a young lion and heir to his father, Mufasa. Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, plots to steal Mufasa’s throne. He lures the father and son into a stampede of wildebeests, but Simba escapes, and only Mufasa is killed. In the end, Simba returns as an adult to take back his homeland from Scar.

I remember watching this movie as a child, but it was strange as an adult. I didn’t recall movie being so dark. More specifically, the scene where Scar throws Mufasa off the cliff. My niece and nephew didn’t seem as traumatized by this though. They enjoyed singing the songs, watching the animated characters dance, and laughing at certain scenes.

After the movie ended, the older one asked me many questions about Mufasa and his death.

I saved that conversation for her parents.

But I couldn’t help but wonder more about this, and I realized that loss was a common theme in many Disney movies. I never really noticed when I was younger, but I was starting to as an adult. Was there a reason that Disney included this element in basically every film?

I decided to do some research and found a study conducted by Professor Kelly Tenzek from the University of Buffalo. She analyzed 57 Disney and Pixar movies in which 71 character deaths occurred.

Tenzek says, “These films can be used as conversation starters for difficult and what are oftentimes taboo topics like death and dying.”

She found that including these themes in the movies normalizes death and helps parents have an end-of-life conversation with their children.

She also states, “We acknowledge a child’s psychological development is important when considering these discussions. It’s not our intent to have these conversations with a three-year-old, but as children mature, then the films fit naturally into that growth.”

One interesting aspect of the study was the discussion about religion and spirituality. Disney and Pixar films are not inherently religious, but they can still be used to discuss beliefs.

We can incorporate Catholic beliefs into these films to help children better understand our faith. I will use the Lion King as an example. When we lose a loved one, we may turn away from God. Similar to how Simba ran away after his father died. He starts living a worry-free lifestyle but still feels empty inside, like how we would feel without our faith. It is only when he accepts his loss and takes back his place as the true ruler does he feel complete. He found his way home, and God is our home. You might lose faith in Him, but you can always find your way back again and He will accept you with open arms.

Written By: Paige Muttillo | Marketing Manager | Catholic Cemeteries Association

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s