I once wrote a paper for English class comparing Disney's "The Lion King" to Shakespeare's Hamlet. "The Lion King" is loosely based on Hamlet, and this raises the question - how do you take a Shakespearean tragedy and turn it into something that is suitable for children? Using these simple guidelines, you'll have your Shakespearean-inspired children's movie going in no time.

This phenomenon is by no means unique to Shakespeare. See also: Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid.


Note: Yes, "disneyfy" is a real word. At least, it is according to Dictionary.com. Okay, maybe that's not saying much..

  • Replace the human characters with talking animals, preferably cute ones. The animals should have some superficially animalistic mannerisms, for example, they can roar occasionally or pounce on things, but they should be essentially human in their behavior. Having fluffy animals for characters serves a double purpose: people tend to like cute fuzzy things, ensuring that they will like the characters that they are supposed to like and instinctively dislike the "bad characters" (since they are somewhat less cute and fuzzy). Additionally, watching animals rather than humans on screen creates a certain safe distance between the story and the viewers, while still allowing the viewers enough identification with the plot to be able to understand and appreciate the morals of the story.



  • Turn up the contrast. Part of what made Shakespeare such an excellent playwright that his plays are still being performed and enjoyed hundreds of years after his death was his ability to create "real" characters. These characters cannot be defined as good or bad, but rather as complex personalities who behave the way that they do due to the complex circumstances in which they are involved. Obviously, this is too abstract a concept for an animated kids' movie. Make the good characters angelically virtuous and make sure that the bad characters possess and exhibit every negative trait you can think of. The hero's faults should be entirely forgivable, a result of being "too good" (think gullibility, naivety), and wanting to believe the best of others. No "tragic flaws" here. The hero's cute little weaknesses, such as they are, are overcome as part of the happy ending, rather than leading to his and others' downfall. This insures that your audience will identify fully with the side of the story that you want them to see, without getting distracted by minor things like the other side's viewpoint. After all, why would anyone want to think for themselves when they can be spoon fed?


  • What do you mean, everybody dies? As the name would suggest, tragedies don't end well. Generally speaking, most of the characters die in a way that is, predictably enough, "tragic". But hey, no one likes a sad ending, right? Make sure that no one dies in the end, apart from the evil characters, or minor ones that weren't very important to begin with. The concept of innocent people dying for no reason is pretty heavy for most people, so you should cut that sort of thing out. If killing a good character is an uncompromisable plot point (such as Mufasa dying in "The Lion King"), make sure that in the end, we see his or her smiling ghost, looking on happily as "the circle of life" is restored. No matter how the tragedy you are adapting ended, change it so that the hero, having triumphed over evil, finds true love, peace and prosperity and lives happily ever after.


Maybe Shakespearean tragedy isn't meant to be child-friendly. Just a thought.

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