The Lowdown: Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s beloved 1994 classic The Lion King has undoubtedly divided fans and critics alike with its photorealistic, but ultimately lifeless, characters. Although the hand-drawn animation may have been thrown out the window, Disney recruited Hans Zimmer again to score the film, and Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs from the original return, which find new life from voices such as Beyoncé, Donald Glover, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Unlike its cinematic counterpart, The Lion King’s 2019 soundtrack succeeds on many levels.
The Good: The soundtrack opens with one of The Lion King’s most recognizable works, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama”. Although it is largely unchanged from the original soundtrack, it still holds up 25 years later and remains one of the most timeless pieces in Disney’s musical canon. Zimmer is also no stranger to crafting grandiose masterpieces for films, and his work for 2019’s The Lion King is no exception. Zimmer has updated the score with a more sleek, modern polish that resonates with ambition in longer pieces such as the climactic “Battle for Pride Rock” and the urgent “Stampede”. Each of his pieces speaks to the emotion they’re designed to elicit. For example, “Elephant Graveyard” truly feels eerie and foreboding while “Simba Is Alive!” rings hopeful and optimistic.
Aside from the score, fan favorites like “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata” are thoughtfully reimagined. When a clip of “Hakuna Matata” emerged after debuting on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, fans were severely disappointed with the dull, lackluster visuals. When you strip away the uninspiring renderings of the characters, however, Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, and Seth Rogen bring the track to life with an emotive and nostalgic performance. The best rendition, though, goes to Glover and Beyoncé’s duet on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. Beyoncé’s impeccable vocals soar as she demonstrates her impressive range and virtuosic skill. Although Glover’s voice isn’t as musically stunning on this track, it serves as a perfect complement to Beyoncé’s powerful timbre.
The Bad: There are very few moments when The Lion King falters in its soundtrack, but Elton John’s new song, “Never Too Late”, is largely forgettable. When it’s surrounded by his established classics, it fails to make itself noticeable. And although Beyoncé’s vocal performance on her original track, “Spirit”, is magnificent and breathtaking as expected, it doesn’t come across as one of her better songs. Rather, it’s a harmless pop song that’s more style than substance with generic lyrics, including lines such as “Rise up to the light in the sky” and “Watch the light lift your heart up.”
The Verdict: Whether The Lion King as a film is remembered as a brutal misstep or not, its soundtrack shall stand the test of time with Elton John and Tim Rice’s newly remade songs and Hans Zimmer’s spectacular original score. Hopefully, the film’s divisive nature doesn’t do its memorable soundtrack an injustice.
Essential Tracks: “Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama”, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, and “Stampede”