Directed by: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Screenplay by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton
Light has been historically used in all types of media to symbolise the difference between good and evil. Sometimes, as open as The Light Side and the Dark Side in Star Wars and other times through cinematography so that viewers can read between the lines themselves. For The Lion King, it plays a vital role in the story and is used in the cinematography if you look for it.
Everything the light touches is our kingdom.Mufasa, The Lion King
The Lion King is an animated Disney musical that tells the story of Simba, a young lion prince who blames himself for the death of his father. While in exile, he discovers a new way of life but his old life is calling him home, urging him to rise to his responsibility.
In the beginning of the film, Mufasa is showing Simba around the kingdom that he will one day rule by himself. He states that ‘everything the light touches is [their] kingdom’. This is why Scar is often shown in the shadows or dim areas as his rebellion shows that he refuses to be ruled by Mufasa, he wants to be the king himself. We don’t want to traumatise anyone but the scene where the use of light is most prevalent is the saddest scene in the film – when Mufasa dies. Buckle up and get your tissues.
For those of you that haven’t seen the film (you need to get on that), then the scene begins with Simba’s evil uncle Scar has urged Simba into the gorge in order to lure Mufasa there and kill him, effectively making him king. He leaves Simba there while he goes to get Mufasa and Simba begins to practice his roar. But disaster strikes as a stampede of wilderness begins to peek over the top of the gorge. With the use of light in mind, let’s take a look at Simba when he sees the herd moving towards him.
Not only does the quick use of a dolly zoom motion emphasise the dread that Simba is feeling seeing the wildebeest come towards him, he also goes from being in the light of the gorge to covered in darkness. Throughout the film, as I mentioned previously, Scar is often seen in the shadows like the prowling villain that he is – this use of shadow on a character that has previously been in the light shows how Scar’s plan is about to impact Simba’s life. Even though there’s no real mention towards his age, it’s easy to assume that he is young and naive. The fact that he spends the first half of the film wishing to be king without fully recognising that that means losing his father shows just how naive he is to the ways over the world and now, he’s being thrown full throttle into them.
Skipping ahead slightly, let’s look at how the same effect is juxtaposed with another character – Scar. He’s in his regular place in the shadow, looming over the scene as he watches Mufasa claw up the cliff for dear life. Throughout the duration of the film, he’s been pretending to be something he’s not, hiding his true intentions by sarcasm that he can easily shrug off as a joke. For Mufasa, he knows that he’s a troublemaker but wouldn’t believe that he would do anything as sinister as this – why would he? He’s his brother. So as much as we the audience know he’s a villain, Mufasa doesn’t.
Mufasa begs Scar for his life and all he does is watch in silence – before he leaps forward into the light and slams his claws into his brother’s paws. Shadow was used to show the dawning of reality for Simba and now, the same effect is used on Scar. He’s forcing himself into the light to show his true intentions, who he really is – the lion that’s going to take out his brother and become king. It’s a really clever moment that’s so quick that you could miss it but the next time you’re watching, be sure to look out for it.
They then use the same effect as they did with Simba on Mufasa – the realisation of what has been happening all along is dawning on him. That this was all either a spur of the moment decision for Scar to kill his brother, taking the opportunity where it was or that he’s planned it all out from the start. The dread on his features is apparent to the audience and emphasised by the use of shadow that spreads over him. It’s a similar effect to what happened to Simba – that he is now being covered in Scar’s plan.
Light is used throughout the rest of the film, the paradise that Simba finds with Timon and Pumbaa is very bright and colourful whereas the Pride Rock that’s now reigned over by Scar is very grey and dark. It’s a simple enough technique to use but one that is extremely effective, especially within an animation where they don’t have to rely on natural light in order to create the same effect.