Africa as creative inspiration in movies and television
Does this African landscape remind you of a certain animated blockbuster?
Perhaps the home of a young lion named Simba…?
There are few images more awe-inspiring than the primordial landscapes of Africa, filled with an abundance and variety of wildlife most Westerners only ever encounter in books, or at a zoo. It’s no wonder, then, that so many animators are drawn to Africa as a setting for their shows; it’s an artist’s playland as well as a character’s! Dozens of cartoons over the years have sent their characters to Africa, but some of our favorite animated safari-goers include:
Not only does TV’s most famous cartoon family head out on safari in the “Simpson Safari” episode from season 12, they head to Tanzania, stopping off at the Serengeti, Olduvai Gorge, and Ngorongoro Crater during their visit.
Their trip predictably goes off the rails after Homer manages to enrage a hippo, forcing the family to hop on a raft to escape. From that point on, geography becomes far less important than the jokes: the family’s raft topples over Victoria Falls, several countries south and many thousands of miles from Tanzania, and at the bottom, they stumble upon a chimp sanctuary run by a cartoon stand-in for Jane Goodall, who actually did her research in Gombe Stream National Park, in the far west of Tanzania.
And of course the real Jane Goodall has never been an evil chimp slave-driver.
But a little “creativity” with the facts is a small price to pay to see the Simpson crew bumble their way through our favorite country!
In one of the countless reboots of the Scooby Doo cartoon, “What’s New, Scooby Doo?” the gang heads out on safari, only to be terrorized by…what else? Glowing yellow safari-animal demons.
Of course the animals aren’t really demons, and the villains would have got away with it “if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” but we can’t help it: we’re partial to the outdoorsy update on the classic Scooby-Doo “hallway full of doors” gag:
Tom and Jerry
Originally released in 1962, “Sorry Safari” brings Tom & Jerry to Nairobi, Kenya, as stowaways in a big game hunter’s luggage.
Like many film and cartoon representations of Africa at the time, the short plays off of stereotypes and vague ideas about Africa, rather than any specifics, and imagines safari as a chance to bag trophy animals, not a chance to appreciate them.
Maybe that’s why, in the end, the hunter gets trounced first by a lion, then by a rhino, then by Jerry, the perpetually-crafty mouse: wildlife revenge.
The Lion King
No list of animated versions of the safari experience would be complete without The Lion King, likely the first, and possibly the most lasting impression of Africa most modern children form.
Something you may not have known, though, is that this animated movie wouldn’t have been possible without a strong dose of, well, reality!
Not only are the species pictured in the film remarkably-accurate representations of the kinds of animals a safari-goer to the Serengeti or Maasai Mara might see (not to mention the words they might hear; many of the animals’ names in the movie come from the Swahili language), the animators actually brought live lions into the studio while working on the film, in order to better capture their movements.