From drum pounding beginning to justice boosting conclusion, The Lion King is a great movie. The team of writers and animators at Disney produced a multi faceted story filled with suspense, laughter, and enough intensity to grab the attention of even the most cynical viewer. And that’s just the first five minutes.
The Lion King was part the wave of late twentieth century films that propelled Disney to new heights. It is the United States’ highest grossing traditionally animated feature film, was the highest grossing film of 1994 worldwide, and second highest in the U.S. The Lion King won two Academy Awards one for Best Original Score and one for Best Original Song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, with two other songs, “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” which literally means “no worries” in Swahili, nominated for Best Original Song.
With such a success viewers can’t help but wonder where the inspiration for the movie came from. Filmmakers have said that influences for The Lion King include Bambi, Joseph and Moses from the Bible and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Of these, it is clear that Simba and Hamlet have the greatest similarity.
The topics of family crisis, ghosts, complicated inner turmoil, and court politics seem a little too deep for a children’s film, but are pulled off nicely in The Lion King. Simba the lion cub is next in the monarchical line to become king. As a young prince he is excited about his place in the “Circle of Life” and even happier to be the son of mighty King Mufasa. While Simba emulates his father, Mufasa’s brother Scar seeks his ruin. After a tragic accident takes the king’s life Simba runs away from home believing that he is the cause of his father’s death. With the true king gone Scar assumes the throne and consequently destroys the kingdom. The prince grows up and upon finding out the condition of his former home must decide whether to remain hidden or fight his uncle.
The heroes of Hamlet and The Lion King have a lot in common. Both have lost their father, both believe they are to blame, and both princes do what they can to keep their kingdoms going, though Hamlet dies, his kingdom is left in the capable hands of Fortinbras. Each prince delays retribution for what is done to their respective fathers because their loss leaves both in a vulnerable state. They run away from responsibility though they know what they should do and while Hamlet’s battle is internal, Simba fights with his childhood friend Nala, both confronted with the necessity to return home.
Supporting characters mirror each other as well as Hamlet and Simba. The fathers, Hamlet Sr. and Mufasa rule as kings of peace then succeed their Earthly lives as nurturing guides to their sons. The villains, Claudius and Scar are brothers to the king, murder him, and seize his throne. Even the secondary characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Timon and Pumba provide relief from the primary storyline through asides to the audience, quips of humor, and fun songs.
Further inspection reveals even more similarities between the Disney film and arguably the best play ever written. Though wrapped in packaging of sword fights, singing animals, discussions with skulls, and cackling baboons, both heroes come to similar resolutions. While Hamlet asked, “To be or not to be?” and Simba sang “I just can’t wait to be king,” we know both stepped forward to fill his role for Denmark and Pride Rock.