Like most everybody else, I enjoy a good romp with a meerkat and a warthog. Unfortunately, the little weasels bite and the tusked pigs are bad-tempered, so I stick with Timon and Pumbaa. The characters are fun and easy-going, and gave us "Hakuna Matata" long before "YOLO" was a thing. I even loved their TV show.
What I don't like is Simba coming in to remind me how my very existence is harming the planet.
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Let's back up. In this theater in Epcot's The Land pavilion, there's no 3-D, no special effects, not even a themed interior. It's just a grainy 13-minute film starring our friends from the 1994 blockbuster. Off to a stellar start already.
Simba, again voiced by Matthew Broderick, is enjoying a drink when he sees his friends Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella) are damming up the river to make the Hakuna Matata Resort Lakeside Village. Does this hurt the delicate African ecosystem? Does Soarin' have a much longer line?
Simba, of course, enlightens them about how easily the environment can be harmed. But who's the greatest culprit? MAN. We are shown numerous live-action clips of humans and their negative impact on the environment. Smog, oil spills, overpopulation, and so on all to illustrate Simba's point. Our overpopulation has cause humans to need more food and space, so unfortunately it has had some detrimental impact. Of course, humans are getting better, but we have a long way to go. And Timon and Pumbaa's plans for the resort? They get destroyed along with the dam, and the film concludes with an all-too-familiar refrain of "Circle of Life" with live-action clips.
The environment is important. We get it. As a kid who grew up in 90's, that message was drilled into my skull ever since "Ferngully: the Last Rainforest". There are great ways to incorporate Simba and company to illustrate the importance of conservation (i.e. all of Disney's Animal Kingdom.) without being condescending, patronizing, and mostly unentertaining. I like "The Lion King", but can they not make me feel bad about being a homo sapien?