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Critical Report on The Lion King: Analysis of the Oedipus Complex Presented in a Movie

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Bruno Bettelheim, Christian Metz, and Michel Foucault are psychologists that gave me the concepts that might be useful for a psychological reading or interpretation of the film The Lion King, an American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, released by Walt Disney Picture in 1994. The ideas and concepts of Foucault, Bettelheim, and Metz can be linked as a rational theoretical framework, as it provides the basis upon which this interpretation can be based on. Bettelheim said that fairy tales in children’s growth and development are very important. He also said that the “fairy-tale world” has a connection to the children’s thoughts and reactions/experiences of their daily lives. For Bettelheim the concept of fairy tales fits within the thinking process of a child, making fairy tales a link to children’s development. In other words, when we analyze the concept of fairy tale through a children’s mind we should include psychoanalytic learning. Christian Metz is a phycologist that also wanted to analyze, and interpret films/movies through the psychoanalytic lens. Bettelheim and Metz both based their statements/readings on Sigmund Freud’s. But Metz preferred Lacan’s thinking. The Lion King is a children’s tale that fits right into the concept of a fairy-tale. Because this film has become a generation landmark, it is easier for us to go through and observed under the concepts and ideas of Metz. Michel Foucault, another psychologist is a person with many ideas and concepts, his ideas and concepts are also very useful for the psychological reading of this film as he mainly focuses on the concept of discourse, in his concept he talks about the relationship between knowledge and power while thinking about how social institutions use them as a form of social control. This report will be focusing on events and characters that are important and that we can use to show using the psychoanalytic lens. Using the psychoanalytic lens I am expecting to find out the desires and thoughts through the development of a character in the film. A character that I’ll be analyzing is Simba, the film’s hero, and main character.

In saying this, I must first point out that Bettelheim values ​​the universality and centrality of the Oedipus complex in the growth and development of children. Bettelheim proposes to apply the concept of Freud to fairy tales, which to do this It requires a common social structure based on the general definition of roles, and in Bettelheim’s opinion, he argued that in a typical home environment, each member has a clear role and function of what to do. Where the father is the protector of their children against the change of the real world and the mother will teach and cultivate the children. The Oedipus complex is a Freudian theory that studies the myth of King Oedipus as a perfect description of children’s sexual behavior and neuropathy. Regarding Freud’s theory, the complex takes place during the early childhood age of psychological development within the child, this is the stage where his/her love and sexual object is his mother. Because of this, the child at this stage will become jealous of his father and unconsciously wishes to get rid of him. The child then goes through anxiety for the revenge of love from his father for having sexual attractions to his mother, Freud relates this as castration anxiety. Which later on leads to an incubation period during the child’s sexual development. This period will only end when the child finds a new sexual object later on.

Certainly that The Lion King has some features that can be related with these psychoanalytic concepts. These features can go against or tell us that the lion king is a narrative about overcoming the Oedipus complex. At the start of the movie, The Lion King shows all the animals of Pride Lands gathering to celebrate and watch the king, Mufasa presenting his newborn and future king son, Simba. This part is important because not only does it sets the tone for the scene it also relates to the interpretation as well. This scene is a presentation of Simba’s introduction as the future king while presenting us the ‘Circle of Life’. The song that Elton John created brings value to the film. The lyrics of the song also relate back to the ‘Circle of Life.

The first feature relating to the Oedipus complex and The Lion King is seen when Mufasa shows the pride lands to Simba, telling him that everything the light touches will be his, in Oedipal terms, Mufasa is saying that one day Simba is going to replace his father and take over everything he possesses, which includes his mother. Then Simba asks his father about the ‘shadowy place’, and Mufasa warns his son that the place is not in the kingdom’s border and tells him to never go there. Dong this, Mufasa is trying to tell his son that there are consequences if you break this rule, just like giving up to the power which I have mentioned previously. During this stage, the balance between castration anxiety in the Oedipus complex and Mufasa’s recruit/threat is now easily made.

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The ‘shadowy place’ beyond the borders of the kingdom is used in the Lion King’s narrative to put under the spotlight Simba’s superego. The features of psychological structures including the Id, Ego, and SuperEgo is one of Bettelheim’s favorite concepts when it comes to analyzing fairy tales. The Id is a simple feature of personality, it is what we are born with. The Id requires satisfaction and creates an instinct that functions under the pleasure principles. The ego is in fact a bridge that is built between the Id and the real world. In other words, this means that the ego will deal with a person’s reality, not only meeting one’s desire but also considers other expectations. When the desires are not met, the ego will defend itself and redirect the desires. The superego is created throughout psyche and it is based on morals, rules or judgments about what is right and what is wrong. The superego guides the ego and tell it how it should act, giving it self-evaluation and also being responsible when there are regrets dealt after ego has failed to meet its desires. Simba and Nala going to the ‘shadowy place’ is a good example of Simba’s psyche in development, at this stage, Simba’s superego has not been formed yet. Which we can tell when the lyrics of Simba’s musical act to divert Zara is presented and while Simba goes to the elephant graveyard with nala, it is suggested that this is the interpretation as Simba sings that he ‘just can’t wait to be king’ and that he is ‘brushing up on looking down. Which the narcissism of Simba is becoming more visible at this stage of the film.

Simba’s ‘bravery’ can also be related to the Oedipal complex, in other words, it tends to show that he is worthy of his mother’s love. The emotion is only interrupted when Simba and Nala is saved my King Mufasa. The film continues with Mufasa having a talk with Simba. And it is this moment that Simba steps into his father’s paw print and figures that there is a difference of sizes. When Simba realizes that his father’s actual stature, he knows his insignificance and starts his journey of overcoming the Oedipus complex. Mufasa shows disappointment with his son Simba’s behavior but then tells Simba that all the great king through the past are looking down at them as the stars then eventually he says that one day he will also look down on Simba as the stars. This is the threat of castration I have mentioned before. However this time Simba is completely internalized, the fact that Mufasa’s authority turns to the stars, makes it eternal. Meaning that when Mufasa dies he would turn into Simba’s superego and his ideal ego. Once Mufasa died Simba leaves Pride Lands feeling guilt for his father’s death. Simba is then found to die in the desert but then ends up spending his childhood with Simon and Pumbaa. The time Simba spends with Simon and Pumbaa is a break in the concept of the ‘circle of life while also representing the latency period of the Oedipus complex. This stage is generated through The person’s unconscious feelings of guilt for having his mother as a sexual object. But when Simba returns to the pride lands, the ‘circle of life then represents the resolution of the Oedipus complex. When Simba and Nala reunite, the termination of the latency period starts but we can also see the Oedipal message of their love. As a result of Nala throwing down Simba and kissing him, they eventually fall in love, the music presented by Elton John, ‘can you feel my love’ makes it very obvious that they were under that situation. We then see that his desire for his mother starts to redirect towards Nala. During the latency period, Simba is living freely without any concerns. Simba’s superego goes through a deep slumber. But as Rafiki comes in he wakes his superego by telling him Mufasa is still alive, living within him. This is the start of the turning point of Simba’s personality.

The psychological interpretation of the lion king is that the Oedipal connotation is the majority of the plot of this film. We can also say that the film clearly presents a connection between the resolution of Simba’s Oedipus complex and the return of the ‘circle of life in the pride lands. The final scene of the film is a representation of the repetition of the opening scene but this time it is Simba and Nala’s newborn be8bg presented to all the animals which in other terms Simba takes his rightful place in the ‘circle of life’ and that the ‘circle of life’ will continue through his newborn son.

In conclusion, it can be said that there is a clear connotation in the film with the psychological concepts of the Oedipus complex used by Bettelheim in his reading of fairy tales. The features of the film the lion king with Freudian concepts are overwhelming. Making me believe that this concept/idea should be taken seriously. Especially when showing these narratives to children. The main ideas of Metz and Foucault also gives us features that might be ignored. The necessary relationships inside the film and the structures of power in production. In the specific scene of “The Lion King”, I believe that the ideology behind the main structure of power at that time can be lined to the coded information in the film. The ideas of Metz and Foucault about different types of machines and discourses proved to be the ideal basis for this interpretation, this then leads to my conclusion that the film “The Lion King” is correctly coded in the film and it is a clear example of more subtle information.

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Critical Report on The Lion King: Analysis of the Oedipus Complex Presented in a Movie. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“Critical Report on The Lion King: Analysis of the Oedipus Complex Presented in a Movie.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Critical Report on The Lion King: Analysis of the Oedipus Complex Presented in a Movie. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Sept. 2023].
Critical Report on The Lion King: Analysis of the Oedipus Complex Presented in a Movie [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Sept 25]. Available from:
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