From Simba to Mufasa: The “Circle of Life” for Disney Sons and Disney DadsSteven M. Johnson
I am the son of a bona fide Disney Dad.
My dad grew up in California during the 1960s, watching “The Wonderful World of Color” and taking annual trips to Disneyland with his family. Recognizing how special Disney was in his childhood, he continued the tradition with his own children: My two sisters and myself. Now that I am a bit older and in college, I can appreciate and recognize just how much joy has been brought into our lives because of Disney films, television shows, and theme parks.
Like any kids, our tastes and preferences have changed over time, but our love for Disney and the special connection we developed with our father has remained a constant.
As a young boy, I saw myself in my favorite Disney films: As the young Bambi in “Bambi” and as Simba in “The Lion King.” When I was a little older, I had a deeper moment of insight while watching these same films. I watched Bambi and Simba grow up over the course of their respective movies, and it hit me: That was me up there. I was going to grow up, too. I realized that one day, I would not be seeing myself in the role of the child anymore, but I would be identifying with another character entirely. Just as Bambi and Simba had, I would grow up, and I would become the mentor, the man, and perhaps even a father myself.
I’m still years away from becoming a father, but that initial glimpse of the future has stayed with me as I’ve watched adulthood getting closer and closer.
More importantly than acknowledging that potential in myself, however, that realization also helped me relate to and understand my own father so much better. There is a memorable sequence in “The Lion King” in which Mufasa chastises Simba for being reckless and putting himself in danger. Paired with the powerful imagery of Simba stepping in Mufasa’s footprint, this scene was truly an epiphany: My father was his father’s son, and my grandfather was his father’s son, and so on and so on.
Disney has an impressive canon of films in which young characters are destined to take their parents’ places, starting with “Bambi” and continuing today with Disney-Pixar’s “Brave.” These films transcend the generational lines between father and son, mother and daughter, and show us life from the other’s perspective.
Part of being a good dad means teaching your kids these kinds of life lessons, and sharing Disney with them is a great way to do that. I will always treasure the times my father and I spent watching Disney movies together. Even today, though I’m away at college, I always look forward to the next visit home and I always wait to see the newest Disney films until my dad and I can experience them together, father and son.