“Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase! Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze!”
As the 20th century drew to a close, the curtains parted for wide-eyed children who were treated to a renaissance of Disney movies. Eventually, this generation of children drifted into college. But even as these youths soar, tumble and freewheel through an endless galaxy of activities, non-3D, non-HD motion pictures continue to move us.
Disney films were no passing craze. This craze prevails at Duke with the weekend Disney sing-a-longs hosted in Griffith Theatre. We clutch red solo cups and boo at Gaston’s chauvinistic pontificating. We cheer as the hyenas shred Uncle Scar and squeal in rapturous delight on recognizing the drumbeats preceding “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You.”
Even now, in the 21st century, these masterpieces animate our lives.
Still, the blithe optimism of “Hakuna Matata” doesn’t always prevail. Disney films can be a mooring point for our turbulent and worrisome journeys. We read ourselves into the blossoming romance of Belle and the Beast. Parental figures like Maurice, the frizzy-minded French inventor, and the magnificent Mufasa couch the protagonists in a context with which the once indignant brat in us can connect.
We are privileged beings who are blessed with gadgets and gizmos aplenty. Yet, our cluttered material possessions and productively bloated schedules do not fill our chambers of emptiness. We identify with Ariel’s mermaid yearnings to explore the shore up above and be part of another world. Our legs made for jumping and dancing often scurry and skitter from lecture to gym to section to dorm. The magnificent tableau introducing the “Circle Of Life” brings to mind an idyllic serenity belonging to a world apart from ours.
But these aren’t always distant longings suspended in fantasy. Disney movies edge us toward the pond of introspection. Mulan’s reflection shows neither a perfect bride nor a perfect daughter but a strong-willed woman. It is about heaving off the bell jar of conformity, occasionally choking on adversities, but refusing to go home, pack up and be through.
Heroes and heroines struggle to come to terms with their destinies both on the big screen and in our un-fanfared everyday existence. As we, and they, grapple with our insecurities, the companionship of little, and often bestial, friends is indispensable. Ariel receives the counsel of Flounder, the chubby tropical fish, and Sebastian, the crusty red crustacean. The lizard-like Mushu, the nagging Zazu, the sassily sentimental Timon, his more ponderous companion who could clear the Savannah after every meal, Pumba, the cheery Chip in the Beast’s enchanted castle.…
In our lives, we treasure similar companions who are steadfast stumps of wisdom. Frank words can be chafing but we learn not to swipe them away with a paw. At times, we find ourselves on the other end. We want to swoop in with well-intentioned words. Looking at the experience of Zazu, our feathers might be ruffled by irate friends, but we continue to nag and intervene because we care.
The little animal companions also engage our moral sentiments. Sentient creatures become intelligible even to our human minds. The meerkat and warthog can smell that love is in the air. Abu is staunchly loyal to Aladdin. Iago, Jafar’s red-feathered, orange-beaked sidekick, flits between Aladdin and his evil master. We find ourselves searching for valuable virtues in our circle of friends.
Furthermore, we engage with the thick consciousness that resides in the lively existence of these non-human creatures. They become emblematic of the less subtle line uttered in “Colors Of The Wind”: “You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”
Those beings and people who are often far-flung in our terrain of ethical considerations become imbued with personable and relatable attributes. Such experiences broaden our moral horizons.
The lessons gleaned from Disney are not ground-breaking. They become indelible because of luscious plot undulations and moments freighted with emotion. As the final hoofs of a galloping wildebeest recedes, the dust settles on the limp body of Mufasa. The wringing of our emotions engraves important messages on our hearts.
When my tiny paw does not match the impressive imprints left by people who inspire me, I can look to the stars expectantly for counsel and comfort.
We live in a shining, shimmering, splendid world and continually discover that Walt said it best: Hakuna Matata.
Jing Song Ng is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Jing on Twitter @jingapore