Background: The Lion King story is pretty well-known, so I will just give a brief plot refresher to help put Scar’s main song in context. Mufasa, Scar’s older brother, competently rules over the pridelands, of which rulership will one day transfer to his son, Simba. Scar covets the position of king, and eventually will set a trap to kill his older brother and Simba (although Simba escapes). However in order to achieve this plan and solidify his rule, Scar needs allies. And it seems as if his only option are the hyenas, scavengers who live on the edge of society that Scar must convince to assist him.
Is the argument persuasive?: Scar is trying to persuade the hyenas to help him overthrow the current political leadership, so it is best to look at the persuasiveness of Scar’s argument from the perspective of the hyenas. And to be perfectly honest, the argument does not start out on the best foot concerning the hyenas. Scar insults them numerous times in the first verse alone saying, “I never thought hyenas essential…They’re crude and unspeakably plain”. He then insults their intelligence further in the second and third verses, making it exceptionally clear that he does not respect them at all and at best considers them necessary pawns in his schemes. Now even if hyenas are as unintelligent as Scar suggests (when in actuality they are not), they must understand that their supposed leader views them in a very negative light and that they are just means to an end for him. And if that was the end of the song, there is simply no way they hyenas would be compelled to assist Scar, mental deficiencies or not.
But Scar points out the one flaw in the current political system–that of hyena marginalization–and then proceeds to make that his main pitch, declaring, ” I will be king! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!” While every other animal in the pridelands is seemingly content under Simba’s rule, the hyenas are constantly hungry and fighting to survive. And since their main priority is survival, they are willing to suffer Scar’s insults if that means that they will eventually receive copious amounts of food. Scar, like many dictators of the past and present, may be an immoral character, but he also knows that a rise to power requires providing his support base with certain privileges that they might not otherwise have had before. In the real world, these perks may range from cushy government jobs to freedom from surveillance to luxurious gifts, but in the pridelands, the only benefit that matters is food access. So despite the numerous insults that Scar directs at the hyenas, I still believe his argument would be convincing to them as for them there is nothing to lose. They are already at the bottom of society and so any opportunity to move upwards is a chance they have to take. Plus, since they are the societal dregs, they are likely inured to the criticism and scorn of other animals, so Scar’s disdainful treatment will likely have less of an impact on them than it would have on other animals. So, in conclusion, I rate the argument in “Be Prepared” as mildly persuasive (6.5 out of 10) and if I were a dumb hyena, I would probably follow Scar and try to overthrow Mufasa and the current government.
Is it a good song?: Yes, it is a fantastic song, and often considered one of the best, if not the best, Disney villain song. Although it is tough to beat Jeremy Iron’s rendition in the 1994 movie in terms of sheer entertainment value, the Broadway version is also excellent. Any actor who plays Scar and can capture his combination of personal ambition and disdain for the hyenas in “Be Prepared” is well on his way to continuing the song’s powerful legacy.