Although Shakespeare isn’t formally introduced to most students until high school, kids have exposure to Shakespeare significantly earlier than they’re even aware of through watching Disney classics. Here’s a list of five Shakespeare references in Disney movies. For a list that explores Disney references to Shakespeare in deeper detail see Rogue Benjamin’s blog post.
Beauty And The Beast:
In one of my personal favourite Disney movies, there’s this great segment that’s about 30 seconds, where there’s a subtle reference to Romeo And Juliet. In that particular scene we learn that the Beast never learned how to read, so Belle decides to teach him. At the end of the scene she reads to him a passage from Romeo and Juliet and quotes the original play: “There was never a story of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World:
Not only is there a clever reference to Hamlet in this movie, but there’s also an actual appearance by Shakespeare himself. In the scene where Pocahontas makes her first appearance in London the townspeople sing “what a day in London” and the cartoon version of Shakespeare sings with them. While the townspeople are singing, a gravedigger pushes his cart as a skull rolls off the top of the cart, into Shakespeare’s hand. This sparks a moment of inspiration as he sings, with the skull still in his hands “what is to be or not to be” and writes on his parchment.
Toy Story 3:
Spoiler alert: at the end of the movie, the toys get together and stage a version of Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Prickle Pants plays Romeo and a Little Green Man plays Juliet. Mr. Prickle Pants and the little man perform an adorable rendition of the famous balcony scene. The hedgehog quotes “but soft what light through yonder window breaks” and the little green man replies: “Romeo Oh Romeo Wherefore Art Thou Romeo”.
Nightmare Before Christmas
In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington, while singing makes a subtle reference to the Hamlet gravedigger scene. He takes off his own head, while he sings “since I am dead I can take off my head to recite Shakespearean quotations.” This is a subtle reference to the scene where Hamlet holds up the skull and says, “alas I knew him poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow of most infinite jest of most excellent fancy.”
The Lion King:
The Lion King is the most well known Disney reference to Shakespeare, because the entire story is loosely based on Hamlet. Claudius (Scar) kills his brother, the King (Mufasa). Hamlet (Simba) is visited by the ghost of his father (Mufasa) and is lead astray by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Timon and Pumba). He eventually avenges for his father’s death. The storyline is similar although there’s one key difference in order to make it Disney and kid friendly: there are fewer deaths than the original Hamlet.
These are only a few of Disney’s references to Shakespeare but here’s a fun task: next time you watch a Disney movie, look out for subtle references to Shakespeare. These references are a feature of multiple Disney movies. What’s your favourite Shakespeare reference in Disney movies? Have you managed to spot any? Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences spotting Shakespeare references in Disney movies.