Power Rangers, The Lion King, Scar, and Reverence for Nostalgia

All right so I watched this review:

I plan to see Power Rangers because the trailer promised a gritty, YA-novel version of the silly show I used to watch as a six-year-old so obviously I’m there. I have very low expectations. I’m willing to put up with some boringness and way too much angst. I read the entirety of the Twilight series, so I’m immune at this point to popular YA-type angst and awful storytelling. I am looking forward to the action, though, because although I can’t really remember, I’m pretty sure that Xena-loving kid me severely dug that there were two action girls in this show, so, I’m excited.

But my expectations have been low since I heard there would be a Power Rangers movie. Because it’s Power Rangers. I was six and I knew it was stupid. It was the good kind of stupid, obviously, but stupid nonetheless.

It’s a fine line to walk, because I don’t think children’s entertainment has an excuse to be lazy and incompetent just because it’s for kids, and I also acknowledge that there are big fans of Power Rangers who maybe see something profound in the various TV versions of it that have existed for decades. But I don’t know – I feel like at the end of the review when he says something about how he’d punch someone if they adapted something he’d loved as a kid like this, he’s engaging a little too seriously with treating Power Rangers like a nostalgia property that should be worshiped like some sort of deity.

I might change my mind when I actually see it later this week, but I don’t know. I wish they’d made a fun Power Rangers movie (this and other reviews I’ve seen suggest it unfortunately wasn’t made with “fun” being the major point of the whole thing), but probably they went with angsty and overlong because they wanted it to resemble the teen dystopia stuff that sells, so. Fine.

But here’s a thought exercise for myself on this lukewarm Monday evening: what’s a nostalgia property that might be adapted so badly that I would want to find the filmmakers and punch them?

Well obviously The Lion King.

All I know about the live action CGI Lion King remake is that Donald Glover and James Earl Jones have been cast, which is good. But today my coworker turned up the Broadway Lion King soundtrack way too loudly (also he sang along wrong, singing lines too fast or too slow or outright missing key words, and then when he noticed that I was unimpressed he had the gall to ask, “Don’t you like The Lion King?” and I thought “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE SPEAKING TO RN” but I settled for saying, “Yes, but-” and then he started singing along incorrectly again) and I remembered that song, “The Madness of Scar,” and how it’s actually kind of terrible.

It’s fine as a song goes, I guess. It’s funny. It was entertaining to watch on stage, mainly because Scar is the worst and it’s fun to laugh at him. But it gets laughs out of enhancing Scar’s Shakespearean villain “being haunted by the terrible thing he did” thing into HILARIOUS mental illness. And how he was never loved as a child. And then he decides what’s missing is a wife, so, he gets weird about Nala. And none of this was necessary. So I look at this and think, “The last time they adapted The Lion King, the biggest difference is that they went for sympathy – mocking, maybe, but sympathy still – for Scar, who as far as I’m concerned deserves very little sympathy. So who’s to say that in the remake, rather than perhaps outright acknowledging Timon and Pumbaa’s queerness, they’ll just add trauma or mental illness to try to make Scar sympathetic and everything will be awful?????”

So let’s talk about what the upcoming Lion King remake might do to Scar that would encourage me to write a song in which I shriek at myself about how angry I am because SOMEONE MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ORIGINAL SO I MEAN WHY WOULD THEY EVEN BOTHER REMAKING IT IF THEY NEVER GOT WHAT WAS SO GOOD ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Scar, for reasons that will remain eternally unknowable, has a fanclub. A pretty big one. So does Frollo, so, it doesn’t really mean anything apart from confirming that people watch movies and only pay attention to certain parts, I guess, but Scar’s fanclub does exist. If the filmmakers decide to throw them a bone and give Scar some sympathy, a couple of things begin to fall apart.

If Scar is sympathetic because he was abused or neglected as a child, our suspicions turn to Mufasa. Why didn’t Mufasa look out for his little brother? Now, look, Mufasa doesn’t have to be flawless – but what would be the point in giving him a pretty unforgivable flaw? Not looking out for your smaller brother is not cool.

Look at how the Thor/Loki dynamic turned out with the Marvelverse’s audience. And Thor tries, even, but it’s not enough. The fact that Loki is incurably selfish does very little to correct how freaking likable he is. Scar, I would suggest, can be likable without being sympathetic. We can like that he as a set goal in mind and that he achieves it. But then when he snivels and schemes and tries to blame everything on the hyenas, and when he throws Simba’s mercy quite literally right back in his face, and also before all of this when he’s scheming to murder his own brother and nephew, and also all of the nasty emotional abuse? Yeah. I don’t need to sympathize with any of that.

Making Scar a victim of childhood neglect, or perhaps even trauma, depending on where he got that scar that he’s apparently now named after, is, as far as I’m concerned, a mistake. Because The Lion King doesn’t need its villain to have a fleshed-out childhood trauma narrative. Simba is all we need.

Simba is a little baby just living his life when his uncle tries to feed him to hyenas, twice. And in between the first and second hyena-feeding attempts, he watches his father die, and then is made to believe that it was his own fault.

Simba and Scar have a conversation near the beginning of the movie where Scar calls himself “A monkey’s uncle,” and calls Simba his favourite nephew. This conversation would be sweet. If. You know. Scar weren’t trying to gode his baby nephew into running right into hyena jaws to try to prove his bravery. Scar is emotionally manipulative from the beginning. After all, he was next in line for the throne, until the little hairball was born. Simba is an obstacle in the way of Scar’s power, and must be removed.

Do we really need an extensive childhood-trauma backstory of Scar‘s to explain why he does the things he does?

Look at two things. One: American politics. Right now. Paul Ryan is very upset because his first big attempt to take down Obamacare failed. Really think about that. Paul Ryan’s ambition is to take health care away from poor people. He wants poor people to die. Sure, he probably doesn’t kneel at his bedroom window, gazing up at Evangeline, praying, “Please let me make it harder for poor people to get access to necessary health care, Evangeline, please.” Probably he really does believe that people who deserve health care will just magically be able to afford it, and that poverty only exists because liberals make capitalism malfunction by making people pay taxes or something. And for sure he has a whole, complicated personality and backlog of memories and experiences that have led him to this point, which, I remind you, is that he wants poor people to die. But. I don’t need to sympathize with him.

Let me. OK. Look. I work at an animal shelter. People in my industry, whether they’re shelter workers or even if they just work in animal medicine, have a kind of troubling suicide tendency. This line of work is hard. It puts you face to face with suffering animals and the people who outright refuse to care about them, so we work doubly hard, trying to make up for the apparently endless callousness of humanity. Emotional labour is exhausting and, unfortunately, it’s finite. I’ve met some people who maybe started out working with animals out of a love they thought was endless, but then it turned out that love did end, and they became kind of awful. An example of something I saw that was somewhat disturbing but not actually unethical was a coworker of mine was ripping feathers out of a dead hawk for a craft someone was doing. It was really violent. The hawk was dead, so, it was fine, but I said to her, “I don’t think I could do that, even though he’s obviously not suffering.” And she laughed and said, “Working here does things to you.” We need a bit of callousness for ourselves; we have to wear it as armour, but we have to be careful or we turn into monsters. So I’ll say: we need to empathize as much as possible with as many people (and animals) as possible, but there are limits. There have to be. Right now, I’m empathizing with the people Paul Ryan is fine (happy, even!) letting die, and not him.

So like. If there’s a Trumpcare movie, I don’t need a whole sob story about Paul Ryan to explain why he has the terrible ambitions that he has. The emotional focus should be on those vulnerable people he’s giddily trying to harm.

And, less depressingly, two: Remember when Star Wars tried to explain what turned Darth Vader to the dark side?

Yeah.

I think the best decision here is to just do what the original movie did. Scar is like those privileged frat guys who do horrible things even though they’ve lived more or less unchallenging lives. Sure, maybe they’ve had a bit of sadness here and there, but they’re not mentally ill (and we need to stop stigmatizing mentally ill people as the only – or even the usual type of people who do terrible things because usually not. Usually they’re the victims of violent crimes, in fact), and they’re not victims of childhood trauma and neglect (also we need to stop stigmatizing these). I think you can be pretty dark without enduring significant pain in your past. I think you can have dark ambitions and a gigantic propensity to hurt others even if your parents were basically all right to you. See Donald Trump. See George W. Bush. See Dick Cheney omg it’s always a better day when I don’t remember that man exists. *Shudder*

Why? Who knows. Probably it’s culture. Toxic masculinity, rampant individualism, anti-intellectualism, every type of bigotry and how institutionalized bigotry rewards privileged people for not noticing it. And in the utopia of the Pride Lands? Well, it’s probably because he’s a lion. Lions stand in for humans in this story (because, ahem, we’ve casually forgotten that there are humans in Africa. Also Tarzan does this). They’re the top of the food chain, kings because if they treat the ecosystem poorly everyone starves, but they’re benevolent and instead work to keep the circle of life working properly. But they don’t have to. If Scar does unethical things to gain and keep power and it works? Why should he do the hard work of ruling properly when doing the opposite has worked for him so far?

“The Madness of Scar” suggests that Scar is surprised and a little sad that he isn’t loved the way Mufasa was. I’ll firmly suggest that the Scar I know, voiced by Jeremy Irons with a perpetually smug look on his face unless he thinks he’s seeing his brother’s ghost or if the nephew he kept trying to murder when he was a baby is now an adult and is getting the better of him, DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BEING LOVED.

Banzai: Hey, boss!

Scar: Oh, what is it this time?

Banzai: We’ve got a bone to pick with you.

Shenzi: I’ll handle this. Scar, there’s no food, no water –

Banzai: Yeah! It’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinking entrees!

Scar: It’s the lionness’s job to do the hunting.

Banzai: Yeah but they won’t go hunt!

Scar: Oh, eat Zazu.

*Zazu and Scar argue about whether Zazu would taste good*

Banzai: And I thought things were bad under Mufasa.

Scar: WHAT DID YOU SAY?

Banzai: I said Muf- I said, uh, que pasa?

Scar: Good. Now get out.

Banzai: Yeah but, we’re still hungry.

Scar: OUT!

And then later, in public…

Scar: Where is your hunting party? They’re not doing their job.

Sarabi: Scar, there is no food. The herds have moved on.

Scar: No, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Sarabi: It’s over. There is nothing left. We have only one choice: we must leave Pride Rock.

Scar: We’re not going anywhere.

Sarabi: Then you have sentenced us to death.

Scar: So be it.

Sarabi: You can’t do that!

Scar: I am the king, I can do whatever I want.

Sarabi: If you were half the king Mufasa was you wouldn’t –

Scar: I’m TEN TIMES the king Mufasa was!

All Scar wants, the entirety of his desire, is to do whatever he wants. Which is, apparently, listening to happy tunes (but NOT “It’s a Small World”) in a cave. He doesn’t want the responsibility of keeping things in balance, which keeps everyone fed, especially considering that letting the hyenas have free reign is a major factor in his gaining and keeping power, and the hyenas having free reign ruins the balance. So.

He’s a Republican, is what I’m saying. The Lion King is about the responsibilities of power, after all, and Disney’s chosen metaphor for this is a family group of big cats where the big, scary male is in charge but actually all of the hard work is done by the females (heh heh heh). Scar’s politics are nonsense and ecologically devastating. And he hates women. What he wants and what he needs don’t actually work together. His staunch refusal to do what is necessary is so staunch that he’s willing to starve to death himself, just as long as he gets to be king (like all of those Trump voters who will likely lose their health care).

Even his guilt about Mufasa is more about his fear of losing power than it is about his fear of facing his own conscience. Probably the only law he ever enacts is the law that states that you can’t say the name “Mufasa” in his presence, because, as he screams at Zazu, “AM THE KING!” He has to keep screaming this, and banning Mufasa’s name, not because he’s secretly sad that he murdered his brother, but because he knows that once the lionesses learn that he stole power they’ll turn on him.

Scar is not sympathetic. Do you want to know how he got that scar? OK I know there’s a cool Lion Guard or The Lion King: Expanded Universe official explanation of it but here’s mine and I think it’s better: he got on the bad side of a lioness. He doesn’t even need to have been Frollo-esque rapey, to be honest (pretty sure his “unwanted affections,” if he were to have any, would be directed at the males of the species anyway). Maybe, since he’s a bully, he bullied her cub, or her sister, or something. Maybe she gave him what he deserved. I don’t know why he would be called “Scar” because of this, though. Frankly, even if he got scarred as a very small cub, that part makes no sense. But the rest of it does, right? I’m sure he has depth and motivations, but like the politicians and terrible frat guys I’m comparing him to here, they don’t mean much to decent people like you, me, and even the hyenas, in the end. Scar is the worst. He should garner no sympathy.

But erm, you say. What does this have to do with you thinking that Power Rangers doesn’t really need to be any good?

Not much, I have to admit. I think my point is that I can understand being angry at bad adaptations, ultimately because if the original works and then the remake changes one thing without radically changing everything else connected to it, everything falls apart. But Power Rangers, no matter what anyone says, isn’t The Lion King. It’s five teenagers doing martial arts and joining into a huge mechasuit or whatever and while that is awesome and while it deserves an earnest, fun, “rah-rah let’s be heroes” blockbuster movie, if its filmmakers dropped the ball and made it too YA-angsty for it to truly be as good as it could have been, well, it isn’t really a tragedy.

But that’s only my opinion. And I kind of liked the Rangers as a kid, but I memorized the other thing. I memorized it. So, of course my opinion would be that Power Rangers being good is far less important than Donald Glover+CGI everything The Lion King being good.

Shrug.

PS: I’m happy about the CGI, in case I made it seem like I’d prefer Disney to use real animals. Big cats aren’t actors and shouldn’t ever be. People hit them in the face as cubs to teach them to defer to human trainers. Also eventually some of them snap and maul and/or kill people so there’s that too.

I looked for the video I saw of leopards being hit but couldn’t find it. But who needs that, am I right?

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