Shakespeare Series #6:
Most people are familiar with Disney’s “The Lion King” in either it’s 1996 animated version or it’s live-action re-vamp from 2019, but less people are aware that this classic tale is actually an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Following a young cub Simba, his father Mufasa and his uncle Scar when Scar plots to usurp the throne from Mufasa by getting his brother and nephew killed, so he would be next in line, this story takes the classic themes of Hamlet. Hamlet tells the tragedy of what happens when the King of Denmark is killed, and his son decides to avenge his murder by killing the new king, his own uncle. Luckily for everyone, the creators of the cartoon adaptation decided to vie for a happier ending than the one where everyone dies. Setting it in the jungle where the King of the jungle is the mighty lion, and introducing quirky, spirited characters along the way, “The Lion King” is able to tell the story of loss, revenge, jealousy, spirituality and honor without staying too long in the darker elements.
The original film was a great success: it won three Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John & Tim Rice), and two Academy Awards (Best Original Score by Hans Zimmer – of course – and Best Original Song again). It’s success led to the production of a musical which became one of the most praised in Broadway history: it won six Tony Awards and is still running to this day, making it the longest-running show and highest grossing Broadway production in history. It has spawned countless adaptations around the world.
What Worked / Mistakes That Were Made:
This section of the review will be rededicated in this instance to comparing & contrasting the 1994 original and the 2019 update because that is more interesting than a separate assessment of each film stand-alone, especially due to the obvious success and near-perfect nature of the original.
- Much of the dialogue was untouched, just expounded upon, which is a delightful way to approach such a beloved film. It serves as a constant homage to the original, and just takes on a more appealing format for newer generations who are accustomed to the live action medium.
- Seth Rogan & Billie Eichner manage to maintain the hilarious repartee of the original duo: Nathan Lane & Ernie Sabella. Despite the two comedians having a very different style in their other work, they lean heavily into the tone and humor that Lane and Sabella created together and have an effortless chemistry that elevates all the scenes where they appear.
- The Beauty & the Beast Easter egg, when Timon starts in on “Be Our Guest” and does a Lumier impression with a French accent. In that moment, he also gave me King Julien nostalgia.
- The biggest complaint (resulting in lower than expected aggregate reviews) was that the update lacked the heart of the 1994 version because CGI live-action animation and that is not entirely wrong, but ultimately the voice acting and observance of almost all of the original dialogue allows the 2019 adaptation to feel almost as impactful.
- Some of the scenes were improved because there was more room to dive further into the emotion: In the beginning, there is a sentimental father-son bonding scene between Mufasa and young Simba where they discuss the Circle of life, the responsibility of being King, and the way that the stars hold all the previous rulers so they are always looking down on you. The newer version just includes more dialogue, but keeps the most memorable ones, and builds upon them. It provides a little bit more understanding into their relationship, so in this case it works. Also, at a later point in the film, in the original, the confrontation that erupts when Simba returns home includes a moment that (thought, I am being nit-picky) left me miffed as to why Scar suddenly admitted to killing Mufasa publicly when he knows that it would undoubtedly result in his downfall. But here, the writers changed it in the smallest way, but it makes it clear that Scar outed himself to the rest of the tribe by accident (when he noted Mufasa’s expression when he died which contradicted his original story), instead of giving himself up so quickly. These are small details that can be achieved in creating an update after having twenty years to revel in the glory of the original and view enough times with a critical lens. Conversely, though, some of the more emotional moments lose gravitas with the lack of animation in the expressions, like when Scar grovels to Simba in the end – it is evident he lacks sincerity in the cartoon version, but in the new one, it is more difficult to hear glean that right off the bat.
In summary, the best way to watch this is by watching the original, and then enriching your experience by following it up with the 2019 version.
(Why stop there? Then go to the musical!)
- The 6 minute scene where the wildebeest stampede took three years to create.
The CG department had to create an entirely new program to avoid the wildebeest passing through each other while they were running.
2. Both Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella auditioned to be hyenas before landing the part as Timon and Pumbaa (respectively).
3. In the film, there is a scene where Zazu sings “It’s a small world” – a shoutout to one of the oldest rides at the Disney theme parks – but Rowan Atkinson did not know the lyrics.
Despite the fact that it is one of the most well-known songs which is known for never leaving one’s mind after hearing it, he had to actually learn and practice the lyrics.
4. The characters Simba, Sarabi, Raifiki, and Pumbaa are all swahili words that represent the archetype for their characters.
Simba means lion, Sarabi means mirage, Raifiki means friend and Pumbaa means foolish.
5. The Leo the Lion star constellation is seen in the scene where Simba and Mufasa look at the stars.
Well, you would just look like the Broadway show if you attempted to dress for these, but go for it!
Or maybe you’d go for a more “Cats” look…
Or maybe you’d just be a Karen.
Film and Food and or Drink Pairing:
African dishes for the win!
Or you can opt for some Lion King themed dishes which are all over the internet. Here are some of my favorites: