Monday, September 15, 2014

The Lion King- A pseudo-Hamlet

My knowledge of Shakespeare has been, until this class, incredibly limited. Due to my school’s reading list, I read the staple of all 9th grade classes, Romeo and Juliet, and then the next year followed up with The Taming of The Shrew. And so, as I viewed the blog and saw the increasingly varied and interesting adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, I decided to instead take a turn towards the familiar. Prior to a few days before our first meeting, I had never read Hamlet. And, interestingly enough, I started to see that the play was far more infectious than I had thought. I gradually began to see parallels between Hamlet and a story that had been with me since childhood- The Lion King. I saw the popular Disney film several times between the years of 7 and 12 (with occasional rewatches whenever it showed up on TV), and things began to click after reading Shakespeare’s play. There were parallels everywhere, some more apparent than others- Mufasa to King Hamlet, Simba to Hamlet, and Scar to Claudius. Their base plots are essentially the same- A king is killed by his brother in order to usurp the former’s throne, and his son is made aware of the murder and driven to seek revenge. Two comic relief characters acting to closely advise the son- This role is filled by Timon and Pumbaa. The dead king appearing to his son, motivating him to revenge his passing- Simba’s father appearing to him in the clouds, with a resounding “remember who you are.” A wise beneficiary that assists the son- This is fulfilled by Rafiki, guiding Simba on his journey back to face Scar. Polonious and Laretes are present as well, in the form of the Hyenas- devotees to the usurper. And yet, despite the similarities and obvious influences that Hamlet had on The Lion King, several key differences caused the two tales to diverge. Perhaps the largest of them is the ending of the two stories. Hamlet is, by all conventional definitions, a tragedy. Yet The Lion King, following a similar plotline, is almost inspiring. Also interesting is the exclusion of the relations between Polonious, Larates, and Ophelia, and the importance of Claudius marrying Hamlet’s mother. Perhaps the most momentous exclusion is Hamlet’s insanity, the central issue to Hamlet- are the son’s actions a product of madness, or rational thought ending badly due to poor planning and unfortunate circumstances?  In The Lion King, this decision is made for the viewer- The son is completely sane, his actions are justified, and he is able to carry out his destiny and regain his honor.  This single decision turns a cautionary tale of jealousy and greed into an epic of revenge and fulfillment. What makes the adaptation intriguing is the fact that it aims to be so different from its Shakespearean roots.  Does the story benefit from the change? It’s hard to say. Both stories end up fairly different and wildly popular. Perhaps the change came about due to different target audiences- Disney is a company towards children’s movies, whereas Shakespeare sought a more intellectual (or at least older) audience. Or perhaps Disney aimed to create something different out of a timeless classic. In either case, it is hard to call The Lion King an adaptation- it’s more like a reimagining of the play. And as the movie and its franchising have proved, it was not necessarily a bad idea. At least from a marketing standpoint.

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