Arguably the best thing about Shakespeare is that his work has a timeless quality about it. It speaks to everyone in one way or another, and this is what makes his work such great inspiration for newer forms of entertainment. There have been countless modern takes on Shakespeare's work, from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet to Gil Junger's 10 Things I Hate About You. One of my favourites, however, is Disney's The Lion King, based on one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, Hamlet.
The similarities between The Lion King and Hamlet are noticeable if a viewer is acquainted with Hamlet beforehand. Both stories revolve around a young prince dealing with the untimely murder of his father. In both cases, the murderer is the prince's uncle, who usurps the throne after his brother's death, and rules with complete disregard for the well-being of his kingdom, while his nephew deals with his grief. In the end, the prince returns to avenge his father's death and succeeds in doing so before the story is complete.
To me, there are two key areas where The Lion King and Hamlet are remarkably similar. The first, and most obvious, is when Mufasa appears to Simba in the form of a ghost to encourage him to face his responsibilities and return to Pride Rock. Hamlet's father also appears to Hamlet as a ghost and asks him to take revenge on Claudius. The second, however, may go unnoticed to some viewers. Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King serve as parallels to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet. They both offer a sense of comic relief throughout their respective stories and this creates some respite from the stories' otherwise morbid plot.
While there are certainly many similarities between the two stories, Disney omits most of the darker elements of Shakespeare's play in their retelling of Hamlet. Simba does not experience bouts of madness in the way that Hamlet does. Simba also generally has more people to guide him, like Rafiki, while Hamlet must rely solely on himself and the ghost of his father when it comes to deciding what to do. Furthermore, at the end of The Lion King, only Scar dies while Simba survives, and this shows that Simba is not the tragic hero that Hamlet ultimately is.
Overall, while Disney eliminates some of the more adult themes of Shakespeare's play in order to make it more kid-friendly, their version of Hamlet is still heartbreaking. I don't think a scene from any movie made me cry as much as Mufasa's death did when I was a child. At the same time though, Disney was able to inject the story with its trademark Disney magic, and this is why I think that The Lion King will be a piece of art that will become almost as timeless as Hamlet.