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Film / Beyond the Pyramids: Legend of the White Lion

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Debuting in 1988, Beyond the Pyramids: Legend of the White Lion (also known as White Lion, depending on which title screen one goes by) is an English-spoken children's film featuring American and African actors that was shot in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania & Egypt) and produced by the Japanese division with aid from the American branch of CBS Sony Group and Towa Productions. Production took two years and the end result only saw release in Japan.

The story concerns Maria, a girl from New York City whose parents are divorced. She lives with her mother, Sara, who as a researcher often has to travel and brings her daughter along. The two have trouble matching their lives as Sara has to balance work and her new romance with her colleague, John, with giving Maria the attention she craves. Sara's and John's research into the White Lion takes them to Egypt, where a legend of one of the pyramids housing a door to a secret world catches Maria's imagination. When her mother fails to take her into the pyramids as "promised", Maria goes alone, getting directions from a mysterious, elderly tour guide, and ends up in a mirror world of the one she knows. In it, she awakens, unaware of her altered backstory, in the care of Raha, a local villager who takes care of her while Sara and John are away looking for the White Lion. They go missing, so Maria enlists the help of a local boy, Moja, who wishes to regain the respect for his warrior family's name after the disappearance of his father, and of a mysterious, elderly man, Tswana, the tour guide from her true world.


The film was loosely adapted into a video game for the NES, which unlike the film did receive a release in America in 1992 under the name Legend of the Ghost Lion.

Beyond the Pyramids: Legend of the White Lion contains examples of:

  • Alternate Universe: The other world, beyond Hell's Gate, is one. Though whether it's real (ie, has an existence of its own) or not (ie, it is real only as long as the visitor visits) is never properly disclosed.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Moja was badly injured last he was seen in the other world. It is unknown if he survived. Made more complex by the fact that it isn't clear whether the other world is real or not to begin with.
  • Arc Number: Ten, as in ten dollars. In this world, Tswana tells Maria money can't buy her access to the hidden gate within the pyramid when she offers him the ten dollars she has on her. In the other world, Tswana agrees to be the group's third for half the money in Moja's pouch. Though the audience isn't told how much that is, an earlier scene has Moja earn twenty dollars by selling a spear to tourists, making Tswana's price ten dollars and Moja's effective earnings ten dollars. Back in this world at the film's end, Maria buys a spear from Moja for ten dollars (the ones Tswana wouldn't accept) to remember him by.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Maria is elated to find Moja, whom she thought to have died, alive in her true world. But this Moja is not the one she met in the other world and therefore he doesn't know her. This comes after the other Moja's promise they'll never forget each other, a promise Maria reiterates when she says goodbye to this Moja.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Principally Maria's, who learns to be less selfish, impulsive, dependent, and arrogant. Moja's journey is less one of learning and more of accomplishing, because he wishes to restore his family's honor after his father disappeared and was, unjustly, declared a coward who ran from a hunt.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: The lion that mauls Twana was very likely summoned by him. There's various lions at Hell's Gate the White Lion's got some form of control over and it's the injury that allows him to leave the group without questions.
  • Disappeared Dad: Goes for both Moja and Maria, but in different ways. Moja's father went to hunt for a man-eating lion and never returned, though his spear mysteriously did. The village believed he ran in fear, while Moja's mother was certain he died protecting everyone. She was right. Maria's parents have been divorced since sshe was ten and she lives with her mother now. Maria thinks highly of him, but he no longer plays the role in her life he used to do.
  • Evil Poacher: A group of three, one Type Great White Hunter, the evident leader, and the others his companions. They are introduced threatening Owari, Moja's uncle, because he refuses to take them to Hell's Gate where they hope to find the White Lion. The only reason they don't shoot him is because Moja and Maria happen to visit. They receive a Hoist by His Own Petard when they go alone. In an unnecessarily creepy scene, the children come across one of the companions later, who is alone, parched, drooling, badly injured, barely able to keep standing, unaware of his environment, and giggling.
  • Family Honor: Moja is very proud to come from a long line of warriors and is certain his father did not run from the White Lion as all but his mother believed. It is to restore the family's reputation that he goes with Maria to find the White Lion. And in doing so, he finds his father's remains as one of the many of the White Lion's victims. Sad, happy, and proud at the same time, Moja replaces his own amulet with his father's and gives his own to Maria, his companion in the fight.
  • Foreshadowing: When Sara and John visit a local professor, he warns them of the divine nature of the White Lion. Among other things, he suggests that the creature can shapeshift and that the Egyptian sphinx may have been modeled after the White Lion in half-human form. He goes on to propose that the White Lion might even be able to take a full human form. It is matched with a Call-Back at the end of the film, which is one of the few hints at Tswana's true nature.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: Tswana's dying speech to Moja and Maria is that while the White Lion is terrifying and a journey through Hell's Gate dangerous, the fear generated by their own imagination and disbelief in their own potential is far worse and they should never give in to it.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Hell's Gate, the journey's destination, qualifies. Whether it is the dark, abandoned tunnels of a pyramid or a huge open graveyard littered with human and animal bones, it deserves its name thoroughly.
  • Ironic Echo: Maria is told by Raha that her mother and her mother's beau will be back in five days and that, despite her annoyance and disappointment at being left behind, she has to show patience. When the two go missing, Maria prepares to go find him. At Raha's protest-question what she'll tell her mother if they come back after all, Maria cheerily replies to tell her she'll be back in five days.
  • Kid Hero: Maria and Moja. Maria is 12.5 years old, going 13 in September. Moja's age is not stated, but he'll be around hers.
  • King of Beasts: The titular White Lion is described as a pentacle of the gods and very well might be. Shock and Awe mixes into Bolt of Divine Retribution, as the White Lion is an entity made from lightning, hence its bright, white color. He is also is said to be able to take on human form, a form known as Tswana. Also, when it eats, it feeds exclusively on humans.
  • Magical Negro: Tswana, who is the White Lion and the only being to live on both sides of Hell's Gate.
  • Mighty Whitey: Maria. Putting a white person center stage in an African landscape will do that.
  • Mirror World: Might be a Dream Land too. Said Mirror World is only ever referred to as "another world" and its rules compared to this world are largely unexplored, the sole exception being that in the other world the White Lion is a tangible danger while it's only a legend in this world. That said, the Mirror World has or creates a different life for people who go through Hell's Gate, one they'll think of as their true one upon arrival. This allows them to naturally flow into the journey that will either make them or break them.
  • Missing Mom: Moja's mother is mentioned twice, but she doesn't appear in the story, not even to have opinions on her son going off on a dangerous journey. Her fate isn't mentioned, but the logical conclusion would be she has died already.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: "Villain" is way too harsh a word, but Moja's uncle, Owari, is opposed to the children continuing to Hell's Gate. And because he is opposed, he tells them of the many dangers that await them when they ask him to join their hunt. He refuses, but as Moja tells Maria after the argument, he gave them enough hints by listing the dangers that they'll be able to succeed on their own.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Played with the first time and played straight the second. First, Maria wakes up in another world after travelling through Hell's Gate. The other world is a mirror of ours, similar, but which allows for a personal journey. Someone who wakes up in that other world will, other than glimpses of conflicting memories, think of themself in context of the other world. As such, when Maria wakes up in the other world from being left alone in the dark, maze-like tunnels of the pyramid and has to "recall" reality, she come to believe her fearful experience was a nightmare. Second, Maria awakens from the other world, thinking her adventure was a dream. That is, until she finds she still wears the amulet Moja gave her.
  • Papa Wolf: Tswana is very much one, especially when he gives it his all fighting a lion to save the children.
  • The Power of Friendship: Maria's and Moja's friendship is what allows them to complete their journey. Tswana even tells them that much in his dying breath.
  • Power Trio: According to Moja, a hunt, by tradition, cannot commence without at least three people present. He and Maria make two. Tswana volunteers as third. And then Tswana dies and we're back to two.
  • Pyramid Power: A pyramid houses the gate to another world; Hell's Gate. It's by entering it that Maria's journey starts.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Moja falls into a swamp when the children reach the jungle. Maria is able to save him.
  • Raiju: The titular White Lion derives its designation not from having white fur, but from being composed of lightning. The creature is described as a pentacle of the gods and able to take on human form if it suits its purposes. It is both malevolent and benevolent, killing without remorse but also seeking to draw the best out of the humans that take on its challenge to come to Hell's Gate.
  • Scenery Porn: A lot of the middle and final part of the movie is spent showcasing the African (ie, Kenyan and Tanzanian, but not identified as such and, you know, part of another world) landscape and wildlife.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Tswana, who is at least honest about it and gave Maria the advice to turn back several times, all of which she ignored because she was "not a child" and "not afraid". Tswana, in fact, is the White Lion, and either one comes out of battle with it enlightened or not at all. Maria lived to tell the tale. Moja may or may not have. Moja's father is heavily implied to have been put through the same test and perished, after which Tswana did return the family's prized spear to Moja in order to give the boy his own chance when the time would come.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: Sara and John left in a car on their search for the White Lion. Maria's team goes on foot with no reason given as to why they don't bother with faster and safer transport. But, hey, faster and safer transport would leave no room for Maria's personal growth due to experience.


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