"The saga of Simba, which in its deeply buried origins owes something to Greek tragedy and certainly to Hamlet, is a learning experience as well as an entertainment."The Lion King is certainly one of the most loved Disney movies; however, it is does not exactly paint with the 'fairy tale' leitmotif that all Disney movies are world-famous for. The Lion King, in fact, draws inspiration (ample of it) from William Shakespeare's creation, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, popularly known as Hamlet.
― Roger Ebert, Film Critic
― Roger Ebert, Film Critic
Some of you would find it incredibly bizarre to accept the similarities between the two, but trust us when we say that there is always a usurpatory, low-life malefactor with a faulty moral compass, driven only by the urge to rule. This urge in discussion is the same for humans and animals, and both Shakespeare and Walt Disney were smart people who built stories around this primal urge of ruling, and translated the same in different media. However, there are palpable dissimilarities between the two storylines; the one with humans is a bit more convoluted, and the one with animals is a more simplified one as we feel animals like keeping things uncomplicated. Yeah, and it's a little easy on our brains too.
We are now going to mount a full-scale examination on both the stories, so here's coming The Lion King Vs. Hamlet analysis in terms of their themes and characters.
The Lion King Vs. Hamlet
The Royal ConnectionBoth Simba and Hamlet Jr. hail from royal families. Simba is the son of Mufasa, the King of the Pride Lands, and Hamlet Jr. is the son of the late King of Denmark. The regal blood that courses in the veins of both Simba and Prince Hamlet makes them the rightful heir to the throne.
Wicked UnclesSimba's uncle Scar, does not exhibit the kind-hearted avuncular feelings toward Simba, and all that candied talk with Simba is just a ruse and to mask his ulterior motives. Likewise, Claudius makes an evil uncle who is vehemently devoted to his interests and plays it unobtrusively by keeping a family-friendly face only to strike those who pose a threat to his power and life. Both Scar and Claudius killed their brothers in enviousness, and thought they would make better Kings instead of their brothers. Ah and yes, both of them believe in dropping subtle hints at people who are on their hit list―quite fair we say.
Romantic ElementsBoth Simba and Prince Hamlet have love interests; while Simba and Nala were kid cub chums, Prince Hamlet and Ophelia's case was somewhat like star crossed lovers. Many also controvert that Hamlet Jr. was using Ophelia as a pawn, but whatever that be, there were suppressed feelings between the two and anything that is tantalizingly undisclosed is by default love. We are good at this.
CamaraderiesYes, Simba's 'off-their-trolley' friends Timon and Pumbaa are true friends indeed, who with their comically raw nature pull Simba from the melancholic and depressing state. Prince Hamlet too, has a friend in Horatio who keeps Hamlet's charade of madness under his hat as well as promises not to reveal anything about the ghost to anyone. There's always a bright side to an otherwise murky premise.
HenchmenEvery villain must have unscrupulous and reckless subordinates who will sycophantly serve to their antagonist masters, and this part is satisfied by Barochio and Conrad, Claudius' henchmen in Hamlet, while in The Lion King, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed offered similar services to Scar.
Epiphanies Brought by GhostsMufasa makes an apparition appearance in the clouds and tells him to take his place as a King. King Hamlet too meets Prince Hamlet as a wraith and instructs him to exact revenge of his death.
Simba and Prince Hamlet Sent AwayAfter the stampede, Scar convinces Simba that he is responsible for his father's death and advises him to run away. Similarly, Claudius sends Prince Hamlet to London so that his evil plan of murdering him comes to fruition. However, both uncles fail as both the heirs return home with the knowledge of their uncles' evil deeds.
The Hero Must Fight DepressionSimba easily believes Scar and pins himself for his father's death. He slips into depression and even tries to kill himself (poor thing). Prince Hamlet is greatly aggrieved and goes mad with his father's demise. Nonetheless, both the characters ultimately realize their uncles' machinations and turn their woeful depression into active retaliation.
All Lovers Aren't the SameIn this, we would also like to mention feminine traits of these two women in discussion. Nala is a lioness and behaves like one by defying others to save her love interest. However, Ophelia is a compliant woman who abides her elders and even gives up on her love because her father instructed her to do so. Not an exemplary lover, we say.
All Mothers Aren't the SameDespite both the mothers―Sarabi (Simba's mother) and Gertrude (Prince Hamlet's mother)―being non-primary characters, their portrayal in Hamlet and The Lion King is pretty different. While Gertrude remains the feeble Queen acting meekly as Claudius bids her to, Sarabi is a lioness, both literally and figuratively, and doesn't flinch from questioning her evil brother-in-law, who almost kills her for the same.
Another important dissimilarity is that Gertrude marries Claudius for which she invites her own son's vitriolic criticism, while Sarabi chooses to remain faithful to her deceased husband (she took her wedding vows too seriously!).
DeathsThe only two people to die in the Lion King are Mufasa and Scar, but Shakespeare's Hamlet nearly kills all the protagonists we know of―Hamlet Jr, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius , and Laertes; in short, it's not a hakuna matata ending for Hamlet after all.
Moral Scruples for Simba, but None for HamletWhile Simba receives moral guidance from Zazu and Rafiki that help him make sound and right decisions for himself, Hamlet Jr. is only motivated by revenge. We believe someone should have given him a good dose of morality and taught him that vengeance shouldn't be the only driving force in life (this would have gained him the throne and the woman as well).
The Lion King can be reckoned as the modern interpretation of Shakespeare's classic literary work, but there's no denying that it offers a more fulfilling ending, whereas Hamlet is purely a filial tragedy.