After Prince Harry’s first date with the future Duchess of Sussex, he repaired to a friend’s house off the King’s Road in Chelsea, London. “Out came the tequila,” he recalls in his much-discussed autobiography, Spare. “Out came the weed. We drank and smoked and watched… Inside Out.”
Meghan, however, interrupted his stoned reverie by FaceTiming him, and immediately asked: “Are you watching cartoons?” Harry replied: “No. I mean, yeah. It’s… Inside Out.” It was, he recalls, “good weed, dude.” The quality of the Disney film, he doesn’t mention — though his pointed double use of ellipses around its title suggests it perhaps has some significance in relation to this new girlfriend.
Three years later, in July 2019, by now not just an item but married, the couple enjoyed a high-profile date night at the London premiere for the relaunched stage version of The Lion King, sharing the leopard-spotted yellow carpet with Beyoncé, Jay-Z and the like.
It was to prove an important evening in the coalescing narrative around the Sussexes for two reasons. Firstly, because it was subsequently suggested that Harry had, at the after-party, taken the opportunity to tout his new wife to Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger, as a potential voiceover artist — foreshadowing by six months their so-called Megxit to California which would be largely funded by American media money from deals of this kind. Secondly, because it was about a conversation at this event that Meghan would later make a claim that was greeted with international skepticism, saying of a cast member: “He said, ‘I just need you to know: when you married into this family, we [in South Africa] rejoiced in the streets the same we did when Mandela was freed from prison.’”
But away from these two headline-generating moments, did the evening also resonate with Harry for a more personal reason? Because this was a new take on a story he was long familiar with: The Lion King is one of his favorite films. He revealed as much when answering questions from children at a 2018 charity event — and was sufficiently conversant to add: “You know who does the voice of Zazu? Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean.”
The original Lion King came out in 1994, shortly after Harry’s tenth birthday, so he was its prime target audience. The film tells the story of a boy prince, Simba, who is haunted by guilt over the death of a parent, detailing his struggles to find a pathway into adulthood — which he accomplishes through a judicious mixture of martial action and emotional sensitivity, becoming heroic in the process.
You can see why Harry might identify with this, particularly after the death of his mother in 1997. Indeed the film’s appeal to adult men unable to process complex feelings was explored to comic effect with the Riz Ahmed terrorist character in 2010’s Four Lions. Harry’s connection seems to be similar — even if they were on opposing sides in Afghanistan.
At that same meet-and-greet with children, Meghan cited another pair of recent animated films that Harry was apparently fond of: DreamWorks’s 2016 Leap! (“Harry likes it because she [the main character] has got red hair,” Meghan said) and Disney’s Moana, also from 2016, with Harry citing his favorite moment as being “when the chicken comes up and he finds himself out at sea in a boat.” This was in 2018. The couple’s first baby, Archie, would not be born for another year. But this as yet childless pair, well into their thirties, were conversant with three of the major children’s films from recent years.
This is not, please note, a criticism — I am an active fan of animated cinema myself and still watch such films even though my now adult children no longer want to watch with me. But I mention it because I think it demonstrates that watching these films appears to have been a childhood habit Harry never gave up — and several of the strands of the story he has so publicly told about himself and his family seem to have origins in or echoes of the narratives in these cartoons.
Inside Out, like The Lion King, may have some personal appeal to the prince beyond its colorful charm when stoned: the story of the 2015 film is about processing troubling emotions, and specifically those thrown up by a move away from the familiarity of home to California. But more generally, Inside Out is a film which very much endorses the idea of self-examination and personal growth.
And there’s more. The hero growing up without the love of a saintly mother who is taken from him violently is a staple Disney motif, most famously in Bambi but reprised again and again: the eponymous lead in Finding Nemo sees his mother murdered by a barracuda; Elsa and Anna, in Frozen, lose both parents to a storm. Parental absence also affects Dumbo, Mowgli in The Jungle Book and some eighty-four of the 101 Dalmatians.
Sitting neatly with the taken-mother is the trope of the wicked stepmother parachuted into her vacated place. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Spare was the sheer vitriol leveled at Camilla long after most of the rest of us have accepted her as benign. It was almost as if Harry had been steeped in the legend of Snow White or Cinderella. As for Charles, the bungling father king character unaware of risk also recurs in Disney — in Sleeping Beauty for one.
And just as Meghan opened Harry’s eyes to the coarseness of his soldiering and rugby banter days, his unconscious bias and worse, and saved him from it, so Beauty rescued the Beast from his curse with her true love in another Disney film released during Harry’s boyhood. For the Harry and William dynamic, look to Frozen again, in which an impetuous and romantic youngster is cut off from a more powerful and yet remote, even icy older sibling. Neither can let it go.
Then there is the love story that transcends a rigid class system which underpins the legend of the Harry and Meghan union — and is also seen in Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats. That kind of love inevitably leads to a battle with the established order: Encanto sees the exciting young Mirabel made miserable by the pressure of her family’s adherence to tradition, laid down not just by her strict grandmother but by the house itself. In the same film, her brother Bruno is forced to flee after he is made to feel he is hurting the household, even though in truth he loves them all dearly.
So much of Harry’s turmoil is foreshadowed in Disney, it seems. Perhaps even in remaining true to his childhood vision of the world and its realities he is the boy who never grew up — Peter Pan.
As for Meghan, when she was asked the same question, she said her favorite Disney film was The Little Mermaid — rebellious teenager falls out with her father when she falls in love with a prince from a different world. Which also perhaps rings true for her. But that might be one to explore more fully when her autobiography comes out.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.