In 1994 on this day, Disney’s “The Lion King” was released in theaters. I was four years old and distinctly remember being too scared to see it. When I finally did, on VHS in the safety of my own home, I found that it was indeed a frightening film, and to be totally honest I hold that opinion to this day. I don’t know if it’s the fact that Scar kills his own brother by pushing him off a cliff into a deadly stampede, or the constant threat of desperate, flesh eating hyenas with cruel intentions, but something about this movie chills me to my very soul.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful and life-affirming spectacle, it just has some very dark and complicated undertones. And hey, I’m not complaining, I love dark and complicated undertones, it’s just that as a sheltered and sensitive child I found the content of this film a lot to take in.  Without further adieu, in honor of its twenty-first anniversary, here are five important lessons a child learns from “The Lion King”:

1. The Circle of Life

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a violent and tragic death in this film, because if we were paying attention they basically tell us right up front in the opening song “Circle of Life”, by Elton John.  “The Circle of Life” teaches kids that we are all born and then we all die, and then more people/creatures are born and then they die too and that somehow this is a good and beautiful thing.

2. Romance

Baby Lion King Simba has a little girl pal named Nala who he’s always hanging out with, but as they grow up and Simba becomes King, these two fall in love. During the musical number entitled “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, Simba and Nala’s friendship turns romantic in a night of tender nuzzling, licking, and stroking that provided me with two thirds of my sex education.

3. The word “Stampede”

Spoiler alert, Simba’s dad Mufasa is killed by his own brother, Scar. How is he killed? By being pushed off a cliff into a stampede. What is a stampede? Well, it must be that oncoming rush of wild beasts that tramples poor Mufasa to death. Lesson learned!

4. Hakuna Matata

As it turns out, “The Lion King” is responsible for one of the most important life lessons of all time. Simba’s sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa teach him the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata”, which means NO WORRIES FOR THE REST OF YOUR DAYS. Life is hard, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer. Happiness is a choice. You can choose to shrug off your worries and feel good instead. Timon and Pumbaa call this their “problem free philosophy”, a great philosophy to learn as a kid and an important one to remember as an adult.


On one side of the coin, “The Lion King” is a heartwarming story about love and faith. On the other side, it’s a dark tale of greed, desperation, and betrayal. This movie is the perfect way to ease a child into the reality that life is intense and complicated. When I watched “The Lion King” twenty-one years ago, I got my first lessons in death, sex, philosophy, and vocabulary; My thoughts go out to all the kids sitting down to watch “The Lion King” today for the first time, they have no idea what’s about to hit them.