Scene of the Week: The Lion King - The Death of Mufasa
In this week’s Scene of the Week, I’m going to look back on what was a childhood classic for me, as well as for a whole generation, and that classic is The Lion King. There are several scenes that could’ve made the cut here, and they’d include vibes that are comedic, musical and heart-wrenching. My choice this week comes in the form of the latter. I’ve chosen the moment Simba, the young lion cub and rightful heir to the throne, finds his father Mufasa, who has just been thrown from a cliff face into a stampede of wildebeest by his own brother, Scar.
Before I get to the emotional stuff, I’ll address the extremely distinct voices that go with the characters. Firstly, Mufasa, who is voiced by the velvet James Earl Jones. As I’m sure we are all aware, he also voiced Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as in various appearances since. Jones has a voice that is instantly recognisable to most, and is an absolute joy to listen to, whether he is scolding an Imperial employee, or offering his lion cub son some fatherly words of wisdom. The next famous chords lent to a character in The Lion King belong to Mr Jeremy Irons, who voices the treacherous brother of Mufasa, Scar. Scar has lofty dreams, and is a polar opposite to his brother, as he will defy anyone to realise those dreams, including his own kin, which is precisely what happens. Other recognisable voices in the film, but not in this scene, belong to Rowan Atkinson and Whoopi Goldberg, who voice Zazu and Shenzi respectively.
The scene starts in the most desolate manner, with a single remaining wildebeest kicking up dust and dirt as it gallops off to catch its family, and we are then greeted by the most feared sight, which is that of the silhouette of Mufasa’s body lying still on the ground, and at this point we are essentially seeing what Simba is seeing, discovering the painful truth in tandem. The shot then pans to Simba, the look on his face perfectly displaying how the viewer feels. He then approaches his Dad, hesitant at first, before saying “Dad? Dad come on… You gotta get up. Dad? We gotta go home”, and, for me, you can hear in his voice that he already knows the truth, that his father is gone. It’s a truly painful 30 seconds or so to watch, and even now, at 30 years old, as I watch it back to refresh for this piece, I really struggle to hold back tears and make it through, it is that powerful. It’s Simba’s childish voice, full of innocence, hoping beyond hope that his Dad will wake, coupled with yet another iconic piece by Hans Zimmer, that really get to me here. Zimmer’s work on the entire Lion King score is nothing short of mesmeric, but this particular piece is especially powerful, coupled perfectly with what unfolds before your eyes. The piece is abruptly titled Mufasa Dies, and it is one that is not easy to listen to, but this certainly doesn’t detract from its beauty.
Following Simba’s heartbreaking discovery, we see Scar emerge from the dust, settling from the aforementioned stampede. As viewers, we are in the position of knowing what Scar has done, but Simba is none the wiser. So when Simba sees him, he is yearning for guidance, and this is all part of Scar’s plan. He apportions the blame to a young, naive Simba, telling him that it is his fault the his father is gone, and Simba is distraught. Scar then delivers the iconic, later-pivotal, line “Run away, Simba. Run. Run away, and never return”. As Simba takes his uncle’s advice and disappears, Scar coldly instructs his Hyena henchmen to “Kill him”.
This scene is a crucial moment in Simba’s life, and therefore the rest of the film. It’s so perfectly put across, in vocals, visuals and score. I have rarely seen such a perfect amalgamation, and it is part of the reason The Lion King will remain a classic forever. Check it out below.