I'm convinced that every child has a movie. Not just any movie, but the one movie that they will watch over and over and over again. The child will grow up and forever have this deep emotional connection to that movie. My little brother's was Home Alone. (Beats me.)
Mine was The Lion King.
I was barely seven when the movie came out in theaters. I already had a love for lions and all things Disney. It was only natural that this be my movie--mine and nobody else's. I wish I could go back and watch the look on Little Gretchen's face as she saw it for the very first time. I must've gone about five or six times, begging and pleading my mom to take me back. There is something very consistent about my personality that even as a young child I was aware of the release date of the video on VHS. I probably even kept a countdown. (57 days until Part One of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!) One of my clearest memories is finding The Lion King in a display case at the grocery store, running up to it, and clutching it in my adorable little fingers. (What? I was a cute kid.) We drove home and I probably watched it that very night.
I was the ideal consumer for the toy industry. I owned the Simba piggy bank, the Polly Pocket miniature playset with a Pride Rock carry case that was only three inches high, and I HAD to have the Simba and Nala stuffed animals with the magnetic kissy noses--you know what I'm talking about. For her 8th birthday, I bought my best friend the Best Friends Forever necklace with Simba on one half and Nala on the other. She got the Nala half, because I was feeling charitable that day. Now, whenever I feel nostalgic, I drink Kool-aid out of my Lion King juice cup that we still keep in our cupboard.
My love never faded; I just became distracted by new obsessions. I did watch The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, although I did not see The Lion King 1 1/2. (Some things are too sacred to be defiled.) And a few years ago, you better believe I bought the Platinum 2-Disc Special Edition. Sometimes I listen to the soundtrack in my car.
Flash back to six months ago when my mom emails me on my mission and says that she got us tickets to go and see The Lion King musical at the Capitol Theater. This is yet another moment where I would have loved to have seen the expression on my face. I guess the theater had to re-vamp their stage specifically for the purpose of even having the show consider coming to Salt Lake City. Worth it!
Tonight, 16 years after that fateful summer, I went back to my childhood. I bought one of the fatty, glossy programs and sat down in my seat and started to cry. Guys, the show hadn't even started yet! I'm such a sap. From the opening strains of "Nants' ingonyama bakithi baba!" I was transfixed. (My program told me that the translation of that line means, "Here comes the lion, folks!" in Zulu. Nifty, eh?) The production of the show was stunning. The choreography! The lighting! The textiles! The orchestra did a fabulous job, particularly the percussions. I did pit orchestra for two years in high school, so I'm qualified to say that. Nala did an amazing job--she was terribly feline and feminine at the same time. Scar was appropriately wicked and Simba played the role of sullen outcast quite well. They added in a couple of songs and minor plot lines to flesh out the story. For a purist like myself, I thought the majority of the additions meshed perfectly (especially "He Lives In You", not so much on the creepy/unresolved Scar-wants-a-mate scene). And even though I've heard them a thousand times before, lines like "He looks kinda blue." "I'd say he's more of a brownish-gold." had me laughing from my belly.
As a 7-year-old, I can guarantee there's no way I recognized all of the subtle nuances of the story. Way back then, I liked that it had lions and that the songs were catchy. (Heh. Cat-chy.) Yet, I think I still recognized that The Lion King is more than a mere tale of Serengeti survival. The Lion King is about the interconnectedness of all living creatures. It's about the need for honesty in relationships. It's about justice and mercy and forgiveness. Most of all, The Lion King is about achieving our divine potential.
I felt that tonight. For a couple hours, there was no difference between 23-year-old Gretchen and 7-year-old Gretchen, as I sat perched like a hornbill on the edge of my seat, eyes wide with wonder.