Shakespeare at the Movies: The Lion King

Did you know that The Lion King is partly based on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet? Well, now you do! The Disney movie, first released in 1994 and followed by several sequels and an award-winning Broadway musical, was influenced by a few different stories, including two from the Bible and the West African historical tale Epic of Sundiata. But those of you who’ve read Hamlet in school or seen the play may recognize most of The Lion King as a pretty good adaptation of Hamlet, starring talking animals, of course, and with a happy ending.

In the Disney movie, Simba is obviously the Hamlet character, a young prince who would rather play around than take his duties as King-to-Be more seriously. But once he’s tricked into believing that he’s responsible for his father’s death, he becomes conflicted and guilt-ridden, and flees the kingdom in order to get away from his past. Meanwhile, uncle Scar (the real murderer) takes Simba’s rightful throne.

There are similar elements in Hamlet: Hamlet’s uncle Claudius kills his father and steals the throne, while Hamlet feels angry and sad about his father’s death. Once he sees his father’s ghost, he becomes consumed with the idea of revenge and even starts to go a little mad – or at least pretends to.

Simba, too, becomes bent on revenge after running into his old pal Nala (Ophelia in Shakespeare’s play). I won’t give away the ending of either, but let’s just say that Hamlet doesn’t end quite as happily as The Lion King.

There are common themes in each version of the story: family feuds, revenge, power dynamics, trusting one’s own instincts. And let’s not forget the loveable Timon and Pumbaa, a more rascally version of Hamlet’s wayward friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

If you’ve seen The Lion King, did you realize right away that it was based on Hamlet? Which ending do you prefer – the sad but symmetrical one of the play, or the happier one of the movie?

Comments ( 2 )
  1. I enjoy this movie! The Lion King is the first animiation movie I ever “really” watched and it is actually now in my collection. The music, the plot and the humor makes this a best movie for anyone of all ages.