Hakuna Matata and eating bugs accompanied by utter devastation. Here’s why Timon and Pumbaa are the true villains of The Lion King… and of the lives of many of us.

Why Timon and Pumbaa are the true villains
Source: Disney

I had the awesome privilege of getting to witness the Aladdin musical featuring The Genie from Broadway last week. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. You get the point. It was stupendous. The sets, the songs, the costumes (!!!) were all top notch. Yes, I did cry… but it was from laughing so hard during the song High Adventure. People missed Abu but his replacements are quite hilarious. And the set they used for The Cave Of Wonders is something I won’t soon forget!

Unfortunately, I have yet to see The Lion King on stage yet, but definitely one for the list. What a timeless story that one is. Full of adventure, family, love, friends, conquering evil…

Oh yeah, and some of the most devastating villains in cinema history.

You might think I’m talking about Scar, or Kovu, or Kovu’s mum thing, but since you’ve read the title, you already know who I’m alluding to. That’s right. The meerkat and the warthog.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Timon and Pumbaa. When I was younger we even had a VHS of the spinoff TV show they starred in that I watched over and over and over again. It featured the titular characters as well as a prospector named Quint who was always after them, plus cameos from the main Lion King staff. And I loved it. I even loved the ad for their DOS video game that played at the start of the tape.

But as I got older, I realized that Timon and Pumbaa are the true villains of the Lion King. Not because they’re evil like Scar. Not because they’re cunning like Cusco Quint. Not because they’re killing people (or trying to) like Jafar, Clayton, Mother Gothel.

But because they represent the most sinister kind of evil that we can bring into another’s person’s life, and that we bring into our own, and that is fostering the death of their dreams and calling.

I know, I know, harsh words to array against such charming cartoon characters. They just eat bugs and live a care free life. They even raise Simba and give him a place to live. What’s so bad about that?

Unfortunately they are also responsible for what is almost a wasted life and the complete collapse of the kingdom. Let’s review, shall we?

Simba is the sole son of Mufasa and Sarabi, the kings of the animal kingdom. Ruling from Pride Rock, the tale begins to detail their attempts to raise Simba to become the next king. And he just can’t wait to be king.

Mufasa’s brother, Scar, sees he’s not going to take the position he wanted, and so attempts to have Mufasa killed. Succeeding in only half of his job during one of the most scarring (hyuck hyuck) moments in a children’s movie, Simba runs terrified for his life into the desert.

Enter Timon and Pumbaa, who find the young lion dying in the dirt. And they bring him in and make them one of their own. Good on them for that. Every villain has got to have some redeeming quality, so that’s theirs.

Unfortunately, they teach Simba the worst possible advice and allow him to live well below his potential. Hakuna Matata is a charming jingle and a memorable part of the story, but it becomes the words that the would-be king start to live by. Years and years later, the boy has become a man, but he has not progressed any further in his life whatsoever.

Enter Nala, the childhood friend who was betrothed to Simba from a young age. She’s pretty much the perfect girl for Simba – she really has everything going for her – caring, beautiful, kind, driven. Overjoyed to see him again, they share some close moments, only for Nala to discover this was not the same young lion she fell for all those years ago. Childhood love has become deep affection, and yet her affections become frustrated when Simba adamantly refuses the mantle on his life. He almost completely closes the door on a perfect woman for him.

It takes an out of body experience and a persistent sage in Simba’s life to wake him out of his sleep and return him to his former glory. Equipped with an awakened awareness of who he is, Simba sets off into his destiny.

Also, spoilers for a 24 year old movie.

Timon and Pumbaa represent the worst of what we do with our own lives. We surround ourselves with no worries, carefree, surface people who allow us to drift through life and forget who we are. “You’re the king, and you never even told us?”, Timon quips at Simba. And yet they had somehow managed to live several years together in close proximity without ever broaching the subject of Simba’s calling, past, or future. It’s amazing how long you can live your life with someone and never find out what’s really important.

I wonder who the Timon and Pumbaa are in your life? All of us can so easily be like Simba. We’ll find people who we can just drift through life with, never questioning our motives or behaviours, allowing us to enjoy life but never fully enquiring about, pursuing or awakening the great calling on our lives. All those people you spend all that time with, rested in the fact they’re never going to call you out on your bad decisions or lack of direction or try to discover who you’re meant to be. And if they ever did, you would do to them the same that you did to all those other people who you pushed out of your life for doing just that.

Who were you before you met Timon and Pumbaa? What great sense of purpose was your life once filled with? When did you stop pursuing who you were meant to be?

Probably when you started surrounding yourself with the wrong types of people. Bad company absolutely corrupts good character, and as brilliant and amazing as your potential is, it lies dying and dormant underneath the qualms of fair weather friends.

And the worst part is, we know it! We do like Simba. Other friends and mentors come along, and we try to shy them away in preference of that crap advice we received from those people we call friends. He knew who he was supposed to be, but he kept running from it.

Even Nala, pretty much the most perfect life partner for Simba that could ever be thought of, was shunned away and blocked out by Simba’s inherited indifference. How tragic it is that so many people do the same. The absolute perfect man or woman for them sees who they really are, tries to call them out to be all they can be, and they get shut down and ignored until they go elsewhere or implode in frustration. Thank God for Rafaki and Mufasa’s ghost or Simba and Nala would have only felt the love that night and no others.

Scary question, single people. Have you allowed Timon and Pumbaa to ruin things with Nala?

You and I, all of us, we need real friends. Need them. Pastor Mark Ramsay rightly says that if you grow on your own or with the wrong people, you grow weak and you grow weird. As Simba did. The chosen king has abdicated his throne and responsibility in preference of “the good life”, aimless, lost, and on the fast track to nowhere. And he felt justified in doing so.

As we do when we allow the influence of surface friends to dominant our existence. When we are content to only surround ourselves with people who never challenge us, never remind us who we’re called to be, never open ourselves to the voices of those who can see, as Mufasa astutely tells his son, that we are more than what we’ve become.

My purpose in writing this isn’t to ruin your memories of a great Disney classic. My purpose is to use what seems so lighthearted and yet profound to highlight what a danger too many of us live our lives in. The good news for Simba was that once he stopped running from himself, he found that Timon and Pumbaa could indeed be better friends. As people often do when they stop running from who they are.

But if Timon and Pumbaa are the only people you have in your life, you’re not going to make it. So many people look at their career, their love life, their finances, whatever it is, with utter disdain because they are not where they thought they would be. And yet if you would look at the people you are spending the most time with, the level of conversations you are allowing yourself to have, you would quickly realize where the largest problem and the greatest opposition you will ever face lies.

It’s in the meerkat and the warthog. It’s in comfortable abdication of your destiny. It’s in nonchalant lack of urgency to get your act together and remember who you are. Show me your friends, and I’ll show you who you’re going to become. Or even more terrifying – who you have allowed yourself to become.

Timon and Pumbaa are the true villains of The Lion King, and they are likely the true villains in your life, too.


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