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Hamlet Disneyfied

The Lion King (1994) is undoubtedly one of the most memorable Disney films ever made. Anyone’s childhood wouldn’t be complete without it, with its (Disney trademark) catchy songs, eternally entertaining characters, and touching story. Now it’s not surprising for Disney films to be adaptations of or based on folklore and fairytales; what’s interesting with The Lion King is that it is said to be loosely based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

From the Bonus Feature of the Platinum Edition of the Lion King DVD. cr. naemivarah @ YT.com.

            Reading the play, and watching the film would make one realize that yes, there are similarities existing between the two. For example:

1. Royalty
Almost every Disney flick has royalty. It’s like a default setting. Seeing how the film’s setting involve kings and princes just adds to how its similar to the play: both have princes as protagonists, etc.

2. The Evil Bastard of a Brother/Uncle
In relation to the first listed similarity, we have the fact that in both the film and the play, there exists the murderer relative. In the film, the King (Mufasa) is killed by his brother (Scar), and said brother takes the throne for himself. In Hamlet, the first acts involve the death of the King (Old Hamlet), who is later revealed to be killed by Claudius.

And here we have Scar securing his place as one of the most hated villains of all time. http://www.fanpop.com/spots/scar/images/4985098/title/scar-mufasa-photo.

3. The Ghost
In Hamlet, the father’s ghost serve as a driving force in Hamlet’s schemes. The Lion King shows Mufasa’s ‘ghost’ as a form of guide when Simba seemed to not know what to do (as the filmmakers referred to as the ‘to be or not to be’ moment). Also notable is the haunting utterance of the word ‘Remember’ by both.

at 1:33
cr. simbaSpark @ YT

One can also wonder if Simba is also ‘mad’.

4. To Man Up and to Fight Thee
Hamlet and Simba are princes who don’t know what to do with their lives. In the course of their stories, they come to terms with themselves and what they want, having the courage to face what they have to face. Both have epic confrontations afterwards.

Hamlet vs. Claudius. http://www.hamlet.ucalgary.ca.

5. The Sad to Happy
According to the co-writer of The Lion King, Irene Mecchi, the film’s ‘…Shakespearean elements is not only the bad uncle and the would-be prince, it’s also the juxtaposition of the tragedy, with the next scene is hysterical’. (See the video above – Lion King – Story Origins.) This is seen when Simba, after running away from the Pridelands, meets Timon and Pumbaa, the primary comic characters of the film. In Hamlet, one example of this transition from tragic events to comedic ones is by the end of Act IV and the beginning of Act V, when Ophelia’s death is followed by the introduction of gravediggers who are considered the comic elements of the play.

The film didn’t fail to give a more direct nod to the play and its author as well.

– Scar holding a skull, usual depiction of Hamlet with skull

– Timon: what’s in a name (From the song: Hakuna Matata)

– Mentioned above: “Remember.”

Shakespeare’s influence on the world doesn’t stop in literature, as it branches out to different types of media as well. The Lion King is just one of the many films and tv series based from Shakespeare’s works (or Shakespeare himself).


Hamlet, with Lions . Pahle, Rebecca. http://www.moviemaker.com/screenwriting/article/strange_shakespeare_adaptations_coriolanus_west_side_story_lion_king/. 2012.

The Shakespeare Connection: Hamlet and The Lion King. Browland. http://browland.hubpages.com/hub/The-Shakespeare-Connection-Hamlet-and-The-Lion-King.2012.

Videos from: Youtube.

Pictures from: Google Images.

Written By: Mara Agleham, for Eng23 (Intro to Shakespeare) from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. 2012.

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