Ever since I have read Othello in college and Hamlet last year to teach my 9th graders, I have wanted to do a post on Lion King, especially to talk about the character of Scar and how is not like Claudius, but more like Iago…but I’ll get to that soon. Christian morals and beliefs are also majorily threaded through this movie. So, I’ll focus on the Christian and Shakespearean influences of this film.
The Circle of Life
This is the very beginning scene of Lion King. Mufasa, the leader of the pride has just beget a son–probably his first born, as you never really see any other cubs besides Nala. But, with this beginning song, you can definitely tell the Christian overtones in this movie. It could very well be taken on a naturalistic view point, “some say eat or be eaten”, and Mufasa even teaches it to Simba: “the antelope eat the grass, we eat the antelope, and when we die, we become the grass.” But, it could also be meaning the Great Plan our Father in Heaven has for us, the Plan of Salvation.
Directly after the opening scene and the title, we see Scar for the first time. Already, we can see him as a very sarcastic, spiteful, discontented younger brother of the King, just as Claudius was in Hamlet. We can visibly see Scar’s disdain for his brother. He also warns Mufasa not to turn his back on him and says he wouldn’t physically ever challenge Mufasa.
Some Christian undertones begin when Mufasa takes Simba out to pride rock in the morning. He tells Simba that everything the light touches is their kingdom, and where the shadow is, is the badlands and to never go there. Well, obviously that could represent Our Father’s kingdom (think of the scripture: “Ye are the light of the world.”). Typically light represents God and shadow typically represents Satan and his following. So, in the movie, Mufasa is warning Simba never to go to the outlands where the hyenas and other bad animals live. But, to us Christians, it is God warning us to stay in His light and not stray out of His sight.
Simba likes his uncle Scar, and Scar plays along. Fact #1 that Scar is more like Othello’s Iago than Hamlet’s Claudius: he uses reverse psychology to trick Simba into going to the Elephant Graveyard in the outlands. Simba then gets his half-sister/cousin/best-friend Nala to go with him, but they have to trick Zazu to not babysit them. Before, Zazu mentions to them that they are betrothed. Thus, if this is Hamlet, and Simba, being the protagonist, is Hamlet, than Nala is Ophelia. Wait, does that mean Zazu, even though not Nala’s father, but being the king’s advisor, is Polonius, as he is always tyring to tell them how to act? I think so!
I Just Can’t Wait To Be King
They are disgusted with this notion (they’re kids, after all). Simba mentions that tradition will be the first to go when he is king. Zazu says no. Nala mentions that Simba is future king. Simba then says that means Zazu has to listen to what he says. Here we see some similarity between Simba’s pride adn Hamlet’s pride! Zazu then says, “And with an attitude like that, I’m afraid you’re shaping up to be a pretty pathetic king indeed.” Here is Polonius’s disapproval for Hamlet! This whole song has Simba/Hamlet’s pride. It’s also a fun, catchy song. =)
Simba and Nala are able to ditch Zazu and get to the Elephant Graveyard. There, they are chased by 3 hyenas. When they are cornered by the 3 hyenas (or evil spirits, influences), Mufasa rescues them. This could be like God rescuing us from evil or even the Atonement doing it’s work–being “rescued” from sin. After walking the kids home, Mufasa keeps Simba aside. Simba steps into Mufasa’s paw print, which is significantly larger than his own. He has big shoes to fill to be like his father, just as we try to be perfect like Christ and Heavenly Father. We have big shoes that are impossible to fill. During the lecture, Mufasa mentions that he is disappointed, not mad. Heavenly Father is disappointed when we don’t live as we should, but he doesn’t hate us. There is also a lesson about being scared, brave, and reckless. After they make up, Mufasa says, “Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars. So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you … And so will I.” Seriously big Christian undertone there! Heavenly Father and his angels are there to guide us. If we pray, we can get advice and comfort from them!
This is Scar’s evil plan song, all the evidence in the world that he is Iago and not Claudius. Before Hamlet even begins, Claudius had slowly poisoned his brother to death so that he could have Queen Gertrude and the throne. Iago was insulted in a way by his general, the Moor, Othello. He wanted revenge and used others to get it, as well as cunning, trickery, and slyness. There are many scenes in which we see Iago monologue-ing his plan to the audience and putting it into action through others. Scar uses hyenas. He also feels the hyenas are dumb; Iago didn’t think highly of his cohorts as well and saw them as pawns to be played.
The next scene is the saddest in the world. Scar brings Simba down to the ravine, claiming there is a surprise for him and his dad, then leaves him to get Mufasa. The hyenas start a stampede of antelope. Scar warns Mufasa that this is happening and Simba is in danger. Mufasa comes to rescue his son, and once he is in safety, Scar kills Mufasa while Simba watches. This could be seen as our Savior being crucified to save us. Simba is so distraught, and with Scar in whispering in his ear, Simba believes that he is to blame for the death and runs away. This could be seen as us believing there is no repentance for our sins.
Now this is where the play, Hamlet, starts…it has been a few months since the death of his father, and Hamlet’s mother has already married his uncle, her brother-in-law, thus allowing him to be King. Hamlet doesn’t run away until later in the play. While Simba has run off, Scar tells the news that Mufasa and Simba have both been killed in a stampede and thus he is king and starting a new era of lion and hyena. But, his reign quickly turns the kingdom to rot as the hyenas are allowed to roam free and become hunters rather than scavengers. Thus, the Circle of Life is disrupted and vegetation and food disappear.
Simba is found by Timon and Pumbaa. They don’t have any matches, really in Hamlet, unless you want to compare them to Hamlet’s friends, but in the play, they help Gertrude and Claudius more than Hamlet, so I don’t like that comparison. Simba’s time living with these two could be comparable to Hamlet’s leave of Denmark and partial journey to England, but it’s a stretch.
Timon and Pumbaa teach Simba two simple words: Hakuna Matata–no worries. Think on the positive side, live life to it’s fullest, be happy with who you are.
One of my favorite scenes is a quick one with Rafiki, who symbolizes a prophet (no Hamlet comparisons). A breeze of wind and magical leaves (a motif in Disney movies) come and Rafiki has a revelation that Simba is alive and leaves to go find him.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
Nala left Pride Rock in search of help…Ophelia never did–she instead helped Polonius, Gertrude, and Claudius see if there was something wrong with Hamlet. But, she ends up hunting Pumbaa and eventually reunites with Simba. She’s excited and wants to let everyone know because that would mean Simba is king, not Scar. Simba, though, still believing he killed his father, doesn’t feel worthy, and says he’s not king. This could be like Hamlet’s depression of his father’s death. Even after Hamlet learned that his uncle killed his father, he was still in such a depression (like the “To Be Or Not To Be” monologue) and wondered if life was worth living or revenge was worth living for. Most of the play is Hamlet in this undecided, depressed mood.
This song is mainly just a love song, as Simba and Nala have a much happier end than Hamlet and Ophelia (spoiler, they both die). Also, Disney movies need to have a love song in them! Simba has some thoughts in this song, afraid to tell Nala the truth. Hamlet won’t let Ophelia in on why he’s acting the way he is and the knowledge he has, which eventually leads Ophelia mad. Nala knows there is something up, but can’t get Simba to tell her, just like Ophelia. Right after the end of the song, Simba says he wants to stay and doesn’t want to be king, whereas Nala tells him it is his responsibility. They fight and storm off. Again, this is like the on-and-off relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia.
The Mufasa Ghost Scene
Seriously!?! If you are a Christian, do you need the metaphorical, allegorical explanation of this scene? You are the Child of Christ, He lives, He lives in you and you in Him, you can always repent and get back on the straight and narrow path. CHRISTIAN UNDERTONES!!!!!
And, on a Hamlet undertone, this scene (well, just the ghost part) would have been on the of the very first scenes. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, who lets him know that Claudius killed him and Hamlet needs to remember who he is and get revenge.
Simba decides to return to Pride Rock to right his wrongs (wrestle with his sins, past, and inner demons) to take his rightful place on the throne (in God’s kingdom). Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa help him get back to Pride Rock. Hamlet didn’t have any one help (except for some actors whose play was a similitude of Claudius’s seducement of Gertrude and murder of the King).
The Last Scenes
Now, when Simba confronts Scar, Scar still tries to use slyness, cunning, and reverse psychology on Simba, Nala, and the rest of the pride. Well, in Hamlet, after Claudius sees the play, he feels super guilty about murdering his brother and is repentant. Scar never apologizes. Thus, another reason I believe Scar is more like Iago than Claudius. Scar does physically battle Simba. In the play, Claudius has the late Ophelia’s (she drowned herself) revenge-seeking brother duel Hamlet for him. In very Shakespearean ways, everyone ends up poisoning each other either by drink, or tipped sword. So, Hamlet doesn’t win. But, Simba confronts Scar, allows his past to strengthen him and defeats Scar. Scar is thrown down over Pride Rock, to where a lightening strike has started a fire and the hyenas are fighting. I believe this is symbolic of hell…fire and “demons” ready to devour you.
Rain starts, the pride looks to Simba, and Rafiki leads him to the top. There is ceremonial roaring, then the movie ends as it began–the Circle of Life. Simba is King, Nala is his wife, and they have just given birth. The Circle of Life continues, repentance works, and God (Mufasa) looks down on us all, proud.
So, there you have it. Lion King is a Christian interpretation of Hamlet!
Sometime, I will do Lion King 2, which continues the Christian beliefs!
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What did you think of Lion King? Why did you like it? How else do you think it has Christian undertones?