How the Hakuna Matata Generation Totally Misread ‘The Lion King’

Hakuna Matata,
What a wonderful phrase,
Hakuna Matata,
Ain’t no passing craze,

It means no worries, for the rest of your days!

…Right?

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Bear with me here. Because I’m about to take your childhood and point out a blemish in it that you won’t be able to unsee.

The Lion King is my #1 favorite film of all time. I have Rafiki’s painting of Simba tattooed on my foot. I know the entire script by heart. Yes, I’m completely, unashamedly in love with a children’s animated film. I think there are worse things to be a fan of. So, I’ve sat quietly with a realization, assuming I must either be crazy or wrong. But I can sit quietly no longer.

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You guys, Hakuna Matata is not what The Lion King is about.

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Take a deep breath. In. And out.

I know what you’re doing. You’re thinking about that neon orange and turquoise Hakuna Matata poster hanging in your room when you were a kid. You glance over at the vintage style Hakuna Matata tank top hanging in your closet that you wear when you’re feeling particularly playful. And you remember back to when you had a Hakuna Matata icon on your Myspace page back in 2006 and you thought you were so cool.

But here’s the thing. If you think the real message of Simba’s bildungsroman tale is to learn to let all of his worries go and live a life free of responsibility, you are wrong.

Let’s flesh this out, cause I can feel your rage building.

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Spoiler alert: Simba’s dad dies.

I actually fast forward through this scene because it gets harder every time I watch it. Parenthood has ruined me. Simba is so young and na├»ve he doesn’t understand Mufasa is really gone. Tears galore. Anyway, in walks Uncle Scar and he’s all, “Simba, what have you done?” “If it weren’t for you he’d still be alive.” Real traumatizing stuff. Simba asks what he should do at this point, and Scar tells him to run away.

Here’s the first lesson Simba learns in response to crisis: Run away. Run away from the issue, run away from your responsibilities, run away from your fears and your grief.

So out of the Pride Lands he runs. Little lion cub doesn’t know how to cope with losing everything he’s ever known. In charges a comic relief duo Timon & Pumbaa, who can sense his depression.

“Look kid, bad things happen. And you can’t do anything about it, right?”
“Right.”
“WRONG. When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.”
“Well that’s not what I was taught…”

This is important. Simba knows he was raised better than these hippies.

“Then maybe you need a new lesson. Repeat after me. Ahem. HAKUNA MATATA.”

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It means no worries for the rest of your days.
It’s our problem-free philosophy.
These two words’ll solve all your problems!

Here’s the second lesson Simba learns about dealing with grief: let it go. Turn your back on your problems and your past, and just let it go. While this philosophy may have helped him to get over that initial pain of losing his father, this isn’t a healthy long-term solution.

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So then we get a super fun growing-up montage, watching Simba grow from cub to awkward teen and full-maned young adult, shedding away the endearing Jonathan Taylor Thomas character and embracing a whole new Matthew Broderick persona. He has gone full Hakuna Matata – eating paleo, growing out the beard, swinging on vines without a worry in the world. Man, that looks fun! What a cool, hip, carefree lifestyle!

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BUT WAIT. Timon and Pumbaa crack up when Simba recalls a tender memory from his childhood, about how the stars in the sky are the great kings of the past. He brushes it off, no worries, right? But it does bother him. He awkwardly walks off and we know his past is still haunting him. As much as he’s tried to embrace this carefree lifestyle, he knows this isn’t who he is. Clearly those two words haven’t solved all his problems.

Nala. Romance. Hammocks. Arguing. Squash Banana. Jungle running.

Cloud Dad!

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This is the most important scene of the movie. Gets me every time. Here’s what Cloudfasa’s got to say to his son from the stars:

Simba. You have forgotten me. You have forgotten who you are, and so, forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life. Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true King. Remember who you are.

If there’s a theme in the movie, it’s in James Earl Jones’ immortal voice. Don’t walk away from your past. You have responsibilities to your family, to your home, to who you really are. You have to stop running, and get back to real life. NOT HAKUNA MATATA.

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

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So what does Simba do? He runs back to the Pride lands. He goes home, defeats Scar, climbs Pride Rock (fun fact: I walked down the aisle at my wedding to the music that plays here) and takes his place as King. He shed away his hippie years, and embraced maturity and the true message of the film: Remember who you are.

As much as I have wanted to buy Lion King merchandise, I can’t bring myself to if it has Hakuna Matata written on it. It’s just not what the movie is about. It’s a song in the movie. It’s a side track in the main story line. In fact, its a speed bump that holds the protagonist back from solving his problems and defeating his crazy uncle. It’s a broken philosophy that is practically an enemy in itself.

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I apologize if you feel that your past has been shattered. You can sing the song. I’ll still join you. But this is a point that needed to be made. Disney, please don’t get mad at me.

If anything, I hope this made you want to take 1 hour and 29 minutes out of your day to watch the movie for yourself in this new light. I promise it will actually make you love it more, if that is even possible.

Now, I was determined to keep this post pure escapism and not add any political undertones. But here’s the thing guys, America is going through a similar adolescent grief to Simba right now. We’re confused, misguided, losing sight of who we really are. Some of us want to run away from it, some of us want to ignore the problem. But the right thing to do is continue fighting, and remember what we really believe in. Don’t get dragged down into the negativity. Don’t let yourself become ignorant to reality. You have a kingdom to protect.

Remember to look at the stars. And always, always, remember who you are.
(a baboon … and I’m not)

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