In 1994, Disney created what could arguably be the best animated movie of all time with The Lion King. Unlike most cartoon movies of its time, The Lion King touched upon serious themes of responsibility and revenge, but with a facade of a humorous children’s story. The movie constantly parallels Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, and the film shadows Hamlet so closely, that connections between main characters are blatantly obvious.
In TLK, Simba is a lion cub who plays the role of a young prince whose father is murdered by his uncle, and his naivete leads him into several hardships and struggles. At this point, the likeness between Simba and Hamlet is uncanny. One point in which they are similar is that both Simba and Hamlet delay their vengeance for their father’s death. The loss of their respective father leaves Hamlet incredibly depressed, and Simba without a teacher and father during his years of maturation. Each of them runs from their responsibility, although deep down, they know what must be done: Hamlet continually attempts to validate his suspicions while Simba hides from the shadows of his past.
Also, the characters of Mufasa and King Hamlet bear a stunning resemblance to one another, not only in their actions, but in their symbolism. King Hamlet ruled his kingdom in peace and quiet, as apparent by the conversations in Act 1 between Marcellus and Horatio. Mufasa also ruled peacefully over the Pride Lands, only worrying about his responsibilities and his sons. But after their deaths, both paternal figures become more than past kings. They become heralds for their sons, asking them to avenge their deaths and take responsibility for the actions of their uncles. Each king approaches his son in the same manner: via an apparition/ghost that gives a speech which drives their sons to actions, and each king leaves the meaning of their message open to interpretation by the princes. Neither King Hamlet or Mufasa directly order the destruction of their murders, although King Hamlet does name his killer directly, it is Hamlet’s duty to decide the appropriate action.
The villains in both The Lion King and Hamlet can also be similarly compared to one another. Both Scar from TLK and Claudius from Hamlet are brothers of the king, murdered their sibling to steal the throne from the rightful heir, and took their brother’s wife as their queen (although this is never explicitly mentioned in TLK, Scar calls upon Sarabi, Mufasa’s mate, to report on the goings of the kingdom, implying she is still queen of the Pride Lands.) Similar to the protagonists of the story, these villains similarities are more apparent in their actions than in their characterizations. Claudius appears to be content with his actions, enjoying his new life as a king, wedding his brother’s wife, and holding banquets in his own honor, meanwhile preparing for a war with a neighboring country. Scar enjoys his corrupt spoils as well, allowing his hyena henchmen to hunt the kingdom into extinction while he relaxes on his new throne, torturing his adviser Zazu, and eating more than his share in fresh kills. Also like Claudius, Scar exploits his power and drives the Pride Lands into a state of war. However, there is a point where the two villains differ. In Hamlet, Claudius is shown repenting for his sins, begging for forgiveness from God. Scar, on the other hand, never once falls back on his actions, and sticks with them till the end. Scar even taunts Simba by shouting, “And now here’s my little secret. I killed Mufasa!” as he hangs from the cliff of Pride Rock. Claudius attempts to repent for his sin, while Scar boldly declares his cleverness over his dead brother.
Although most new works of entertainment might seem new on the surface, if we probe deep enough, we can find roots to some of the greatest literary works of all time. Shakespeare’s works are continuously redone and re-performed, his sonnets quoted in movies, his writings the basis of several school curriculum, and in the case of The Lion King, Hamlet is the basis of the story, not only in the protagonists, but in the antagonists as well. It is great to see today’s entertainment has not lost its connection to its classical predecessors.