is it wrong that along w the lack of female hyenas in the lion guard it also really annoys me that neither hyenas nor ESPECIALLY vultures are hunters? and they're making them the villains? even though they both just eat corpses (especially the vultures who don't do anything violent of the sort)
No, I don’t think it’s wrong at all. I don’t think it’s as big a deal as female representation, but there’s certainly an interesting discussion to be had when it comes to typecasting of anthropomorphic animal characters in media. I think it reveals a lot about the writer and their intentions, too.
I mean, stuff like The Lion Guard is pretty standard family-friendly designed-by-committee mainstream media, so it makes sense that they’d decide to go the route of using animal species as a shorthand for whether they’re good or evil. Though they specifically have the difficult task of doing so but needing to be able to portray a large, powerful predator as good, which is why the characters place so much emphasis on the whole “circle of life” thing and their eating habits are otherwise glossed over. In any other series lions would probably be joining the hyenas and vultures as bad guys. Another series that did this a lot was Redwall; the good characters were mice, rabbits, sparrows, hares, hedgehogs… whenever predators like stoats and foxes appeared, they were never to be trusted. It’s interesting though that for a lot of people, like you and me, this outlook has the opposite effect. Perhaps we’re more susceptible to seeing aspects of ourselves in these villainized creatures, and empathise with what little sympathy they show.
If you’re looking for a series for younger audiences that decides not to go that route, The Animals of Farthing Wood was one of my absolute favourites as a kid. It’s more brutal than your average disney cartoon - characters would die left and right, cruelly and heartbreakingly, but not in a way that felt contrived. The idea of the story, I think, was to derive drama from the struggle of being an animal and existing as a part of nature, and farthing wood did so very well. I’ll never forget how invested by younger self was in the character Bold the fox, and how sad I found his demise. But as I was saying - in that series, animals aren’t typecast by their species, so there are good ones and bad ones of everything. Good foxes and bad foxes, good mice and bad mice, etc. The closest it comes to typecasting is the rats that appear late in the series, but even then I recall there being at least one nice one.
The relationship between predator and prey is a complex one to portray when your animals are civilised, sentient beings, and I find it fascinating to see how different creators take that into account. In the lion king the relationship is glossed over as much as possible, unless it’s being used to characterise villainy. In farthing wood the relationship is tense - prey strike up deals with predators to avoid being eaten, or find themselves devoured by predators they had previously considered their friend. (My girlfriend’s most striking memory of the series is a scene where a kestrel kills a field mouse with her talons, and then realises that the mouse was one she had known. She’s struck with deep guilt and grief over doing so.)
Another interesting one is Beatrix Potter’s work (Peter Rabbit), as this one sort of dabbled interestingly in the middle. There was certainly a level of species typecasting - foxes were cunning, cats were aloof, rabbits were clever - but there was, again, an interesting dynamic between predator and prey animals when they would unsuspectingly cross paths. In one story I remember that Benjamin Bunny and a badger called Tommy Brock are smoking pipes and relaxing together in Benjamin’s burrow. When Benjamin falls asleep, Tommy stuffs all of his infant children into a sack and creeps away, intending to cook and eat them all. The idea of a society where your smoking partner could well decide to devour your children is certainly an interesting one, a blend of human and animal that’s both anthropomorphised and charming, as well as cut-throat and bestial. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always been such a fan of her work.
I suppose that hmm… hyenas being the bad guys again isn’t surprising, but personally I was hoping that the writers would be clever and maybe have a good hyena character. Something to provide a bit of character conflict that isn’t reliant on “NATURE IS GOOD, ALL PREDATORS EXCEPT US ARE BAD”, you know? But, I think it’s harmless, so I’m not legitimately mad about it or anything. Just a case of what I personally feel is wasted potential. Shrug!