"The Lion King"

Tzvi Fishman,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman is a recipient of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. His many novels and books on a variety of Jewish themes are available at Amazon Books. Recently, he has published "Arise and Shine!" and "The Lion's Roar" - 2 sequels to his popular novel, "Tevye in the Promised Land." In Israel, the Tevye trilogy is distributed by Sifriyat Bet-El Publishing. He is also the director and producer of the feature film, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman," starring Israel's popular actor, Yehuda Barkan. www.tzvifishmanbooks.com ...

“The Lion King”

Movie Review by Tzvi Fishman

Before we review the new, Walt Disney, eye-popping, Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) special-effects-extravaganza remake of their popular film, “The Lion King,” allow me a few general remarks about watching movies.

When the movie “Ushpizin” was released, someone asked former Israel Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, of blessed memory, if he could go to see the film, explaining that it was the story of an Orthodox couple, set in the Haredi world of Mea Shaarim. Rabbi Eliahu replied that preferably, he should not go – for two reasons. First, he said, it was not advisable to sit in the dark, staring for an hour or more at the image of a woman. Second, to view the film, he would have to enter a shopping mall or some other movie emporium, which are not the most modest of places. Indeed when I saw “The Lion King” in Cinema City, in order to reach your seat in the theater, you have to pass through what looks like a beauty-queen competition of young women flaunting fashions which made the cheeks of an old Hollywood screenwriter like me to turn pink under my beard. As far as staring at the image of a woman is concerned, “The Lion King” is an animated movie featuring lions, zebras, giraffes, and hyenas, so the prohibition of gazing at women is not a problem. And hearing a woman’s singing does not seem to be an impediment in viewing the film, since you never see a woman, and the voices have been so electronically digitalized and transformed, who knows if it’s really singing or a blend of computer-generated sound waves?

While we are on the subject of kosher movie viewing, allow me to relate two additional Torah opinions. Shortly after I made Aliyah, two film producers from Tel Aviv heard that a Hollywood screenwriter had arrived in town. They contacted me, saying they wanted me to write an action-adventure screenplay for them. When we met in Tel Aviv, I explained that I couldn’t write a movie where women played a major role. Driving back to Jerusalem, I passed a bus filled with UN soldiers. Immediately, a storyline for an action film with an all-male cast of soldiers flashed through the movie reels in my brain. The fellows from Tel Aviv liked the idea, but before starting to write, I wanted to get a Rabbi’s OK. So I went to HaRav Mordechai Eliahu and asked him if I could write a totally worthless action-movie filled with gruesome violence. He replied that I could if it were in order to make a livelihood, but that it couldn’t contain anything immodesty.

A few years later, I wrote a screenplay about a young Jew from America who is murdered by a terrorist while traveling in Israel. The boy’s father comes for the funeral and ends up staying in the Holy Land to revenge his son’s murder. But when I finished the script, I had second thoughts. Maybe the story could be considered “debat haAretz,” speaking negatively of the Land of Israel. Perhaps after seeing the movie, Jews in the Diaspora would think that it is dangerous to come to Israel? I hurried to the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and explained my dilemma to Israel Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, of blessed memory.

“The movie is for the Gentiles, correct?” he asked.

“Jews go to the movies too,” I told him.

He nodded his head. “If you are worried about the Jews in America, they don’t make Aliyah at any event,” he noted. Then he added, “I am not a great maven about movies, but from the little I know, if you don’t have the murder, you won’t have a movie, right?”

The wisdom of the Sages!

And now, my friends, to “The Lion King.”  

To briefly recap the narrative: Somewhere, once upon a time, in a beautiful, animal-filled jungle, the lion king, Musafa has a son, Simba, who is to one day inherit the kingdom. The lion cub’s uncle, Scar, brother of the king, is jealous and schemes to seize power for himself by doing away with his Musafa. Tempting the young lion prince into a situation of danger, the evil usurper of the throne kills the king when he rushes to rescue his son. Accusing the lion cub of causing the death of his father, the wicked uncle banishes him from the kingdom. Rid of the true heir to the throne, the evil new king forms a pact with the hyenas to rule over the jungle, destroying its riches and beauties for their own selfish lusts. Forlorn over the death of his father, and riddled with guilt, the exiled lion prince longs to die, but is saved by a free-spirited warthog and a joking mongoose, who bring Simba to their paradisiacal jungle habitat, a hippie-like haven without law or responsibility, where the pursuit of mindless personal pleasure is championed. As Simba matures, he adopts the culture around him and forgets his true identity as a lion king, born to rule over the jungle. To make a long story short, in the best movie fashion, Simba is led to discover his real self when Rafiki, the elder baboon, leads him to a pond to gaze at his reflection, the reflection of his kingly father in Heaven, who tells him to remember, to “zachor” that he, his kingly father, is always with him, he and the great kingly forefathers of his past, inspiring Simba to return to his now-destroyed kingdom to kill his evil uncle and recapture the throne.

The audience loved the movie. At my age, the soundtrack was a little too noisy, and the roar of the speakers kept vibrating in my bones for hours. On the visual side, the special effects were truly a Walt Disney wonder. The plot employed the same plot elements that Hollywood movies have been using for decades, and which audiences continue to love. What I found most noteworthy were the deeper themes that have meaning for Am Yisrael. I am not suggesting that the Disney team set out to produce a Rebbe Nachman fable like the “Turkey Prince” in which the son of the king goes crazy, strips off his royal garments, climbs down under the table, and starts acting like a turkey, eating the crumbs which fall to the floor – a parable for the Jewish People exiled from Eretz Yisrael, the “table of the King” and doomed to behave like the Gentiles in foreign lands, “under the table,” eating the crumbs of Gentile cultures. Furthermore, I do not claim that the writers of “The Lion King” stole the idea from Rabbi Kook’s poem about the caged and listless lion (Am Yisrael in galut) whose caged cubs remember the tales of royalty in the lost lion kingdom (the Land of Israel) and yearn to return to the glorious days of old. Nevertheless, the Screenwriter of Screenwriters, and the Director of Directors, hides behind the curtains of Hollywood, and He has given us, in the story of “The Lion King,” a breathtaking, CGI special-effects parable to make us think about ourselves – whether we want to be Jews who suffer from amnesia, forgetting our true identities and regal past, pursuing vain and empty pleasures in alien lands, while running away from our great ancestral destiny of saving the world-jungle by being proud lions of Judah in our own lion kingdom and Land?  May it be soon.