The Tragedy of the Lion King

Is THIS Your King???

The oversimplified definition of a “tragedy” in entertainment refers to any work that does not have a happy ending for a majority of the characters, including the hero. Back in the day, the master of telling these stories was none other than William “Mothafuckin” Shakespeare (experts say that was indeed his middle name). Shakespeare’s work is so influential that I don’t really need to give you a history lesson, odds are that anyone reading this is familiar with at least one or two of his tragedies from high school english classes. 

It is also a tragedy in entertainment when a classic story that was already told gets told again almost verbatim, invoking nostalgia and breaking the box office, and taking away attention from new stories that are the product of rigorous original work. So why do I bring this up?

My high school english teacher ruined The Lion King for me. Don’t get me wrong, he was amazing and is still one of the best teachers I’ve had in my lifetime, but man did he make The Lion King weird. When we were studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he guided my imagination to a world where the “Circle of Life” was instead a ring of sex, existentialism, madness, and death.

It is pretty common knowledge that The Lion King is based off of Hamlet. A dead king, a conflicted prince, a murderous uncle, exile, and revenge? Disney is remaking The Lion King!…by which I mean, quite literally just remaking it. Many reviews are criticizing the CGI update of the classic tale as essentially a copied & pasted version, in terms of both the story and major beats. Obviously I’m still going to see it for the same reason I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story despite bad reviews (the reason being Donald Glover), and because it’s still The Lion King, but it is somewhat of a bummer that there isn’t anything different about this updated version…right? I’m glad you agree.

Now I could sit here and write about my ideas to flesh out Scar’s backstory, or emphasize what Simba/Nala were doing between childhood and adulthood, or even go into the politics of Pride Rock and why Mufasa had a grip on the situation whereas Scar didn’t…but then I thought: “Why don’t I just repackage a classic story and market it as something different too?”

As my english teacher did in 2012, I have taken it upon myself as the people’s champion (as long as “the people” means a few strangers on the internet that have nothing better to read than soggzblogs…for which I adore you all very much) to provide an idea for an updated and different version of The Lion King. Since Disney has acquired all of Fox’s film assets, including the rated-R Deadpool franchise, and since they seem hellbent on running the entire film industry…let’s work in the space of a hypothetical reality where Disney’s The Lion King (2019) actually is the tragedy of Hamlet beat-for-beat. Not this lazy “oh well it’s based off of Hamlet” thing. No folks, today we shall pretend that instead of literally remaking their own version, Disney instead copied & pasted Shakespeare’s Hamlet itself into a CGI version of an African jungle with the characters we all know and love from 1994 (and some added soggzblogs garnish). We will do this in three steps: Emphasizing the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy, Matching every Hamlet character to a Lion King counterpart, and finally summarizing the story (leaving the reader’s wild imagination to burn the imagery of things like lion-incest in their head). Let us begin:

THE ELEMENTS OF A SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGEDY

  1. Tragic Hero – Pretty self-explanatory, Hamlet is pretty flawed and it almost feels like he’s cursed. He’s never happy and is also not going to be alive at the end.
  2. Struggle Between Good and Evil – This one is also obvious. Even if the character’s actions are morally grey, you’re still pretty aware of where Hamlet and Claudius are coming from.
  3. Hamartia – This refers to the fatal character flaw of the hero. For Hamlet, it was his indecisiveness that left him too paralyzed to act. Even if literally no one said literally anything, Hamlet was still out there pressing “X” to doubt.
  4. Tragic Waste – Good, neutral, and evil characters alike all die. A lot of them.
  5. External Conflict – There is all of the craziness with Claudius, and there is still some other external conflict that Hamlet has to deal with. At one point when I was reading this in high school, I think I said “Denmark be fucked, yo” to my friends out loud in class.
  6. Internal Conflict – Hamlet just can’t figure out how to overcome his hamartia, but he tries and there comes the internal conflict. You feel bad for him for sure, but hey it makes for some beautiful soliloquies that you get to perform for your theater class final.
  7. Catharsis – Audiences should have an emotional connection to the story via empathizing with the characters. 
  8. Supernatural Elements – There needs to be some form of magic, usually portrayed via witches or ghosts. 
  9. Lack of Poetic Justice – Shakespearean tragedies aren’t as simple as “good guy wins”. Again, things end badly for everyone.
  10. Comic Relief – While you’re over here immersed in all of the juicy drama and the constant crisis and conflict…you get to enjoy a few laughs! 

THE CHARACTERS

  1. Hamlet = Simba: This one is obvious, our main protagonist and Crown Prince of Denmark Pride Rock. What’s changing here is that we’re not getting goofy, lovable, and adorkable Simba anymore. This is a tragedy, Simba will be pulling a Hamlet and basically overthinking himself to death.
  2. Ophelia = Nala: The female lead, easy. Although it should be noted that Ophelia is more timid and less of a “get your shit together” presence for the hero, so I have to apologize to Nala fans in this hypothetical.
  3. Claudius = Scar: Another easy one, our main antagonist who has taken the throne of Pride Rock due to his alleged murder of King Mufasa. Scar himself was a total dick, but Claudius genuinely did show some semblance of compassion & potential guilt. Granted, he was also known for being a huge horn-dog…horn…cat? I’ll figure it out.
  4. Gertrude = Sarabi: The Queen of Pride Rock formerly married to King Mufasa, now married to Scar. Sarabi didn’t really get much to do in the Disney story except basic “mom things”, but Gertrude is an interesting character herself. We’re gonna have fun with this one! Well not too much fun, because #tragedy
  5. Polonius = Zira: Okay so here is where I have to start getting a bit weird. Polonius is Ophelia’s father and a pompous old douche who is the Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’ Court. In nature itself a pride of lions tends to have only one male, and if there is another then that means competition. Scar killed Mufasa for that “alpha-male” title, and Simba is younger and is still on the come-up, so it really doesn’t make sense for another old male Lion to be in the picture because he would’ve either been king or been killed (infanticide itself is pretty common among male lions). THEN I remembered in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, the antagonist Zira was this crazy lady that worshiped the ground Scar walked on and tried to take back Pride Rock in Scar’s name…so that makes the most sense? This does, however, mean that we have to retcon Nala into being Zira’s daughter.***

    ***Biologically speaking, male lions usually tend to mate with multiple females in the pride. So Zira’s kids have to come from somewhere, right? We’re assuming Mufasa was a right proper lad (faithful to Sarabi) and it is established that Scar has quite the sexual appetite. While not outwardly mentioned, in THIS version it will be implied that Nala might be Scar’s daughter (through subtlety in interactions between Scar and Zira)…making Nala and Simba cousins. If Disney is so obsessed with live action realism that these CGI lions can’t show emotion when they sing or talk, then I feel like they have to respect the actual behavior of lions in nature! Plus, we’ve all seen blood-related-lions bang in live action anyway, they just had the last name “Lannister” (I’ll be here all week).
  6. Horatio = Zazu: A loyal friend and political ally to the Prince that follows him around giving him advice that he won’t listen to? Yeah, Zazu’s got big Horatio energy.
  7. Laertes = Kovu: Remember this guy, again from the sequel that people apparently forgot? Well he’s the only character in the canon that fits the bill of a younger male rival for Simba to have a fight with at the end. Plus, he actually is Zira’s son (and looks enough like Scar to be his son too) so that makes sense, which also retcons him into being Nala’s brother. Look, no one gives enough of a shit about the sequel to care anyway (I mean I personally liked it, but you know how it goes).
  8. Fortinbras = Shere Khan: I can explain. Fortinbras is basically the leader of another Kingdom (Norway) that’s making his way over to Denmark to conquer it. If we have to keep it within Disney and go with the fact that “king of the jungle” goes to an animal of the feline variety…we can substitute Norway with the Indian Jungle that The Jungle Book took place in, and install this scary ass tiger as the leader there. If you’re wondering how a tiger is going to make his way from India to Africa…I am too and I have no answer for it, so just insert some Disney magic here (for the record, The Jungle Book is still my favorite Disney live-action remake).
  9. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern = Timon & Pumba: Two dingbats that follow the hero around? Duh. It is implied that they are old friends with Hamlet, but they’re tasked by Claudius to spy on Hamlet so we’re rolling with that here as well.
  10. The Ghost = Mufasa: Dead father of the hero that appears in a supernatural fashion.

THE STORY (AKA DOING MY BEST TO SUMMARIZE A COMPLICATED WORK OF ART)

We open on a dark night in an African jungle, with a scene of two elephants keeping watch as guardsmen for the king. They’re having a small conversation about the threat of an attack on Pride Rock by the vicious Shere Khan, before they are alerted to the presence of an intruder. They discover this trespasser to be none other than a ghost that strongly resembles their late King Mufasa. Zazu arrives on the scene, who then goes off to find the Prince Simba (a grown lion, no cute cubs in this one). The ghost speaks to Simba and confirms that he is indeed Mufasa, and that he was murdered by Simba’s uncle Scar who now sits on the throne and is married to Simba’s mother Sarabi. After a heavy conversation, Mufasa orders Simba to take the throne back from the usurper and then disappears. 

Simba agrees to do this, but because he’s naturally contemplative and the whole deal is a bit overwhelming, he instead starts saying and doing some really weird shit. This should feel like Simba is pondering if he should quickly accept what the ghost said and act decisively against Scar out of duty, or if he has free will to do this his own way, or if he shouldn’t do it at all. He takes this idea even further when he starts to question if anything that anyone ever does even has any meaning. This puts our hero in the position of him being unhappy, his family in shambles, and also Shere Khan is on his way to fuck shit up. Zazu voices concern as Simba decides he’s going to delay his revenge, but Simba’s going to do it anyway and wants to screw with everyone in the process.

Rumors start to spread across Pride Rock that the Prince has gone mad. Worried about her son, Sarabi brings these concerns to her new husband. This leads Scar to send Timon and Pumba to hang out with Simba more often and keep an eye on him (making for some comedic moments). Zira arrogantly starts to claim that Simba’s madness stems from him being madly in love with her daughter Nala, but we also see that Simba’s been making subtle jokes at Zira’s expense when he talks to her. At this point, Simba’s craziness is incorrigible. Scar himself is concerned and decides that he himself would pay extra attention to Simba and Nala’s conversations in the future. When we get there, Simba seemingly definitely seems out of his mind, but gives Scar some concrete evidence that he isn’t in love with Nala, going as far as to being a misogynistic jerk to her in conversation. Nala is heartbroken, Scar is kind of scared, and Zazu is worried about Simba as he decides on some rather dramatic steps to get evidence of Scar’s crime.

Simba employs a group of monkeys (led by Rafiki, because Rafiki is awesome and I have to put him somewhere fun) that are famous for putting on grand performances throughout the jungle, and he essentially stages a play in front of all of Pride Rock that somewhat resembles how he imagines Scar’s murder of Mufasa. He does this to test if Scar feels any sort of remorse and has any reaction to what is being played out in front of him. When the actual murder scene happens, Scar leaves the scene, giving Simba and Zazu some sort of confirmation that Scar is guilty. Zazu advises this is the time to attack Scar, but Simba instead goes to confront his mother because he’s overthinking it again. After Simba confronts Sarabi about this and starts going crazy in the conversation, accusing Sarabi of co-conspiring with Scar to kill Mufasa, he hears something moving behind him. He believes this to be Scar and immediately attacks to kill…which makes it awkward when it turns out to be Zira. It is now incredibly confusing if Simba is still screwing with people, or if he’s actually insane. It’s also confusing if Scar/Sarabi are trying to calm Simba down because they’re guilty of what he’s accusing them of, or because they’re concerned about his insanity and the danger that comes with it.

For his “accidental” murder of Zira, Scar exiles Simba with Timon and Pumba (also giving those two secret orders to kill Simba). In the aftermath of Zira’s death, Nala is overwhelmed with grief and her brother Kovu returns to Pride Rock (pissed off as all hell). Word eventually reaches Scar that Simba has returned, claiming that hyenas attacked his party and that Timon and Pumba are dead (which is also unclear because there’s a possibility Simba knew of their secret and killed them himself). In an attempt to get rid of Simba, Scar prompts Kovu to kill Simba when he has the chance. These feelings are amplified when Simba arrives at Nala’s funeral (its implied that she took her own life, because #tragedy) and Kovu accuses him of being the cause of Nala’s death in front of everyone. Simba attacks Kovu in a rage claiming that he always loved Nala, and that Scar is responsible for everything wrong as of late.

The fighting breaks out and it is an absolute riot between animals loyal to Simba (moreso Mufasa, really) versus those loyal to Scar. Kovu is more of a fighter and fatally wounds Simba, but in the madness Sarabi is killed, making Simba angry enough to overwhelm and kill Kovu. Simba goes straight at Scar and finally murders him, and before we can actually get some closure on the ambiguity of all of Simba’s words and actions…he dies, tasking Zazu to tell his story. Shere Khan shows up to a horrifying bloodbath of a scene, and we fade out slowly after we see that  Zazu has started telling Shere Khan the story of Simba.

It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? THIS is the version Disney doesn’t have the balls to release! Why change or do anything else when your movie already sells, right? They can repackage their stories and keep giving us movies that we don’t need but will pay for anyway, and they most likely will!

In the process, however, let it be known…THAT SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF HOLLYWOOD.