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The Lion King (2019): What Makes a King?

Disney’s new photorealistic (the popular term is live-action but can we really call a movie live action when everything is digitally created?) remake of The Lion King debuted the domestic…

Disney’s new photorealistic (the popular term is live-action but can we really call a movie live action when everything is digitally created?) remake of The Lion King debuted the domestic box office with a $191.8 million, July record opening weekend performance. Though met with a lukewarm reception from critics and sitting at a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes millions of people are still going to the theater. The Lion King is already a massive financial success. Clearly there is something about The Lion King that people are still hungry for.

This newest rendition of The Lion King is breathtakingly beautiful to look at. Every scene but one in the film is computer animated, but even to a trained eye it is very difficult to spot any cracks in the animation. It truly looks like there are real life breathing animals being filmed in the wild. This is a remarkable feat of movie magic making power. The film also sounds fantastic. I found Billy Eichner’s performance as Timon to be the best of the film, though I also really enjoyed Seth Rogen’s Pumba, as well. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a very good performance as Scar that is more menacing than the conniving performance of Jeremy Irons, though the animated version’s “Be Prepared” is way better than the newer version.

There also were a few new story beats that I thought were interesting, that I wish had been explored more fully. Instead, what we mostly find in the new Lion King is a shot for shot remake that adds very little in the way of story, but relies heavily on the nostalgia and love of the first film. Some of the emotional weight is lost in the photorealism of the animals where you cannot animate emotion like you can in a cartoon. Also, some of the voice cast is weak and unable to give the necessary emotional weight to the performance.

The original 1994 The Lion King is my favorite Disney animated film. Sadly, the 2019 version fails to add much substantially new to the story. In many ways this newest adaptation feels pointless except as an exercise in computer graphics and a cash grab by Disney. It is worth seeing in theaters though for the amazing technical prowess of the film, and the enjoyment of the original story. The Lion King (2019) is good because The Lion King (1994) is great.  Spoilers will follow, but really if you have seen the cartoon version you have seen the exact story of the new.


There are many things that could be said about the story of The Lion King, which in case you didn’t know is adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. However, I think one of the most powerful aspects of story is the exploration of the question, “What makes a king?” This is one area on which the new version of the film actually includes some improvements or interesting additions to the original film.

In this version of The Lion King there is a stronger comparison made between Mufasa and Scar. We find out that Scar believes he ought to be the rightful king and had at one time challenged Mufasa to be king. It is implied this is how he received his scar. Further on in the film we also have an exchange between Sarabi (the queen) and Scar, where she rejects his advances his toward her again. We learn that Sarabi had chosen Mufasa over Scar too. All of this brings Scar and Mufasa into sharper contrast. I would much rather have seen this prequel film between Mufasa, Scar, and Sarabi, than the shot for shot retelling we got in this film.

The film also explores the philosophies of rule between Mufasa and Scar. Scar says,  Life’s not fair, my little friend. While some are born to feast, others are born to serve.” Scar’s view of being a king is that others are beneath the king in order to serve the king. For Scar being a king is all about power and control. Mufasa, on the other hand, has a very different understanding of what it is to be a king. After Simba ask Mufasa if all the land he sees will be his, Mufasa responds with, “It belongs to no one, but it is yours to protect. It is a great responsibility.” He goes on further to say, “While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give.” For Mufasa being a king is not about power but about service.

As I heard this dialogue in the film I could not help but think about the Biblical depiction of kings. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 God provides Israel with the parameters for what a king ought to be. A true king is to be concerned more about following God and leading the people in worship of God, than about expanding borders or winning military battles. The king is not to have his heart exalted over his fellow citizens (Deut 17:20). When the Israelites demand a king in 1 Samuel 8, they are rebuked not for desiring a king, but for desiring a king like all the other kings of the world. In other words, they desire a king who is concerned about power, military might, and expansion of borders than they are a king who serves God and his people.

Throughout the Old Testament there is a longing for a coming king who will rule with love and righteousness. The New Testament reveals that this king is Jesus. The God-man who” did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Tyrants seek the high places and to lord themselves over others, but Jesus tells us, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt 20:26-27).

In The Lion King we see a visible representation of this battle between the competing visions of a good and a bad king. Under the rule the true king, Mufasa, Pride Rock and the surrounding lands flourish. Under the fearful rule of the false King, Scar, the lands are dying. The land and lions long for the return of a king so that the land may once again flourish. Once our world flourished in paradise, but through man’s sin we gave over the world to rulers of darkness. The land and the people suffer under that reign sin and death, longing for the return of a true king who will restore the land and the people.

Simba is conflicted in the story. He does not think he is worthy of following in the footsteps of his father Mufasa. He believes he is too broken to be king. Finally, though through a vision of Mufusa Simba is told to “remember who you are.” Simba embraces his destiny and returns. In his confrontation with Scar, Simba demonstrates that is a true king who walks in the steps of his father, Mufasa, when he extends compassion and mercy to his uncle Scar. As Sarabi, had said earlier in the film, “a true king’s power is his compassion.

This story exploring what it makes a king is a common thread through many stories throughout the history of the world. There is something powerful that awakens deep-seated desires of the human heart. We cannot help but desire for a righteous ruler and king who will reign with compassion. Our love of The Lion King reveals this about our hearts’ longings. The Lion King reveals our recognition that we are all in need of a king.

Jesus is our true king, who walks in the steps of his Father. Whereas, Simba faltered to be a king, Jesus perfectly lived. In Christ we find a king who lovingly serves his people and lives sacrificially for them. His love was made manifest in his dying for us on the cross for our sins. One day he will return and reign forever in a kingdom defined by love and righteous. In the meantime his followers are called to extend the reign of the Son by being salt and light on the earth. We are to be ambassadors of the one true king Jesus Christ. In The Lion King we see but darkly an image of what it is that makes a king.

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Yesterday: The Beatles and Signals of Transcendence

I finally was able to catch up on some films I was hoping to catch this summer. One being the new film Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle. Yesterday stars newcomer…

I finally was able to catch up on some films I was hoping to catch this summer. One being the new film Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle. Yesterday stars newcomer Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, a struggling musician, who one day wakes up to an altered world where he is the only one who remembers the Beatles. Jack begins to play the Beatles’ music as his own and soon rapidly rises to be an international pop sensation.

Lily James stars alongside Himesh Patel as best friend, manager, and love interest Ellie Appleton. Patel and James have wonderful chemistry together and represent a very likable couple for a romantic comedy. Music star Ed Sheeran also shows up and gives a wonderful slightly self-mocking performance as himself. Yesterday features a wide collection of beautiful covers of the Beatles’ ridiculously long and excellent catalog of music. All are performed by Himesh Patel, who does an excellent job singing as well as acting.

I found Yesterday to be a lovely sweet film with likeable leads, an interesting premise, and excellent music. Yesterday is not a perfect movie but it is a crowd pleasing film featuring an excellent production of Beatles’ music. This is a good film to check for those who enjoy romantic comedies and/or Beatles music.

Yesterday offers up all kinds of interesting questions especially to those of the philosophical bent such as myself. However, I think one the most interesting ideas is raised toward the end of the film. We find out that there are two other people who also remember the world with the Beatles’ music. The tension rises as to whether they are going to out Jack or not. In the moment of confrontation instead of condemning Jack they thank him. This is quite startling, but their reasoning even more so. Neither of them are musicians and they are just thankful to hear Beatles music again. One of the characters states, comforting Jack, “A world without the Beatles is a world that’s infinitely worse.”

One can debate the merits of the Beatles music, though for my money the Beatles are one of the most beautiful songwriting teams of all time. However, I think this quote highlights something most of us intuitively believe whether we have ever taken the time to consider it or not: Art and music make the world a better place; the world would be lacking in some way if we were to lose a beautiful piece of art like Rembrandt’s Raising of the Cross, or Bach’s Six Cello Suites, or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or even, yes, the Beatles’ Yesterday. But why is it the case that there is beauty in this world, or why do we value creative expression and beauty in our lives? Why would we believe the world is worse off without the Beatles? What is it we think we are losing? It seems to me that we all recognize the intrinsic value of beauty because we all desire transcendence. When we encounter something beautiful, it has the power to move us beyond ourselves in a way the ugly or mundane cannot.

Ultimately, this desire for beauty I believe is a desire for God, himself, who is the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty. God is the preeminent creator who has created a glorious beautiful world. Truly, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” But not only do the heavens declare his glory and beauty but so do his creatures who are made in his image. As image bearers we reflect the marks of our creator in our creative ability. God has gifted this world by creating people with unique gifts and abilities that can introduce more beauty, grandeur, and goodness into this world. In part we can taste and see that the Lord is good, through the pieces of art created by people who are in the image of and created by the supremely beautiful One.

This also raises another important concept. Which story of the universe provides a better picture of the world? Does the disenchanted naturalistic, reductionistic, materialistic explanation of the secularists, or the enchanted, supernatural, and sacred explanation of the Christian better explain the world we live in? By my lights, the Christian worldview and explanation is much more desirable and beautiful than any alternative.

Apologists Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, give an argument for God from Bach (or really from art and beauty) that goes like this:

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this or you don’t

Many will find this an unconvincing argument, and I myself don’t think in this form it is the most persuasive. But if we understand this argument to really be pointing out that there is beauty in this world, and this is better explained by there being a God than not I think we can see it to be a helpful argument pointing toward God. Apologist, James Sire in Apologetics Beyond Reason, takes this argument and expands upon it. He argues that so much of current apologetics fails to account reaching the heart along with the mind. God has planted throughout the universe both in nature and through artists “signals of transcendence” that point us towards the reality that there is a beautiful Artist who is the Creator of all.

This brings us back to the movie Yesterday, which presents us with the beliefs that 1) there is beauty in the world 2) the world would be worse off if beauty did not exist, and 3) beauty is good. The Christian faith holds all these things to be true, and further grounds them in the beautiful God of the universe. God has chosen to create a world in which there is the Beatles music. God has chosen to create a beautiful world.

There is the music of the Beatles.
Therefore there must be a God.
I hope that you see this too.

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The Dangers and Triumphs of Vulnerable Love: A Review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

In a strange confluence of events, I find myself reviewing for the second time in a row a romantic comedy featuring an Asian-American Actress in the lead role. That’s right,…

In a strange confluence of events, I find myself reviewing for the second time in a row a romantic comedy featuring an Asian-American Actress in the lead role. That’s right, this week I am reviewing the Netflix’s Original Film, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows the story of Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a junior in high school, who writes but never sends love letters to here crushes. Accidently, her letters are sent to her former crushes including until recently the former boyfriend of her older sister, and the popular Peter (Noah Centineo). Through a series of events Peter and Lana hatch a scheme to fake a relationship in order for Peter to win back the girl who just dumped him, and for Lana to dissuade her sister’s ex-boyfriend from believing she still has feelings for him. From this point a budding friendship and romance develops for Lara and Peter.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a charming teenage coming of age story and romantic comedy. The central characters are well rounded and complex; not your stereotypical teenagers. As with all Rom-Coms much of the success or failure depends on the likeability and on screen chemistry of its leads. Lana Condor and Noah Centineo both shine in their roles. They bring a charm to their roles and display surprising depth in their performances. These are future stars in the making. The film has excellent pacing and dialogue. I found myself laughing throughout the film. It also brings a sensitiveness to the teenage experience that is lacking in many movies. I believe this film will be relatable to both adults long past their high school days, and for current teenagers alike. I recommend To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to anyone looking for an enjoyable heart-warming film.

Spoilers Ahead:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the third film in a few weeks to feature an Asian-American Actor in lead role. Also, this film features a mixed-race family, and treats it as normal; not even commenting on it. This is good. This is portraying the America we live in, and it is a beautiful thing.

Another striking feature of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the value and meaningfulness of physical acts. Lara Jean includes in rules for their fake relationship that there will be no kissing. She defends this by stating her first kiss is important it matters. She wants it to mean something. This film implicitly values the sacredness of physical actions within relationships. It recognizes the power and intimacy of this personal physical actions. Towards the end when Lara Jean and Peter finally kiss, a weight is given to this act. It reveals the trust and love that has developed between them. Afterwards, when a video of them leaks, and everyone in school believes that they had had sex. Lara Jean is distraught in part not only because her name is being sullied for something she did not do, but also because she places such a value on the importance of physical acts, and does not want to commit them prematurely.

This leads to the biggest theme of the film. Lara Jean and Peter both come from broken homes in different ways. Lara Jean’s mother had passed away years earlier, and Peter’s father had abandoned his family a few years before. This has created great hurt in both of their lives but also a real connection. The loss of her mother has had a profound effect on Lara Jean. She is afraid to open herself up to others because she is afraid of being hurt and left again. This is brought up throughout the film. Peter even calls Lara Jean out on this at one point. Lara Jean in voiceover comments on how it was easy it was to be in a “relationship” with Peter, because it wasn’t real and there was no risk of being hurt. This is the crux of the conflict of the film. Lara Jean is afraid to accept her feelings for Peter, or to believe that he loves her back, because she is terrified of what it means if it were true. She is afraid of losing it and being hurt again. She is afraid to take the leap of faith; take the risk to love.

I was reminded of The Four Loves by C. S Lewis where he writes,

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

To love is inherently a dangerous proposition. This is something that To All the Boys I Loved Before recognizes. It requires real vulnerability to love. It means opening yourself up to another. It requires trust and intimacy. In a sense you are putting your life in the hands of other, and they can hurt you, break you, and misuse you. To love is a dangerous thing, but both To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved and C. S. Lewis display it is worth the risk.

In our relationships with others it requires humility, sacrifice, and trust to love truly and this is dangerous. They might not love us back, they might hurt us. Furthermore, loving God truly means humbling ourselves before him, giving up of ourselves fully to him, entrusting our lives completely to God, believing that he will never leave nor forsake us. In Jesus we see that we do not need to fear to love God. He has proven his love to us through the sacrifice of his Son for our sins. “No greater love is this, than a man lay his life down for his friends.”

Lastly, I think this teaches us something about God’s love for us. In one sense God accepted the danger of loving us. He took a risk in sending his Son Jesus to die for us. In no way am I denying that God has a plan, or that he is sovereignly in control, but I simply pointing out that by loving us God has made himself vulnerable to us. God has allowed our choices to have real consequence. We enter into the union of an intimate relationship with God and enjoy an eternity with him, or else we remain forever in broken relationship apart God. God has allowed us to receive or reject his love. He has allowed us the possibility of grieving him, and yet God loved us, and sent Jesus to die for us so that we might become sons and daughters of God. Praise God for such a love, that he loves us despite ourselves, despite how we treat him. In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before we see the triumph of vulnerable love.

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