I want to talk a little about Lion King, because I think it's kind of fascinating. It borrows as much from, say, Othello as it does from Hamlet, and because of that, it has a really interesting Protagonist-Main Character relationship. Because--and this might be controversial--I believe Scar is the Protagonist. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Main Character: Simba, Heir of Pride Rock
Main Character Resolve: Change
Simba's attitude towards his birthright is broken: first, he takes it for granted, then later, he throws it away for listless hedonism. However, after a heart-to-heart with Rafiki and the ghostly image of his father, he resolves to take his destiny seriously and revitalize the Pridelands.
Main Character Growth: Start
Main Character Approach: Do-er
Simba is reckless and quick to take action, frequently to his detriment. When Scar goads him with whispers of the elephant graveyard, he immediately runs into danger, taking Nala with him. When Scar tells him to run away, he does, even to the point of starvation and dying of thirst. It's not really in Simba's nature to contemplate or consider his behavior.
Main Character Problem-Solving Style: Linear
No scene is clearer to Simba's Linear problem-solving style than the stampede scene. Simba was in the canyon, therefore his father tried to save him, therefore he died; Q.E.D. Simba killed his father. He is incapable of realizing all of the little details that Scar manipulated in the background to create that exact situation--the perfect crime.
Overall Story: Matching the Legacy of Mufasa
Overall Story Driver: Action
The opening Driver occurs when Rafiki reveals Simba to the Pridelands, establishing Mufasa's new heir. This frustrates Scar's original plan to take over once Mufasa died, prompting Scar to change course. He tricks Simba into risking his life, then convinces him to place himself in the middle of a stampede, forcing Mufasa to jump in, saving Simba and dying in the process. Each time, it is Scar's or Simba's actions which prompt the other to make risky decisions.
Overall Story Limit: Timelock
This will be a controversial one, but I think time is constantly hanging over the characters, even if no specific timeline is established. Once Mufasa eventually dies, Simba will have to become king. Once Simba comes of age, Scar will lose his chance to take the throne legitimately. Once the last of the food is eaten in the Pridelands, the lions will have to disperse, and Mufasa's kingdom will be dissolved for good--proving Scar's inadequacy for certain. These all have ticking clocks on them, albeit ones without numbers explicitly attached.
Overall Story Outcome: Success
Another controversial one. Although the Protagonist, Scar, does not meet or exceed his predecessor's legacy, Simba, the true heir to the throne, does, to the point where he looks to the untrained eye like his father brought back to life. The Circle of Life is rebooted, and the story ends as it begins: with a new heir to the throne being born.
Overall Story Judgment: Good
Simba has matured into a real king, not a play-king who puts his friend's life in danger. He no longer has to run from the past or be afraid that his father won't be around to save him. He can save himself now.
Overall Story Throughline: Matching the Legacy of Mufasa
This story takes place in the mental space between characters: the legitimacy of Scar's reign and Simba's destiny, the relationship between lion and hyena, the benefits and responsibilities of being king.
Concern: Being (Playing a Role)
Everyone's Concern in the Overall Throughline is the question of Playing a Role--specifically, the role of King of Pride Rock. As previously stated, Simba is the primary candidate, but he is still young--he treats the position more like his own personal playground. Scar, meanwhile, is not much better--his tenuous alliance with the hyenas is throwing off the Circle of Life. Only a king as righteous and powerful as Mufasa can maintain the delicate cycle of balance.
Scar's Desire to become king outstrips his means. Being the weaker, scrappier brother of the mighty Mufasa led him to become jealous and crave his brother's admiration. Because of this, he must play the long, careful game, making alliances and using deception to get what he wants. Simba, meanwhile, is focused more on what he wants to get out of becoming king, without quite having the ability to achieve it. Thus, he struts and preens to make himself look bigger than a little cub: "I'm brushing up on looking down / I'm working on my roar!"
Overall Throughline: Conceptualizing>Conceiving>Being>Becoming
Scar's Version: Scar comes up with a plan to seize the throne. He carefully plants ideas into Simba's head to lure Simba out into the valley and kill both him and Mufasa. He attempts to play the role of king, but fails. In his final moments, he tries to weasel out of his failure by throwing the hyenas under the bus, but this only proves how much of a liar and a traitor he really is.
Simba's Version: Simba plans all the great things he'll get to do when he becomes king, like rule the Pridelands and fire Zazu. However, this "paradise" comes at a cost he fully doesn't understand until Mufasa tells him he can only become king once Mufasa dies--then does so, throwing Simba's life into sharp relief. He tries to avoid his destiny by becoming a prey animal like Timon and Pumbaa, but when Nala re-enters his life, he can't keep pretending. With Rafiki's help, he changes his ways and becomes the king Mufasa always wanted him to be.
Main Character Throughline: Progress>Future>Present>Past
Simba is eager to grow and improve as prince of lions. However, his excitement is tempered when he nearly gets himself killed in the elephant graveyard, and his father reminds Simba of his future, particularly one without him. After watching his father tragically die in front of him (and blaming himself for his father's death), he runs away to the badlands, where Timon and Pumbaa help him to forget his old life and live for the moment ("You've got to put your past behind you!") However, his past hasn't forgotten him just yet. Like Scrooge before him, Simba is visited by three guests--first Nala, then Rafiki, and finally the ghostly vision of his father--each imploring him to remember his past and seek out his destiny. He accepts his bloodline, and returns to his old home to take back what is rightfully his.
[Another piece of Dramatica magic. I did absolutely no tinkering to make this throughline, and I couldn't have described the story better myself. ]
**Impact Character Throughline: Memory>Preconscious>Subconscious>Conscious
The Impact Character is represented by Mufasa (and Rafiki, while Mufasa is dead and gone). Mufasa's Impact on Simba doesn't really start until after the elephant graveyard. Mufasa reminds Simba that he will always be there in Simba's memory, even after Mufasa is dead. When Mufasa dies, the image of his death is burned into Simba's mind, paired with the guilt and terror he felt at seeing Mufasa fall from the cliffside. While Simba stays with Timon and Pumbaa, he mostly associates Mufasa with that sadness and pain. However, as he matures, he begins to feel more conflicted, remembering the lessons Mufasa had taught him and wanting to make his father proud. Rafiki challenges his Subconscious (specifically, his Denial) by arguing that he can either run from his bittersweet Memories, or he can learn from them and move on. Finally, being reminded of who he is challenges Simba's thought processes and puts him back on track.
Relationship Throughline: Doing>Understanding>Obtaining>Learning
This mostly repeats things I've mentioned previously. Mufasa and Simba spend a time together bonding, but Simba doesn't fully understand his responsibilities until he almost dies in the elephant graveyard and Mufasa dies for real. Since Mufasa (and Rafiki) are absent for this part, we might call Obtaining "Losing," as Simba loses the Influence he needed from his father. Only once Rafiki returns and helps Simba Learn about his father living on within him.
Okay, so there a particular motivation to me analyzing this movie specifically. If you remember that video I posted the other day about Hercules, the woman in that video (Lindsay Ellis) makes a claim about The Lion King that rankled with me: "The Lion King has a long first act and a short second and third act." Using the traditional three-act structure, sure: he doesn't leave the Pridelands until halfway through, after Mufasa dies, and the traditional "Hero's Journey" model expects the hero to leave his hometown at the end of Act 1. I, however, think this understanding of The Lion King is stupid, and I hope I've proved it. The movie's clearly broken up into four acts, not three: One between Simba's birth and the incident at the elephant graveyard; Two from there to the canyon scene; Three from there to to when Nala arrives, ish; and Four, from there to when Simba defeats Scar and re-establishes the Circle of Life.
There's also the thing about Scar being the Protagonist I think it worth talking about. Scar's a weird Protagonist, but the signs are there: he's the one who Pursues the throne for 95% of the story. You could even argue that when Simba comes back at the end of Act IV, he's not being a Protagonist, but rather Scar's Antagonist! Still, I want to make it clear that I think Lion King's Outcome is Success and not bittersweet Failure. If we take an objective look at the story, Scar may be the one chasing the throne, but Simba achieving it is the win state. ...I dunno, it's complicated. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, as well as anything else, in the comments. Thanks for reading, and Hakuna Matata!