In “Mere Anachrony,”–the title of which is derived from a play on words of this–we review non-contemporary works of culture.
From its opening scene of a yellow incandescent sun crawling above a reddening horizon to its thematically circular culmination, The Lion King tries hard to emerge from the mold of other Disney animated films. Released in 1994, it is, in my cursory memory, the only Disney film that does not center on romance. Instead, it’s a leonine take on Hamlet, complete with regal ghosts and recalcitrant brothers.
The Lion King is decidedly dark; of course, all Disney films when viewed retrospectively feel this way. But what separates The Lion King from the Disney canon—and indeed, from its Shakespearean source material—is the depth of characterization it lends its villain. Scar, voiced fantastically by Jeremy Irons, is a deeper and more complex villain than Disney colleagues such as Jafar or Ursula; surprisingly, the same can be said when we compare him to Shakespeare’s Claudius. Hamlet lends precious little time to Claudius, who is nothing more than a foil against which Hamlet can brood (it is notable that we see Claudius essentially through the eyes of Hamlet and his dead father). Claudius is a perpetrator of regicide/fratricide, and yet we are given no stark motivation for this (beyond the implied “Hey, I want to be king!”). We see none of his interaction with Hamlet’s father (himself barely characterized). Plus, Claudius isn’t even clever about the murder: He poisons the king in the garden, then marries his widow two weeks later. Who wouldn’t be suspicious? There is no possible way to root for Claudius.