Feral Fatherhood

For many kids this summer, a walk on the wild side means the wilds of the African savannah, where the warthog and the wildebeest roam. These are some of the characters in Disney's newest animated film, The Lion King. The film is already a blockbuster. And parents like it as much as their kids do—because of its positive portrayal of fatherhood. The story is about a lion cub named Simba and the lessons he learns from his father, the Lion King. When Simba brags about becoming the next king, his father teaches the cocky young cub that real leadership is not just about "getting your own way all the time." When Simba explores forbidden territory and is attacked by hungry hyenas, his father comes to the rescue. When Simba is nearly killed by a herd of stampeding wildebeests, the Lion King risks his own life to save him. This is sacrificial love—strong, masculine, and protective. But then disaster strikes. While saving Simba's life, the Lion King is viciously murdered by his jealous brother, who wants to be king. Simba flees, falling in with a gang of ne'er-do-well party animals who urge him to live for pleasure. But his early moral training finally pays off. A childhood friend begs Simba to return home and save the animal kingdom from his corrupt uncle. Simba remembers his father's teachings, and agrees to shoulder the duties of kingship. This is great entertainment—with a great message. What a refreshing contrast to the image of fathers that Hollywood usually dishes up: father as a bumbler, who is merely tolerated by his wife and kids—the image portrayed in "All in the Family" or "Married With Children." In fact, we need look no further than another summer hit, which portrays a father as a dimwitted Neanderthal whose most articulate expression is "Yabba Dabba Doo." Yes, I'm talking about The Flintstones. Consider the contrast between that movie and The Lion King. The Lion King's wisdom wins the respect of his community. But Fred Flintstone, while a kind-hearted guy, is constantly derided by his family and friends as being "dumber than mud." And he proves them right when he scores lower on an I.Q. test than a chimpanzee. The Lion King bravely rescues his son from a pack of vicious hyenas. But Fred Flintstone is so incompetent that his angry co-workers are ready to string him up—and he has to be rescued by his long-suffering wife. Both these films are clean family fun. But the messages they convey are dramatically different. One portrays fathers as wise leaders, the other portrays them as incompetent bumblers. Which message would you rather teach your kids? Why don't you take your children to both movies and see if they can pick out the hidden messages. Use it as a lesson in the way Christians must be discerning in a secular culture. It's not too early to teach kids that everything expresses someone's world view—even family entertainment and summer movies.


Chuck Colson


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