Buena Vista Pictures
The Lion King had a significant influence on my childhood. It was the first movie I ever saw in theaters and one of the few films that I could watch repeatedly, day in and day out, without my parents going completely insane. To me, it is a nearly perfect Disney film, the kind of childhood obsession that not only holds up as you grow older, but actually becomes better in many ways. And yet, it’s only now, 20 years after its release that I feel comfortable admitting the one major flaw I’ve always found in The Lion King: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
Allow me to state up front that I enjoy the song itself immensely. It’s catchy enough to appeal to a child, with lyrics that are simple enough to follow along, yet emotional and sophisticated enough for adults to appreciate. Still, every time I’ve watched The Lion King, I’ve skipped past it the second that Timon and Pumbaa finished the intro. Within the context of the film “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has always felt unnecessarily long, something that I needed to sit through in order to get back to the action.
I understand the importance of the sequence; this is the moment that Simba and Nala are finally reunited after years apart, and it establishes how much they love and miss each other. It’s what finally spurs him to return back to his pride and protect them from Scar, and it is, of course, the moment that they finally fall in love. But so much of that context is established in the conversations and moments surrounding the song that watching them roll around in the grass to an Elton John song feels superfluous.
Not to mention that stopping the plot completely for a romantic montage has always struck me as unnecessary, even when I was a kid. We’re in the middle of Simba’s journey towards reconciling his role as king with his father’s death, we’re in the middle of hanging out with Timon and Pumbaa and we’re in the middle of Scar’s reign of terror over Pride Rock. There’s more than enough going on, and frankly, they’re all a lot more interesting than watching Simba and Nala make eyes at each other. We already know how much they care about each other – we watched them as childhood friends, we saw how much they loved and relied on one another, and they’ve just spent a few minutes talking about how much they’ve missed each other – and so there doesn’t need to be a whole number dedicated to them staring longingly across a pond.
Nala revealing to Simba how much he’s been missed and how terrible Scar has made life for the pride is enough to get him to consider going home. All he needs is the knowledge that the people he loves are in trouble, and he’s willing to go home and help them. There was no need to shoehorn in a romantic moment with Nala in order to change his mind. It was already made up. Even if the sequence wasn’t cut out completely, it still could have been trimmed down a great deal in order to keep things from dragging. Timon and Pumbaa’s introduction is, like everything they do, wonderful, and the small moments of reflection that Simba and Nala have are nice, quiet character moments. But as a whole, it just keeps going on far too long, drawing out their romance when we could be watching Rafiki hit Simba in the head with a walking stick. At least that actually helped get Simba moving.
I know that my opinion is an unpopular one. In the years since The Lion King has been released, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has become a modern classic, the rare Disney song to shake off the childish connotations of its source, but it’s never been enough to get me to stop fast-forwarding once those opening notes start in the background. Of course, if Disney ever decides to re-release the film with a version sung entirely by Timon and Pumbaa, I might finally change my tune.