The other day I came upstairs from the basement and could hear the kids were watching a movie. As I got close enough to hear what was going on, I could hear the frightened, desperate plea of a character – “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” I trust my wife’s judgement in what is appropriate to show our kids, but what hell is she showing them? The Green Mile? Brian’s Song? The Passion of the Christ?
It turns out it was Charlotte’s Web, which apparently is some sort of sadistic “classic.” Nothing says great kid’s movie like a pig struggling with his mortality and begging not to be slaughtered and eaten. I had always known this book and movie existed, but I had gone through my entire childhood without actually reading/watching it. Either that or it was such a traumatic experience that I surpassed the memory. Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with any questions from the kids on this one. Up to this point the most awkward questions I’ve had to answer about movies were who a Native American was and why those other guys were being mean to him. I’d gladly sugar coat manifest destiny than explain where ham comes from.
I am aware that death is present in almost every kids movie, but it’s almost never right there on the screen with a character begging not to die. Gaston falls down, so does the mean lady in Tangled. Bing Bong gets forgotten. Anna and Elsa’s parents’ boat crashes. There are understandable actions, but no conceptual consequences. The actual death occurs somewhere off screen or in some abstract way. The mean lady in Tangled doesn’t die, she just disappears, and before tiny minds can consider this there is something else happening and we’ve moved on. That is until we we watched The Lion King. Now we’ve got a dead lion right there for all to see.
We’ve watched clips of The Lion King before and my kids already know all of the songs, but we’ve never sat and watched it beginning to end. And not by accident, but precisely because I didn’t want them to see Mufasa die. But now that they’ve had to watch a pig plead his case not to be breakfast, why not?
So we watched, and there were questions.
“Does he have a boo boo?” – Yep, he fell and got a boo boo.
“Where is his boo boo? Does he have a bleed?” – His boo boo is inside of him. No, he’s not bleeding.
“Is he sad?” Yes, he’s sad.
“Why is he sad?” – Because he got a boo boo.
This line of questioning of boo boos and sadness continued until Scar tells Simba to run away, at which point questions about where he was going and where everyone was going started. Is Simba going home? Why not? Is he going to see his daddy? Is his daddy going home? Why not? I pivoted all my answered back to the boo boo.
Thank God for Hakuna Matata. That happy-ass jam stopped all the questions right in their tracks. They knew exactly what they were doing when they made this movie. What to do when you deliver the most traumatic thing a child has seen up to this point in their lives? Singing pig! They eat bugs, they fart, they sing, a good time is had by all. And just when the trauma is pushed from our minds, Mufasa shows back up in the clouds.
“Why is he in the sky?” – So he can watch Simba.
“Did he go home?” – Yep.
“Why is Simba sad?” – He misses his daddy.
“Does he have a boo boo?” – Yes.
Questions about Mufasa in the sky when on for a little while, until Simba got back to Pride Rock. Then it was explaining that Simba was not Mufasa. Pride Rock was home, so if Mufasa went home, then that lion must be Mufasa. But Mufasa is in the sky. Why?
Ya know what’s good for breaking up the dead Mufasa line of questioning? Scar trying to kill Simba! When Simba hangs off the edge of the rock before Scar confesses to killing Mufasa, my kids said “We already saw this part!” Well, good to know the death of Mufasa is clearly etched in their minds. That’s one childhood milestone accomplished.
Thankfully Scar’s death is classically just off screen and no explanation other than “The hyenas got him because he was mean” was needed. Being “got” is a great explanation. Nobody is trying to kill or eat anybody, just trying to get them. Kids understand this.
The movie was over. The questions stopped. Play time had begun. My two year old jumps up and says “I’m Scar, you be Simba. I’m gonna hit you!” Oh good, we’ve moved on from the death right into the violence. Frickin’ Lion King.