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Analyzing the Lion King

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Raeshuna Collier

Dr. Michael Johnston

FAS 270

5 February 2017

Analyzing The Lion King

        The film that I will be analyzing in this paper is The Lion King.  The Lion King is an American animated epic musical film, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures.   The Lion King was directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff and was released in the United States on June 15, 1994, three years after the end of America’s involvement in the Persian Gulf War.      

The opening scene of The Lion King is set against a breathtaking natural beauty of the African landscape. The music and the visuals that you see are as important as the dialogue.  For example, in the first scene there is not any conversation, but the message that is conveyed is one of class differences which is evident in the order that the animals appear when paying homage to the birth of the kings’ son.  Throughout the movie, status among the animals are shown, meaning those with power was always high above those who were powerless, for example, the most powerful characters are seen upon ledges like Mufasa and the less powerful down below like Scar.  

The Lion King begins with the birth of Simba, the young cub of the King, Mufasa.  This also introduces the importance of the natural cycle. This is clarified when Mufasa says “We are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” “The death of one King leads to the rise of another.”  This also relates to Hamlet, he was born to succeed his father as king.  As the story goes, the young lion prince named Simba journeys to adulthood and his royal destiny.  As a cub, he was the only one who witnessed the murder of his father by his uncle Scar.  Simba tries to get to his father, but he was too late and his uncle convinces him that he was the reason that his father was dead and told him to run away.  On the run Simba carries the burden of his father’s death and kingdom on his shoulders. 

The Lion King has an amazing cast of characters.  Simba is played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick, Scar played by Jeremy Lyons, Mufasa played by James Earl Jones, Nala played by Niketa Calame and Moira Kelly, Rafiki played by Robert Guillaume, and Sarabi played by Madge Sinclair.  The idea to make The Lion King movie was the brain child of Jeffrey Katzenberg when he and other Disney Executives was on a London to Paris flight, they started pondering on coming of age stories (Mullich).  Katzenberg started telling the story of such a moment in his life.  At the time that Katzenberg was telling the story, he had no idea where he was taking this story.  But in the fall of 1993, it was brought to Katzenberg’s attention that what he was actually trying to do was to tell the story of Hamlet (Mullich).  In my final paper, I will be doing a comparison analysis of the literary play Hamlet to the Disney movie The Lion King.

Hamlet and The Lion King are two literary works in which the characters and theme are surprisingly similar throughout each work.  The Lion King is thought to be just an animated children film; however, The Lion King is in fact a modern translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The main characters, secondary characters, and plot detailed in The Lion King are definite parallels to those in Hamlet (Morton 314).   Most of the main characters in The Lion King, as well as the secondary characters, in fact, foreshadow the characters in Hamlet (Meer).  For example, both Simba and Hamlet appear to forget their purposes as they get further away from the pain of the death of their fathers (Domenici).  Hamlet and Simba are almost perfect examples of tragic heroes.  They are tested to the extent of their inner strength and faith in the triumph of good.

Still fascinating people today, the story foundations and classic plot of Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare over 400 years ago, have made it to the film screen by way of The Lion King, in a version that the whole family can enjoy (Schwalm).  The Lion King, one of Disney’s most renowned movies, exemplifies features and characteristics of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but captures it in a magical, animated style.  The Lion King is more than just the unforgettable music and remarkable animations, it follows the general plot, conflict, climax, and resolution of the situation that was going on in that time period (Schwalm).  All of Disney’s animation movies end with a happily ever after, which means that the story element of Hamlet had to be rewritten in order to fit with the happy ending of The Lion King.   Disney appear to have been successful in bringing the dark, complex story plot of Hamlet into The Lion King while still preserving the cheerfulness and cleanliness of Disney movies (Kegerreis 336).

The far-reaching influence Shakespeare’s Hamlet had on the movie The Lion King is even more evident through character comparisons, family conflict, and moral struggle within the characters (Morton 312).  Although Hamlet and Simba share some differences, how are they alike in the loss of their fathers, their uncles’ usurpation of the throne, and their revenge against the new kings?  Simba, who has experienced his fair share of hardships and worries, can be directly related to Hamlet.  Both Simba and Hamlet suffers the loss of their fathers and to deal with the loss they both seek to suffer alone which necessitates them both running away from their responsibilities in their royal families.   Hamlet runs away in his mind, while Simba runs away by living a life of “Hukana Matata”, meaning “no worries.”

There are several conflicts in Hamlet and The Lion King that are very similar to both characters.  Simba, is in turmoil when he believes that he is responsible for his father’s death. He runs away from the kingdom believing that his dad is dead due to his disobedience and tries to run away from all responsibility and to forget his past. Simba finally comes to reason when he sees his father’s spirit and decides to return to claim what is rightfully his.  Hamlet’s inner turmoil is should he revenge his late father or not.  Although he is asked to by his father’s ghost and even though he knows that his uncle killer his father, Hamlet is still very reluctant to kill his uncle.  This hesitation on Hamlet’s part, caused him his own death because he was too slow to act.



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