The original Lion King is one of Disney's most beloved animated films. There's a good reason for that. It's an absolutely fantastic movie. There's no question about that, but few if any movies are perfect and the original Lion King has a problem that's bothered me for years. In fact, I hope the upcoming remake takes this opportunity to do at least one thing differently and fix the problem. The Lion King remake needs to fix the film's resolution in order to properly reinforce the movie's message.
If, somehow, you've never seen the 1994 original movie I'm about to spoil the hell out of it, so get ready.
In The Lion King, young Simba leaves his home after he's mistakingly led to believe that he is responsible for the death of his father. King Mufasa was rescuing his son from a stampede when he died, though the audience knows that Mufasa would have survived, had it not been for the intervention of Simba's uncle Scar. Scar is the one who convinces Simba the young boy is to blame and the cub leaves home in fear and shame.
Many years later, a now-adult Simba is pushed to return to his home and take his rightful place as king away from his uncle. Initially, Simba rejects this as he still has tremendous guilt over what he believes he did. However, a run-in with Rafiki, a wise old mandrill, shows him there's no point in living in perpetual guilt. Even if he did do something wrong, he needs to take responsibility and learn from it, not run from it. Check out the scene below.
So Simba learns the lesson and returns home to fight Scar. As we expect, Scar then confronts Simba with the terrible thing that he did. At first, Simba stands up and takes responsibility, but then a terrible thing happens. Everybody turns on Simba.
Nobody stands behind him. Nobody tries to understand. Simba's honest confession is met with disbelief and fear. Nobody acknowledges that he was a kid when any of this happened and he can't be held responsible. So then, when Simba realizes that taking responsibility has done nothing, that he's exactly the outcast he believed he was, he falters. Scar gets the upper hand and very nearly defeats Simba until it turns out that Simba isn't actually responsible, and everything is OK.
So the moral of the story is... apparently don't take responsibility for your actions, because everybody will turn their backs on you.
Now, it's absolutely true that Simba isn't responsible for Mufasa's death. Even if Mufasa had been killed by the stampede and not at his own brothers' hands, even if Simba had found himself being chased by the stampede by accident rather than by being placed in its path by Scar, Simba still wouldn't be responsible. Ultimately, that's not the point.
Simba believes he is responsible. As far as we know, Rafiki himself doesn't know Simba isn't responsible. He likely would have said so if that were the case. He's the one person who might know what happened and still support Simba, but he's not there when the conflict all goes down later.
The lesson that we need to face our past head-on is a good one. We've all done things we weren't proud of from time to time, especially when we were kids, and kids need to know that it's OK to make mistakes, even bad ones that have serious consequences.
It's hard to tell at this point just how close to the original story the new Lion King is going to be, but based on what we saw in the first trailer, we could very well be getting a near note-for-note retelling as we did with Beauty and the Beast. One shot in the trailer appeared to show the wildebeest stampede, which means Mufasa is probably going to meet his end in more or less the same way in the remake.
I would love to see the new Lion King make this one significant change to the story. Simba doesn't need to actually be responsible for his father's death, that's probably a little too heavy for Disney, but the movie needs to show that taking responsibility is important, even when you've done something bad.
The film could do this in a number of different ways, but the most important element is that somebody, Nala, Sarabi, anybody, needs to understand how difficult what Simba is doing is and support him doing it. Perhaps Simba confides the "truth" to Nala and she's the one who pushes him to go back anyway and face his past. Then she can be there to show support when the rest of the pride learns what happened. Simba might even throw out some statement of willingness to face punishment, the punishment that won't be necessary when it comes out that Simba isn't responsible of course, but dealing with consequences is also important when facing up to your mistakes.
Alternatively, we could just see Simba stand his ground, even in the face of the doubters and the fear from the rest of the pride. He could explain himself. Nobody would fault him for what happened, even under the circumstances as he understood them. That doubt and fear are exactly what he didn't want to face when he ran away in the first place. If he can't deal with his past, he hasn't actually learned anything.
Disney movies, be they animated, live-action, or whatever the hell the new Lion King counts as, are best when they have something to say. Simba's ordeal of conflict within himself is part of what makes The Lion King a great movie, but in the end, the original version of film chickens out of committing to what it seems to want to say.
If the new Lion King isn't going to do something new with the material, then we don't really need it. However, since this element is pretty integral to the plot, something like it will almost certainly be part of the new movie. I hope the remake takes a stand, regardless of what happened in the past.