Richard Tyler, Disney scholar, is most well known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning essay, “From Maleficent to Yzma: The Fall of Female Villainy and a 5-Year Plan to Reinvent Tyranny.”
Professor Tyler currently teaches at the Discover Disney Institute and was recently called out by Walt Disney World News for his highly controversial opinion, that out of 56 feature-length films, Lion King II is the best Disney movie of all time.
We sat down with Tyler to see if we couldn’t better gleam how this claim came to be.
Eritas Daily (ED): Thanks for meeting with us, Tyler. We’re sure you’ve been juggling quite a few one-on-ones since the news came out. We appreciate your time.
Richard Tyler (RT): No, no. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to field any questions you might have.
ED: Awesome. Now, the first thing that comes to mind: Why not Lion King?
RT: Great question. I get this one a lot. I understand where everyone’s coming from. We couldn’t have one without the other.
ED: Yeah, of course. It’s a Timon and Pumba sort of situation.
RT: Well, sort of. But, not exactly. You see, I appreciate Lion King for exactly what it was—a prequel.
RT: Yes. So, sure. We’ve got this rich familial history that’s got to be delved out. In the span of 88 minutes, there just isn’t enough time for real development. The simplest example of this is Simba. He loses his father 35 or so minutes into the film. Devastating. A real iconic moment in terms of cinematic history. The natural quandary that follows such an event is obvious: How will this tragedy impact Simba in the long run? How will his journey into fatherhood be altered and, one hopes, successful?
ED: Great point.
RT: This definitely leaves the viewer stunned. Then, Timon and Pumba sweep in too soon, squelching any chances Simba might’ve had for emotional growth. No time for mourning, eat these bugs and forget about your mother and friends. Although we know Simba ultimately returns to his pride, there’s a pretty mixed message here that’s far from family friendly. I always found that shocking.
ED: Us too. Though, that might’ve been put in for comic relief.
RT: Exactly. To this day, studios like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation lean into comic relief. It’s a crutch. As you might’ve heard, I refer to this phenomenon as comic-consolation—the moment when a filmmaker decides their audience isn’t equipped to handle real, momentous storytelling. In the end, this method both patronizes and disappoints the subject’s audience.
ED: That leads us to our next question. According to our resources, Lion King was intended for a younger audience, specifically for six-year-old children and up. Wouldn’t you say these instances of, as you called it, comic-consolation are only in keeping with the film’s demographic?
RT: I’ve taken this into consideration, and my focus is on the sweeping population that lives in that ‘up’ category. It’s simple. Lion King II raised the bar, including fury and fire at its core. We’ve got three or so moments of comic relief in The Lion King II; we’ve got entire musical numbers, a waste of those precious 88 minutes, in The Lion King that serve no other purpose but to seek a few pity laughs.
ED: Oh, wow. I’m not sure how this will translate to paper, but things are getting a little heated over here.
RT: I’m really passionate about this. I hate knowing a film has been overlooked simply because it came second.
ED: That’s totally clear, and the team here at Eritas can appreciate such a deeply thought out defense. We’ve talked a bit about how The Lion King could’ve been improved upon. We’re curious to know what is it about The Lion King II that you find so fascinating?
RT: So much! Let’s see. I mentioned the musical numbers. I know this is a point of contention for many that oppose my arguments. It’s true you’ve got some all-stars on The Lion King soundtrack, namely Hans Zimmer and Elton John.
ED: Boy, do we love Inception.
RT: Another good film. I’d rate it above The Lion King, still below The Lion King II. But, in The Lion King II soundtrack, there’s a real element of lyricism that many people are missing out on. I’ll set it up for you and your readers.
Kovu, Scar’s heir, spends a great deal of time forming a close bond with Kiara, Simba’s daughter. Kovu has been taught since birth to overthrow Simba’s kingdom and has been instructed to kill Kiara in the process. We’re talking brainwashed since birth; It’s monumental that Kovu transcends his circumstances, willingly joining Simba’s pride. Now, without telling you too much more, Kovu is banished from The Pride Lands.
In The Lion King, you’ve got plenty of big-budget scenes with every member of the animal kingdom bowing and preaching about the circle of life. It’s sweet. It’s fun. But, it isn’t realistic.
When Kovu is banished, he walks a long stretch of land leading back to the Outlands through a sea of animals. The song “Not One of Us” kicks in with these heart-wrenching lyrics: “Born in grief / Raised in hate / Helpless to defy his fate / Let him run / Let him live / But do not forget / What we cannot forgive.” The animals berate Kovu, taking on a mob mentality that had heretofore been unseen. The animosity is real. Quite gripping.
ED: Thanks for breaking that scene down for us. It’s like real eyes, realize, real lies.
RT: Yes, but in this case, there’s this intense complex in which one isn’t sure how deep the lies go. If one lives a lie long enough, is it still untrue?
Bringing this back around, was Scar ever redeemed in The Lion King? No—it’s a cliffhanger. But, when Simba is finally so fully portrayed in The Lion King II, we witness a reckoning through his relationship with Kovu. As you can tell from the scene above, it’s totally messy through and through. The same goes for Kovu and Kiara; they both make life-threatening mistakes and have to cope with those decisions by the story’s end.
You simply won’t find this depth in The Lion King, and I look forward to sharing more of my findings on this subject through my eventual film analysis, “Ditch The Warthog: Foregoing Comedic-Consolation for World-Building and Kinship.“
ED: Thanks so much, Richard. It’s been great picking your brain about this. One last thing. Do you have any closing remarks regarding The Lion King 1½?
RT: Absolutely no comment.
This article was written by Holly Ratcliff, who has just such a dope last name. Rat AND Cliff? Wow. Holly studied poetry at Texas State University. Her literary research is available through the Texas State Undergraduate Research Journal: “‘Too much water hast thou, poor Ophelia’: An Object-Oriented Reading of Hamlet.” Twitter/Instagram: @HollytheHare