Learning from the Lion : is Disney’s the Lion King an effective teaching tool for Christianity?

Hobday, Madeleine (2019) Learning from the Lion : is Disney’s the Lion King an effective teaching tool for Christianity? Undergraduate thesis, University of Chichester.

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Abstract

n this dissertation I am investigating whether Disney’s The Lion King is an effective teaching tool for Christianity.1 I argue that it is, despite not being a Christian film. Christian films have Bible stories as their main narrative, keeping the characters and events true to the biblical accounts. For example, The Passion of the Christ follows the Gospel narrative of Jesus, clearly showing the chronological events of his life and death in his historical context.2 The costuming, location and even language are authentic to the story being told. The film depicts Christ’s narrative in a way that does not require any prior biblical knowledge to decipher its Christianity. However, a film used as a teaching tool for Christianity does not have a Bible story at the forefront of its narrative. It does not look Christian at first glance and does not need to be viewed as Christian to make sense. However, it can be used to teach Christianity because viewers may identify Christian themes within the film’s narrative. These themes might include martyrdom and salvation. Children gather information from what they view onscreen, so using popular films to demonstrate key Christian ideas is an excellent way of reinforcing these messages.3
The Lion King is not a Christian film and there is limited scholarship discussing its links to the Bible. The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter film series are also not Christian films because they do not use Bible stories as their primary narratives.4 However, they do include strong ideas of martyrdom and salvation (to name just two) that link them to the Christian message. Therefore, they can be used as teaching
tools for Christianity.
Chapter one evaluates the literature that describes how Harry Potter and Narnia
promote Christianity without being Christian films. The evaluation determines two
key criteria for uncovering Christianity in secular films: they are allegory and Christ
figures. These criteria are important because they reveal Christian ideas in secular
films, and these ideas are what makes them appropriate for Christian teaching.
Allegory is a narrative that makes sense on its own but also infers a second
storyline.5
In film, allegory is seen when characters have storylines that mirror
situations in the Bible. A theme like disobedience is portrayed in the film in a new
context, such as Edmund as Eve in Genesis 3. Both characters are tempted by food
to do something with negative consequences. Reading Edmund’s storyline
allegorically in this way indicates how a secular film may be used as a teaching tool
for Christianity. The two stories have similar themes so Narnia may be used to
modernise the story read in Genesis, making it more accessible for young people
today. Other examples of film characters having similar lives to biblical figures are
Aslan and Harry. Both characters have been identified as Christ figures but serve
different purposes. Aslan’s narrative focuses on his salvation, making him a
symbolic Christ figure. His sacrifice means that Edmund’s debt to the White Witch is
paid, which mirrors the role of Christ in the Gospels. Harry is an allegorical Christ
figure because his life traces Christ’s narrative, particularly towards the end. Harry
spends three days in a coma after battling Voldemort, just as Jesus spent three days
in the tomb before his resurrection. However, Harry’s character is flawed, making him more similar to sinners than to Jesus, who is deemed to be perfect. This makes
Harry a more accessible example for the audience to follow. He is similar to Christ in
his martyrdom but is a more relatable role model to an imperfect audience. Harry as
a Christ figure emphasises Christ’s martyrdom over his salvation. Followers are
encouraged to imitate Christ, and martyrdom as a general theme is a more
achievable goal than saving the entire world. Harry Potter and Narnia’s differing
Christ figures show the significance of his salvation and martyrdom in the Christian
message.
In chapter two I evaluate The Lion King against chapter one’s criteria, discovering
the presence of allegory and a Christ figure in the 1994 Disney hit. Simba’s
character can be read allegorically in several ways, such as Eve, Moses and Jesus
Christ. The young lion is tempted into disobedience like Eve. He is exiled after
murder and returns to challenge authority like Moses. Simba saves the Pride Lands
as Jesus saved humanity. The different readings show how secular films have the
power to portray multiple Bible stories within a single narrative, serving as perhaps a
more effective Christian educator than a Christian film. Their ability to infer
numerous biblical parallels means they become an excellent resource for Christian
teaching. We see this in Simba’s portrayal of the dangers of Eve’s temptation, the
close relationship between God and Moses, and Christ’s mercy. The narrative is not
restricted to a single Bible story or message. The addition of a surface narrative
gives the audience a new context for the tales they are familiar with. As you see
more details onscreen, you feel more for the characters because you see how the
situation impacts them. Therefore, audience empathy is encouraged through
something as small as facial expressions. God being disappointed with Eve is made
tangible in Mufasa’s icy expression. Simba’s flattened ears show the impact of this disappointment on the recipient. Demonstrating biblical ideas onscreen provides a
modernised and relatable version of the biblical accounts.
This dissertation argues that Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lion King are all secular
films that may be used as effective tools for teaching Christianity. The former two
have previously been identified as containing Christian ideas, and I identify and
apply these ideas to The Lion King to provide an example of how Christianity is
presented in secular films. The audience is then invited to apply the criteria to other
secular media. This dissertation aims to make this process accessible for its readers
so that they may uncover deeper meanings in the secular films they watch.

Item Type: Thesis (Undergraduate)
Additional Information: BA (Hons) Theology and Religious Studies
Uncontrolled Keywords: Film, Narrtive, Christian
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Divisions: Departments > Theology
Undergraduate Dissertations
Depositing User: Janet Carter
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2021 15:55
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2021 00:10
URI: http://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/5691

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