On Friday, I watched nine TED talks and on Saturday I helped at CollegeCon. I don’t have the time to deconstruct everything I learned from working for CollegeCon, so I’ll just leave you with a satirical analysis of Hamlet.
A Scholarly Juxtaposition of Hamlet and the Lion King: Soundtrack Analysis
The Lion King. Released at the height of the Disney Renaissance, this film wowed audiences like no other animated cinematic masterpiece had. The story of Mufasa’s tragic death, Scar’s usurpation of the throne, and Simba’s return and reclamation of his rightful place of rule resonated with young and old alike. However, what many filmgoers did not realize (or maybe they did, I wasn’t alive in 1994, so I couldn’t tell you) was that The Lion King had been loved by people for centuries before it debuted on the silver screen. In fact, even before William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was performed, people were familiar with the tale of a treacherous uncle, enraged son, and semi-clueless queen. This didn’t seem to bother anyone in Shakespeare’s time or in the late 20th century. Are there really parallels to the two works of art? How are they similar and how are they different?
The original motion picture soundtrack of The Lion King is very well known. Songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” are pillars that hold up the Disney Vault. “The Circle of Life” is one of the most iconic movie openings in animated film history, despite the fact that no one knows if the lyrics are made up words or not. The music of The Lion King is just as famous—or perhaps more so—than the story itself. What many viewers don’t notice is the film score (the instrumental pieces), and how it reflects not only The Lion King but the story of Hamlet.
Throughout the soundtrack, namely in the “This Land,” and “King of Pride Rock,” there is a recurring motif involving traditional African instrumentals and vocals. Though this motif sounds foreign in many parts, there is a common thread of emphasis on repeating themes from the song, “The Circle of Life.” This accurately reflects the structure of Hamlet, namely in the common theme of Hamlet’s obsession with and contemplation of death. At first glance, “The Circle of Life” seems to be the opposite of what Hamlet is fixated on during play. However, the piece has more to do with Hamlet than would be assumed.
It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life
This excerpt reflects the overall theme of the song: the circle of life is wonderful. Happiness. Joy. Animals. Yay. Though the song is in a major key and has a generally positive message, it closely reflects Hamlet’s thought process in the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy. (Plus, it’s a film for kids, and Disney isn’t in the business to traumatize children intentionally, they’re in the business to get them hooked on animated movies and cripple them financially as adults) Hamlet contemplates life and what lies beyond the mystery of death. Throughout the play, he is being driven through despair and hope, faith and love. He never finds his place, though he does look awfully hard. The soliloquy reflects his understanding that the circle of life moves us all, and because of that, he decides not to take his own life. I guess he just wanted to let the circle do it for him. The recurring “Circle of Life” motif reflects the recurring theme of life and death found in the play.
One of the more intense pieces in the score is “To Die For.” (That’s what the song is called. It’s really good, but it’s not that good…chill) In The Lion King, this piece is played when Scar kills Mufasa (spoiler, sorry) and Simba looks on in disbelief at his dead dad. Though there is a similarity between Hamlet and The Lion King in the fact that the main character’s uncle kills his own brother, “To Die For” fits much better in Act V, scene ii. With a descending progression from fortissimo and heavily accented deliveries to a mournful and legato performance, this piece accurately reflects the final scene where every main character but Horatio decides to die. It captures the intensity of the duel and ends with tender notes between Hamlet and Horatio when Hamlet tells him to share the tale of woe.
Of course, right before Hamlet kills Claudius, he would stop everything and sing “Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog. Then, he would kill Claudius and lie down to die, in which Ophelia would pop out from behind somewhere, declare her love for him, and he would begin to be transformed from a beast into a man. Wait, wrong story. Moving on.
The comparisons between Hamlet and The Lion King are—like the deaths of soldiers in ancient wars—too great to be numbered, particularly in regards to the original motion picture soundtrack. The song, “Be Prepared” could be read as a parallel to Claudius confiding his plan to Polonius, who is generally clueless about life. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” is not a love song between two characters, but is obviously a schizophrenic tune sung by two voices in Hamlet’s head, aligning with his strangely narcissistic tendencies.
When it is all said and done, Hamlet really should have just let it go. He should have looked in a mirror and seen his reflection for who he was. Then again, he could have gotten down to business if he simply acted swift as a coursing river and strong as a typhoon (those are very well known Danish analogies, I’ll have you know). As the audience, all we can do is shake our heads and proclaim, “I won’t say I’m in love with this play,” even though there are parts that grab our interest. As students, all we really need to know are the bare necessities of the play in order to pass, so we shouldn’t really worry. A problem-free philosophy for the rest of our days will probably be just fine. Or not.