Friends Who Help You Learn From Your Past

One of my favorite movies is Disney’s The Lion King because there are many messages that apply to our lives as men and especially to our friendships. My next post in the series, New Year; New Types of Friends, continues the subset of examples of animated friendships. In this post, I highlight lessons from some friendships that show us how to confront our past and live more worry-free in order to become the men God designed us to be. 

One is the lovable happy-go-lucky meerkat, Timon, and his kindhearted, sensitive friend, Pumbaa, a warthog. This fun-loving duo shows us that we all need loyal friends to lean on during difficult times. 

The other comes from Rafiki, the wise baboon who helps young Simba remember who he is and where he comes from. In each of their own ways, Simba’s friends help him overcome the lies he was told about his past in order to become the leader of the animal kingdom.  

First, here is a brief summary of the Lion King franchise, its plot, and main characters, followed by the lessons we can learn by having deeper, more authentic friendships. 

About The Lion King

Walt Disney Pictures released the animated musical drama film on June 15, 1994. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff (in their feature directorial debuts), it became Disney’s 32nd animated feature film. The film received critical acclaim and praise for its music, story, themes, and animation. With an initial worldwide gross of $763 million, it finished its initial theatrical run as the highest-grossing film of 1994 and the second-highest-grossing film of all time, behind Jurassic Park (1993). The film is still the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, as well as the best-selling film on home video, having sold over 55 million copies worldwide. It received two Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

The film has many adaptions such as the 1997 Broadway adaptation, two direct-to-video follow-ups—the sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998), and the prequel/parallel, The Lion King 1½ (2004); two television series, Timon and Pumbaa and The Lion Guard; and a photorealistic remake in 2019, which also became the highest-grossing animated film at the time of its release. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The Lion King is the first Disney film to be dubbed in Zulu, and the only African language (aside from Arabic) to have been used for a feature-length Disney dub.

The film is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with elements from the Biblical stories of Joseph and Moses, and Disney’s 1942 film Bambi. It was written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The film features an ensemble voice cast that includes Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, and Robert Guillaume. Its original songs were written by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, with a score by Hans Zimmer.

The Plot and Characters

Taking place in a kingdom of lions in Africa, The Lion King tells the story of a lion cub named Simba (which means “lion” in Swahili) born to Queen Sarabi and King Mufasa. Upon his birth, Simba is presented by Rafiki, a mandrill and the kingdom’s shaman (religious practitioner and advisor) to the gathering of animals of the Pride Land. Mufasa later explains to Simba the responsibilities of kingship and the “circle of life,” which connects all living things. Simba is in training to succeed Mufasa as King of the Pride Lands.  

However, Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar (and therefore Simba’s uncle) covets the throne. Scar tricks young Simba and his best friend, a young lioness Nala, into exploring an elephant graveyard, where three crazy hyenas, named Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed chase Simba and Nala down. Mufasa is alerted by his majordomo, the hornbill Zazu, and rescues the cubs. Though disappointed with Simba for disobeying him and putting the two young lion cubs in danger, Mufasa forgives him. Mufasa explains that the great kings of the past watch over them from the night sky, and he will one day watch over Simba. Scar, having planned the attack, convinces the hyenas to help him kill Mufasa and Simba in exchange for hunting rights in the Pride Lands.

After Mufasa’s death, Scar manipulates Simba into thinking he was responsible for the death. Simba flees into exile and encounters two new friends, the carefree outcasts Timon and Pumbaa, the animated meerkat and warthog who live a carefree life under their motto “Hakuna Matata” (“no worries” in Swahili).

Years later, an adult Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala. She and Simba fall in love, and she urges him to return home. Nalan Tells Simba that the Pride Lands have become drought-stricken under Scar’s reign. Still feeling guilty over Mufasa’s death, Simba refuses and storms off. He encounters Rafiki, who tells Simba that Mufasa’s spirit lives on in him. Layer, Mufasa’s spirit appears in the night sky and tells Simba that he must take his place as king. After Rafiki advises Simba to learn from the past instead of running from it, Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands.

Aided by his friends, Simba sneaks past the hyenas at Pride Rock and confronts his uncle. Scar taunts Simba over his role in Mufasa’s death and backs him to the edge of the rock, where he reveals to Simba that he is actually the one who caused Mufasa’s death. Enraged, Simba retaliates and forces Scar to reveal the truth to the others. A battle breaks out, and Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, Zazu, and the lionesses fend off the hyenas. Scar attempts to escape, but Simba corners him at a ledge near the top of Pride Rock. He begs for mercy and blames his actions on the hyenas; Simba spares Scar’s life but orders him to leave the Pride Lands forever. Scar attacks again, but Simba throws him off the ledge to the ground below. Scar survives the fall, but the hyenas, who overheard him blaming them, maul him to death.

Simba takes his place as king and Nala becomes his queen. With the Pride Lands restored, Rafiki presents Simba and Nala’s newborn cub to the assembled animals, continuing the circle of life.

The Lessons 

As I wrote in a prior post on the friendship of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, even children’s stories teach adults valuable lessons about life and friendship. Simba’s friends also demonstrate that good friends stick together. They also show us how not to be defined by our past but to learn from it. 

So here are some of my favorite lessons from The Lion King.

Put Your Past Behind You (Not Your Behind in the Past)

“You’ve got to put your behind in your past.”

Consider the outcast of the meerkat colony, Timon’s theory is “You’ve got to put your past behind you.”. Pumbaa agrees with Timon since he was left behind in his community due to his flatulence. But he gets the wording wrong. Regardless, the message is clear. These two are moving forward and enjoying life. Neither of them knew what it was like to be wholeheartedly accepted by another person. They don’t judge each other for what they’ve been through and set their pasts aside for the sake of their friendship.  

Don’t Let Your Past Define You 

Simba eventually learns that it was not his fault that his father died. But before he realized this, he ran away because it was too painful to face the event. Eventually, he regains confidence and returns to the pride land. 

“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

Rafiki also reminds us of an important lesson. The wise baboon vividly illustrates his lesson by swinging a stick at Simba’s head hard enough to leave a memorable mark on the young lion. He says, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”  Rafiki’s second swing only catches air as Simba ducks away. Simba has learned from the past and is no longer defined by it. 

Scripture reminds us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4

Live “Hakuna Matata”

“It’s our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata!

Timmon and Pumba sing about their worry-free life. But even the most casual of friendships will encounter conflict so “Hakuna Matata” is a good response. It alleviates the tension of just about any difficult situation. “No worries” is also a good response when we worry too much about our problems.  As Simba discovers, it doesn’t mean pretending your problems don’t exist.

Scripture tells us “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34). God doesn’t want us to walk around agonizing over what might happen or has happened already. He wants us to hand our worries over to Jesus. We are to trust Him to care for us and guide us every day. The Apostle Paul also reminds us to “worry less, and pray more” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This “problem-free philosophy” allows us to live anxiety-free. We can worry less about work, relationships, bills, the turmoil in the world, the political realm, and almost everything else. 

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GodBuddy Focus

Everyone has a past. A parent told you lies about your upbringing, berated you for your failures, or abandoned you. You have a broken heart due to a failed love relationship. Someone mentally or physically abused you. You grieved the loss of a loved one. You lost a job. These negative experiences still haunt you years later. 

But you have two choices when it comes to the painful memories of your past: You can pretend it has never been there and live the rest of your life with pain in your heart. Or you can confront your past and try to discover what it taught you. Doing so may be painful, but it can also teach you something positive. 

Scripture reminds us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

So if you encounter difficulty from your past, don’t waste your time looking for a way around it. As Rafiki reminds us, “It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past!”  

The next time you feel sorry for yourself or are reminded of your past, reach out to a GodBuddy. Ask him to help you be more like Simba and confront your past so you live Hakuna Matata!

My next post finishes the subset with one final example of an animated friendship.

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