Fire in the Pridelands 8/27/98
    From the child playing with matches to the most experienced firefighter,
everyone knows something about fire. Arguably one of the world's most
ancient weapons, fire traditionally has been seen to keep animals at bay
and humans safe. At the end of The Lion King, we witness the mass burning
of the entire pridelands as the battle for supremacy and justice rages atop
a unique monolith. The question has been posed: What does the fire at the
end represent? Without a canon source, we may never know; however, careful
analysis and speculation can lead to some interesting conclusions.
    Let us first examine the obvious dramatic effect that fire has on the
scene. Not only is there a wild free-for-all on the plateau of safety, but
the added danger of lapping tongues adds more suspense to the story. It was
not enough that our beloved protagonist almost slipped from the edge of a
high place, but the immediate threat of incineration at the end of the
deadly fall focuses the attention of the viewer even more on 'how is he
going to get out of this one'. Additionally, the scene of Simba jumping
through the fire to confront his uncle is a dramatic entrance that ranks
next to some of the best action heroes. And of course, the ethereal vision
of a slow-motion Scar lunging through the air directly at our line of view
can chill even the bravest captive audience.
    While mentioning these scenes it would be wrong of me not to give note to
the artistic boons of fire. The ability to render realistic fire can set
apart a 'toony' cartoon from a 'serious' one. To create the illusion of a
raging fire (which in effect is it's own entity) is not a simple task when
you must contend also with a carefully choreographed brawl. The use of fire
also gives the opportunity to switch colors and thus emotions. Being
exposed to the 'hot' reds and oranges is a change from the depressing
desolation of gray that pervades Simba's return as well as the pervasive
'hopeful' green of Simba's former life. Because it provides it's own light
fire also creates its own shadows, allowing the animators to experiment
with more contrasts. These contrasts enhance the 'scary' or 'ominous'
feelings associated with not genuinely knowing what is going to happen.
(Note: of course if consciously thinking, one might be assured that the
good guys always win. However, this assumes that the engrossing nature of
the story has wiped out conscious thought and the audience is now to the
point of simply reacting to what they see.)
    Moving onward, the fire could have definite symbolic meanings. When Simba
jumps through the flames, miraculously unharmed, it becomes representative
of Simba's torn emotions. He is focused, intent, dangerously volatile
before making the final decision on Scar's fate. Scar and Simba play out
the final battle in a ring bordered by fire. This is in part ironic because
while the two lions fight for control of the pridelands, the fire usurps
the throne as the dominant power over the lands. The animals are reacting
to the whims of the fire, not the kings. Only once a true king is
determined does the rain come down and give the king rule over the lands
    The fire as a result of the lightning could have a special meaning.
Simba's return is marked by a dramatic lightning bolt that highlights his
return. Shortly after, another bolt begins the fire as Simba hangs from the
edge of the promontory. Here, the role of the fire takes a different turn.
First, Simba's appearance fits the archetype of the surprise witness or a
trump card that is played when things can't seem to get any worse. (i.e.:
Scar has condemned the pride to death by refusing to leave as well as
struck Sarabi down while claiming himself "10 times the king Mufasa was")
Then, when he is hanging from the edge his true trial begins to see if he
is tough enough to be king. This 'trial by fire' if you will, is marked by
the fact that Pride Rock (the seat of pridal rule) is surrounded by flames.
    Fire is also the herald of renewal in a roundabout way. While some
continually lament its presence, it serves the important role of allowing
the lands to rebuilt themselves. This is particularly powerful when you
take into consideration the change in kings. Even the lands participate in
the liberation effort. All the energies stored from Scar's ineptitudes as
king (inferred from Nala's comments about how the lands were destroyed
under him) are suddenly released in the blaze. Just as Simba will build a
new pride under his rule, the lands will rebuild themselves free of their
potential energy. The fire is also representative of Simba's fierce anger
toward Scar. He has to fight himself inside and not let the fire of his
anger consume his heart and drive him to murder.
    What better way to symbolize so many things in one? Fire has the ability
to bring home the idea of 'the heat of battle'. It can take it's form in
the idea of the passion with which both lions fight. The jumping flames
that fill the screen as Scar meets his fate with the hyenas are similar to
those often used in other cartoons and even artwork to represent hell. The
end is the only time that fire appears in that form, perhaps indicating how
the pride rock area had become a hell for all its inhabitants(those left
that is).
    Whatever the reason or symbol, the fire at the end of The Lion King is
essential in completing the story. Upon seeing the rain that drives the
fire away, the audience can feel a sense of catharsis beginning. It marks
the beginning of the denouement , where the plot line is beginning to slope
back down to the end. Although it would take words directly from the
writers to convince us of the their meanings, the skillful execution of
this portion of the story artistically helps to convey the message very
clearly. The fire, like all the events in the movie, is part of the great
Circle of Life.