I know, I’m clever, right? I ran out of Disney Princesses (official) to talk about. I tried watching Peter Pan to talk about Tinker Bell but her role is so minimal and quite frankly kinda boring that I didn’t feel I could write a post to justify her. I also tried watching Robin Hood to talk about Maid Marian, but I turned the movie off part way through. It just didn’t interest me, and I knew I couldn’t write anything interesting for you, my readers. Maybe because those films were specifically about boys, or written so long ago, that the girl time is just minimal and whatever time they do have, they’re not particularly inspiring.
So I’ve gone back to the 90s Disney films to talk about the representation of the heroines of those films. And the first one in a very small line up is Nala. The Lion King was the highest grossing animated film of all time until Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo. The Lion King is still the highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time in the United States. It won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (Can You Feel The Love Tonight).
The Lion King was, for a long time, my favourite film. I swear I used to watch it every day when I was a kid. At last count, I owned the film soundtrack, the Broadway soundtrack, and the soundtrack to the direct-to-video sequel. I love everything about this film: the music, the characters, the scenery, the cast, everything – EXCEPT the minimal screen time of the female characters. Which is why it’s so great Nala actually rocks in her screen time.
I know. She’s not even human. But at least she becomes a queen at the end of her film. She ‘marries’ her prince (king) and in the process becomes a queen, even though – through a very twisted turn of incestuous events that I don’t know the canon reasons for because I’m not a part of The Lion King fandom – she technically should be Simba’s half-sister or at least cousin. The reason being (based on actual lion behaviour) is that when male lions take over the the pride they systematically kill the cubs to bring the lionesses back into heat. There is no chance that Nala is the cub of a lion other than Mufasa or Scar.
But semantics aside, and despite her minuscule screen time, Nala is actually a pretty awesome role model.
When she’s a cub, she’s physically stronger than Simba and bests him in their wrestling matches. Yes, she does follow his lead: but it’s his movie, he is the one who needs to create the conflict. She’s there to add emotional depth to the conflict – Oh no, Simba’s in trouble and his recklessness has put his girlfriend in danger! But really, Nala was pretty excited to visit the Elephant Graveyard as well. She didn’t actively encourage Simba to do the wrong thing, but she was there to add oomph to the first conflict (the second being the stampede).
When Nala’s an adult, she suddenly appears again in the film having stumbled across Simba’s friends. She says she left the pride to find help, because Scar’s regime has left the land destitute and the lions and hyenas starving. The Broadway musical version of the film adds an extra spin: she’s actually run away from Scar’s promiscuous proposition to bear his cubs. You know, because she’s the only young sexy lioness in the pride. Once again, she bests Simba physically. She’s totally kick-ass that way.
Nala also serves as the voice of Simba’s absent parents. She doesn’t understand why he won’t return home – and it’s Simba’s fault, because he never tells her he believes he killed his own father. But Simba needs to be told this twice more – once by a monkey with a stick and once by the ghost of his father who appears in the clouds in only like THE BEST SEQUENCE IN ANY FILM EVER (not just animations). Seriously. This scene is the ONLY reason The Lion King was my favourite movie for night on seventeen years. (Until Tangled.)
Afterwards, when Simba returns to the Pride Lands, Nala chases after him. Once again she plays support, rounding up the other lionesses while Simba confronts Scar. But don’t assume just because she’s playing second fiddle that she’s not invested, no way. When Scar confesses to his involvement with Mufasa, Nala is the first lioness into the fray, taking names among the hyenas. She’s a warrior lioness, have no doubt.