Okay, stay with me here. You’re about to think I’m loopy. But I’m not. I swear I’m not. It’s just that I see remarkable coincidences between a group of lions living in the African veldt and a play written in sixteenth century England. What am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about the movie The Lion King, produced by Disney, and the play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare. Once analyzed, the two stories have remarkable similarities that cannot be ignored – despite the time lapse between their creations.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is about a king murdered by his brother. The movie The Lion King follows nearly the exact same plot. The uncle, Scar, kills the leader of the pride in order to steal his throne, leaving young Simba without a father, lost and adrift. Shakespeare’s character of Hamlet, too, has lost his father and finds his uncle taking his place as ruler of the kingdom. He experiences doubt and confusion and even self-blame as he wonders what to do. For other similarities between the movie and the original play, one doesn’t have to look too far. Hamlet has a love interest – Ophelia. Young Simba has Naala. Hamlet has his pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while Simba has Timone and Pumba. Both lead characters are exiled from their kingdoms for a time, before returning home for redemption.
Of course, the two stories are not quite the same. In the Disney version of the story, for instance, a lot fewer characters die. In The Lion King, Simba’s mother is not involved in the plot to overthrow the king whereas, in the play Hamlet, the mother has betrayed her husband. There is more comedy in the Disney story, as well as a much stronger role for the Ophelia/Naala character. Going further with differences, one story takes place in Denmark and the other takes place in Africa. As well, one story is about human royalty, while the other is about … lions.
Now, why would the producers of a Disney movie choose to create a story that has such strong connections to a drama written hundreds of years before? For the same reason that students study Shakespeare in school: his plays involve themes that are timeless. Both Hamlet and The Lion King use the same basic plot to portray ideas of identity, potential, doubt, innocence, maturity and destiny. But which story is more relatable for kids? Shakespeare’s language is outdated and, at times, tiresome, and needs to be updated. Still, his stories are worthy of being told.
The next time you pick up a copy of a Shakespeare play, consider if you know of any modern re-telling. As well, the next time you watch a movie, think about its connections to stories from long ago. Themes repeat over time – love, bravery, courage – and are told again and again. But stories need to be told in new ways to have new audiences relate to them best.