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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse


Disney’s ‘Lion King’ is widely considered as one of the best animations of all time. It is certainly a childhood favourite of mine (along with Pocahontas and Mulan), but it was not until my adult years that I began to appreciate it much more. The musical qualities are obviously sensational and incredible with such all-time classics like ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Can you feel the love tonight?’ and ‘Circle of Life’ (and many many more hit numbers), courtesy of the one and only Hans Zimmer (future composer of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Inception, Interstellar etc), but the storyline is most remarkable in that it seems to be heavily based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and is often dubbed as ‘Bamlet’ i.e. Bambi + Hamlet. Parallels with Bambi, another Disney classic, are clear, since they are both about an animal prince who is destined to sovereignty in the animal kingdom in the form of a jungle/forest, but comparisons with Shakespeare’s Hamlet reveal some fascinating allusions, namely the plotline of a prince (Hamlet/Simba) who is exiled from his legitimate kingdom (Denmark/Pride Lands) by an evil uncle (Claudius/Scar) and eventually the prince returns and exacts his revenge at the bidding of his dead ghost father (King Hamlet/Mufasa). This theme of an exiled son who returns to his land of origin and claims what is rightfully his by birth and destiny has roots in western classical mythology that stretches far beyond Shakespearean times (see e.g. Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Tyrannos’) and is one of the most prominent motifs in modern reception of classical literature. Lion King is no exception, and it is astonishing how the creators and animators of Disney managed to fit all this within what is essentially a cartoon. This is a unique cinematic achievement, since it blends a classic western motif into a modern art form. So want to watch it again, and, as mentioned before, it is amazing how a more mature perspective can alter one’s earlier impression, which, in this case, applies to one of my favourite childhood cartoons. Hakuna Matata!

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