Thursday, November 21, 2013

Disney's Debt to Shakespeare

Today's Notes from the Ivory Tower are being pulled from Shakespeare and tossed into a shaker with Disney. That's right: Disney made Hamlet with Lions and Romeo and Juliet with Lions.

People at large are pretty comfortable with The Lion King as the comedic, Disney version of Hamlet. So comfortable, in fact, that we have images like this:

Yes, the Lion King is Hamlet and The Avengers and The British Monarchy. We got it, internet. That'll do.

What we don't got, as a general rule, is that this
is actually Romeo and Juliet. With Lions.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In the fair Pride Lands, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where lion blood makes lion paws unclean.
From forth the fatal lions of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their marriage bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their comedy-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but one of their end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

 In the same way The Lion King looks like Hamlet, we have the Lion King 2. If this were a Disney adaptation checklist, they have indeed hit all the main points.
1. Feuding Families?
In one corner we have the Pridelanders! Or rather, Capulets- Simba is daddy Capulet, Nala is mommy Capulet, and miss Kiara is Juliet. In the other corner, we have The Outlanders! -er, Montagues. Daddy Montague was eaten by Hyenas in the last movie, but mama Montague has a grudge to settle, and Romeo got rechristened as Kovu.
Feuding families? Check. Also, one of the great Disney Villain songs:
2. Star Crossed Lovers?
Scar's son and Simba's daughter. If I really need to explain this one, then you really need to revisit your childhood.
Star Crossed Lovers? Check.
3./4. Totally Creepy Pseudo-Suitor?/ Best Friend who dies?
Shakespeare gives us Tybalt, who is actually Juliet's cousin, and Tybalt is who Juliet's parents try to set her up with. Since this isn't Aladdin, Simba isn't actually trying to marry his little girl off. In a weird inversion/mixation with Mercutio, Disney gives us Nuka. Nuka is actually Kovu's brother, and he is such a screwball creep... well, I'll let this clip do the talking:
Aaaaaaand in case you thought Disney forgot the "who dies" part of the Best Friend role, well:
Ok, I apologize; this is actually in Croation. Apparently YouTube doesn't have this scene in English, but I think it's pretty clear from the video: Nuka dies via being crushed to death by dead trees, which, for Dinsey, is actually not too gruesome.
Totally Creepy Pseudo-Suitor?/ Best Friend who dies?
5. Moment of Death?
A huge part of the R&J story is the scene where Romeo discovers Juliet dead and kills himself. Obviously this is Disney, so we get one scene where Kovu finds an unconscious Kiara in the middle of a burning field. Way to sanitize that for the kids, Disney. Kovu then pulls her out of the burning field, but there's a moment where it looks like he might open her throat, and the original plan was to let her burn to death. What on EARTH did my parents let me watch??
Moment of 'Death'?
So, overall, Disney owes a tremendous debt to Shakespeare in terms of story outline. Obviously they don't match up exactly- Disney was making children's films, not tragic murder-fest flicks. But the uncanny resemblances are highly reminiscent of Shakespeare's own habit of borrowing and adapting plot devices (Read: blatantly stealing other people's work).
Hopefully you've enjoyed these Notes from the Ivory Tower! We have no idea what we'll be doing next, but it should be entertaining.
Honorable Mention:
Disney didn't JUST steal from Shakespeare... they can be judgmental and sliiiiiiiiiiiightly classist/racist all on their own. Which is why THIS SONG exists:
Thank you Disney.

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