Is Lion King supposed to be Hamlet? Answered.

When I first saw Lion King, I never recognized it as a Hamlet story. In fact, I’ve never really bought it as a deliberate Hamlet story – I always thought that the similarities were coincidental at best.  Not every “Uncle kills the father, son avenges” story is Hamlet.

Well now, with the new 3D release of the movie, we can confirm the answer (courtesy of The Hamlet Weblog):

When we first pitched the revised outline of the movie to Michael
Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider and Tom Schumacher, someone
in the room announced that Hamlet was similar in its themes and
relationships. Everyone responded favorably to the idea that we were
doing something Shakespearean and so we continued to look for ways to
model our film on that all time classic.

This may or may not be the answer you were looking for. It was not written to be Hamlet.  How many “ways to model” their film they found, we don’t know.

6 thoughts on “Is Lion King supposed to be Hamlet? Answered.

  1. "It was not written to be Hamlet."

    imo, You can't credibly make this claim based off that blurb. If they decided to model TLK after Hamlet during the OUTLINING phase, one could say that the movie we have is 100% intentionally modeled on Hamlet.

    I don't think we need to have an "all or nothing" attitude about TLK's resemblance to Hamlet. Can't we just say that there are some Hamlety things going on in the movie (even done intentionally, as the blurb you quoted clearly proves), but it isn't "Hamlet with Lions"?

  2. I'd definitely like to hear more. The question is answered for me. I've always wondered whether it was written deliberately to mirror Hamlet, and the answer is that it was not. So, for instance, I think anybody trying to make the case that Timon and Poomba(?) are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is off the mark – they are and have always been sidekicks, nothing more. Sometimes you can read *too* much into something.

    Now that they've said there was some intent to heighten the Hamlet bits, though, I'd be very curious for them to walk through and point those out. 🙂

    I've seen links to the original treatment by Thomas Disch, but have not been able to read the whole thing. I'd be fascinated to see how much it's changed since the first writeup. (That in itself is an interesting story, as apparently he was paid like a one time flat fee for his initial treatment, and never reaped any piece of the Lion King profits.)

  3. "…someone in the room announced that Hamlet was similar in its themes and relationships."

    –These guys are pitching an entire story outline (theirs) and "*someone* in the room" (who shall, it appears,remain forever anonymous) is the only one who recognizes a similarity THEIR STORY has to Hamlet? And DUH…"okay, let's make it like Shakespeare"?

    Duane wrote: "Now that they've said there was some intent to heighten the Hamlet bits, though, I'd be very curious for them to walk through and point those out. :)"

    –Apparently THEY couldn't. You'd have to find "Anomymous" to help you out there 🙂

    What, in the name of Moe, Larry, and Curly, is going on here? Ah, Hollywood–gotta love it.

  4. And this statement is also quite curious and possibly quite telling: "Everyone responded favorably to the idea that

    *we were doing something Shakespearean*…"

    Shades of John Lovitz and his Pathological Liar character on SNL–"Shakespeare?… uh…"Yeah! Yeah! That's the ticket!"

    Oh to have been a fly on the wall…

  5. For what it's worth, the Lion King broadway productions does bring out the Hamlet-like elements.

    And I'd agree that this does suggest that Lion King wasn't just a re-writing of Hamlet, but I think you'd have to be somewhat confused about both Hamlet and The Lion King to think it was. But you also can't suggest that Hamlet isn't deeply embedded in our culture and that those ideas didn't make their way into the creation of that film unintentionally. (Also, given how many people work on any given film, you really can't just take one person's account of the film's influences. The scriptwriters might not know, for instance, whether the voice actors for Timon and Pumba thought of their characters as Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. See The Celluliod Closet on Ben Hurr if you don't believe me.) So what's more interesting to me is to note the points of convergence and departure rather than worry about whether the (strong, in my opinion) resemblances are intentional; whether they are or not doesn't change whether they're there, and whether they have an effect on our understanding of the film.

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