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Simba is the New Hamlet: Similarities Between Hamlet and The Lion King

Article By: Paul Thomson
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An examination of how the movie The Lion King parallels Shakespeare's Hamlet, particularly in regards to summary and characters


Submitted:Mar 10, 2011    Reads: 354    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Modern adaptations of Shakespeare's plays are incredibly common, and, for some reason, they're frequently set in high schools. While it's true that Romeo and Juliet are actually teenagers, most of the Shakespeare's lead characters are meant to be grown adults and his plays take place in very grown-adult settings. Yet, for some reason, Hollywood believes that a high school is the best place to show a modernized version of some of the Bard's greatest works.

10 Things I Hate About You is a modern adaptation of Taming of the Shrew (there are even similarities in the titles when read out loud), She's the Man is a modern take on Twelfth Night, and O is a modern-day, high-school-set Othello. It's almost becoming a trope.

And then there's The Lion King. Yes, the Disney cartoon movie. While it's not a perfectly faithful jungle rendition, The Lion King's main plot points are actually derived from Hamlet. Seriously.

Unlike Hamlet, The Lion King begins before the uncle-plotted death of the king, and while he's not in cahoots with his morally lax sister-in-law, evil Uncle Scar (the Claudius equivalent) does lead his nephew (Simba, who is loosely the equivalent of Hamlet in this story) to believe that he is the cause of his father's death, and that knowledge haunts him.

Simba is not necessarily as indecisive as Hamlet, but after learning that he ostensibly caused the death of his beloved father, he does flee his tribe to lead a pretty selfish life with some delightfully hilarious characters named Timon and Pumba (possibly the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of The Lion King) until his childhood best friend, Nala, tracks him down. If Lion King characters perfectly paralleled Hamlet characters, Nala would be Ophelia, but really their only similarities are that they are both female and they both find the Hamlet/Simba character's behavior irritating.

Because The Lion King is a Disney movie, and not a Shakespearean tragedy, there are some substantial differences to how it ends versus how Hamlet ends. A Hamlet summary would have to end with something to effect of "and then everybody dies," but a Lion King summary would conclude with the classic "and they all lived happily ever after." Simba defeats Scar, reunites with his mother, "marries" Nala, and restores his pride to its former glory.

This difference isn't just due to the fact that the Lion King is intended for children. Most Disney movies contain some serious sadness, and no small amount of untimely death. The main difference is that in Disney movies, tragedy occurs at the beginning; Bambi's mother is shot, Cinderella is kept as a servant by her evil step-family. In Shakespeare's plays, the most tragic moments are generally reserved for the very end; Romeo and Juliet's suicides, the unjust murder of Desdemona.

While it would not behoove an AP English Literature student to watch The Lion King in lieu of reading Hamlet, viewing the movie after reading the play could help him to gain some new insights into how and why Shakespeare's most famous tragedy works. The people at Disney are not known for making mistakes; if they chose Hamlet as the basis for one of their instant-classic animated features, there had to be a reason.





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