Disney’s latest remake of the highly revered animated classic The Lion King has been receiving mixed reviews from critics, but it still has the opportunity to dazzle the general public worldwide. With the new Lion King soundtrack having recently released, there is a lot to dissect from it. Hans Zimmer’s remake of the classic score is the highlight for me personally, and whilst the film’s popular songs are clearly remade with love for the original, some of the musical numbers don’t reach the heights of the 1994 classics.
Whilst I can say that some of these songs are a bit of a disappointment, I wouldn’t say that I actively dislike them, so bear in mind I’m probably being a little finicky.
#3 Most Disappointing: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”
Before you all start attempting to track me down with pitchforks in tow, hear me out first: I do not dislike the 2019 version. The instrumentals are beautiful, Beyoncé is fierce, Donald Glover is perfect as Simba, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are charming iterations of Timon and Pumbaa. That being said, I did feel somewhat disappointed with this version due to it feeling like a Beyoncé platform rather than the soulful duet between Simba and Nala that I was expecting. Glover is also completely overpowered by Beyoncé’s vocals; even in their solo moments, Simba seems quieter, whilst Nala’s voice is booming in every moment of the song. This is a real shame as Donald Glover has an incredible voice and he really should have been on level pegging with Beyoncé, despite her star power. After all, it’s not as if Glover is a modest actor and singer, as he has received global stardom under his artist pseudonym of Childish Gambino, as well as his acting work on Community and Solo: A Star Wars Story as a young Lando Calrissian.
Beyoncé certainly goes all out on the vocal work, and she is sounding stellar as usual. However, as amazing as she sounds, you can’t help but feel like this is her song, and her song alone. She gets her own number in the new original song “Spirit,” where she has plenty of opportunity to display her talents, so I just feel that “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was a chance to showcase Simba and Nala’s growing affection through a song that equally showed off the artists talents. However, the end result is mostly Beyonce, and very little of Glover.
#3 Best: “Hakuna Matata”
The critics who have released their reviews on The Lion King have mostly agreed on one thing: that Timon and Pumbaa steal the show and inject a much-needed burst of energy into the film’s proceedings. This is undoubtedly the case when listening to “Hakuna Matata,” one of the most famous Disney songs on the Lion Kingsoundtrack. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella brought a special partnership that warmed the audiences’ hearts to the characters and the song in the 1994 version, but Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen also manage to capture everything that was charming and dynamic about the meerkat and warthog duo, whilst introducing a playful originality to them. There is something hilariously endearing about hearing Seth Rogen’s attempts to hold a tune. Singing is clearly not one of his strengths, but he plays it well, and it somehow manages to fit Pumbaa’s character. Eichner, on the other hand, has a surprisingly fantastic set of pipes, which works amazing well with Rogen’s.
The funniest part of the song is the infamous line wherein Pumbaa discusses how he felt downhearted every time that he…passed wind. In the original film, Timon stops Pumbaa before he can use the phrase in front of the children (both baby Simba and the audience), but here Timon does not intervene, as Pumbaa announces his farting habits to the world. Pumbaa queries as to whether Timon is going to stop him, and Timon simply responds with, “No I’m not. You disgust me.” I must admit, I laughed out loud when I first heard it. Eichner’s delivery and his banter with Rogen is a great way to change up the song from the original. The audience has grown since the original film, and we are all now old enough to hear the word “fart” without having a meltdown. (Well, most of us are anyway.) JD McCrary and Donald Glover’s role as Simba in the song is also brilliant, as both of them are hugely talented singers who manage to capture the spirit of Simba perfectly, both younger and older.
#2 Most Disappointing: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
With that being said, the inclusion of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” sung by Eichner and Rogen, seems a little bit unnecessary to me. It is a funny scene in the original film, with the two wandering in the jungle singing the song to themselves, and it will probably make for amusing viewing in this remake too, but I don’t see why it had to be put in the Lion King soundtrack. Again, Eichner’s vocals are great, but Rogen does very little here. There are also hints of fart noises in the song as well, which makes it feel all the more obsolete.
There are some really amazing songs throughout the franchise, such as those from the Broadway show and the second movie, so I don’t see why one of those songs couldn’t have made it onto the soundtrack instead of this. “He Lives in You,” which was in both The Lion King 2 and the musical adaptation, managed to make its way onto the 2019 soundtrack, and it works incredibly well. I just wish that one of the other great songs could have been brought here instead. Like I said at the start, I’m being finicky about this, as well as a little bit mean, but it really does feel like an unnecessary addition to pad out the length of the soundtrack. With the wide range of possibilities for additional music, I can’t help but feel like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is one of the more superfluous songs on the album.
#2 Best: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”
One of my all-time favourite Disney songs has to be “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” so I couldn’t help but scrutinise the 2019 version after I first heard it. I found myself pleasantly surprised. Jason Weaver and Laura Williams sang the original fantastically, managing to nail the song performance-wise, whilst also keeping in line with the characters of Simba and Nala, respectively. This was sure to be a difficult act to follow, but JD McCrary and Shahdi Wright-Joseph pay respect to their predecessors whilst bringing a fresh sound to the classic song. John Oliver doesn’t quite hit the mark when it comes to the dry British wit of Zazu as well as Rowan Atkinson did, but he does a great job nonetheless, and his inclusion is still a nice touch of humor.
The song is slightly longer than the original as well, adding more of an interlude made up of tribal drums that lay out an adventurous beat that further enforces the idea of two mischievous lion cubs running through the pride lands. Nala gets more to do this time around too, as the song takes cues from the Broadway musical, which gave some of Simba’s singing lines to Nala and added in some riffing to jazz up her part in the song. This is great to hear, as it gives Shahdi Wright-Joseph the chance to bring some brightness to the character with her incredible singing talent. The 2019 version is cheerful, energetic, and brings the young talent of the film into the spotlight that they deserve, so I definitely consider it as one of the best on the Lion King soundtrack.
#1 Most Disappointing: “Be Prepared”
Many months ago, when The Lion King was still in development, rumors started coming to the fore that the fan-favourite song “Be Prepared” (featuring the film’s villain, Scar) would be cut from the remake. Closer to the release date, it was revealed that the song would indeed be in the movie, but the end result feels somewhat half baked. A good deal of the 2019’s “Be Prepared” involves talking from Scar and his hyena minions, but it slowly and uncertainly becomes more grandiose until it is a musical number. Regardless, it all just feels a bit low-energy, with little of the charisma and character from Jeremy Irons’ version from 1994.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Scar this time around, is not at fault here. In fact, his deep, booming, and intimidating voice is chilling, and gives the song a more sinister and villainous tone, with a hint of creepiness. What is irritating is that whilst the song does have positives (mainly Ejiofor’s performance and the haunting instrumentals) that could have made for a really interesting and original take on the classic song, it is so rushed that it doesn’t have much time to truly make an impact. It’s two minutes long, but has a slow beat that doesn’t increase much throughout, so by the time the song finally starts to get going, it is already finishing.
It isn’t exactly clear what happened with this number, but it seems to me like Disney saw the backlash from the public when it was suggested that “Be Prepared” wasn’t going to be included, and therefore scrambled to put something together for Scar in the final film. Of course, I can’t say that this is what happened for sure, but if so, the final product is a hastily done piece that could have been so much better if given the same amount of creative input as some of the other songs on the Lion King soundtrack. Despite Ejiofor’s efforts and the promising framework that the song offers, the 2019 version of “Be Prepared” is incredibly disappointing. Not only does it not stand anywhere near the level of the original, but it wastes its potential. After the initial sinister tones of Ejiofor wore off, it left me feeling pretty unmoved. For such a well-known song from the remake of one of Disney’s best animated films, it simply isn’t up to the standard that it should be.
#1 Best: Stampede
It has to be one of Hans Zimmer’s interpretations of the old score that is the best of the 2019 Lion King soundtrack. Zimmer had a tough challenge ahead of him when he agreed to come back for the remake. He had to stay true to the original music (as it is one of the greatest scores from an animated movie to date), but also make sure that he added enough new material within the original score to create a refreshing update. I consider this song the most successful of the new soundtrack, despite all the star power behind the others. One of the most emotionally charged tracks has to be “Stampede,” which comes during the infamous stampede that leads to Mufasa’s death.
The original track (called “To Die For”) is incredibly intense before becoming harrowing, but Zimmer manages to up the emotion even more so in his 2019 take on the piece. It is slightly longer, and spends a bit more time ramping up in intensity, creating a heart-pumping piece that makes you feel the gravitas of the scene without even watching it. Once the music has reached its boiling point, Zimmer includes a sorrowful effect that sounds like a lion’s scream. This is new addition to the piece gives it an extra stab of pain, as we know that this is when Mufasa loses his life as young Simba watches on in horror. The music then moves onto the softer and hugely emotional moment of Simba finding his father’s body, then attempting to get him to wake up. As sad as this was on the original Lion King soundtrack, it is made all the more painful to listen to now, as Zimmer increases his orchestra and adds in some booming drum beats to emphasise the weighty effect that this event will have on Simba’s life, as well as the lives of all the lions in the pride. You can hear the cub’s life being ripped from underneath him, all within a few seconds of the score.
I felt myself tearing up just listening to this track, without even having watched the film yet. The last minute or so then gets a new, sinister theme for the hyenas, as they presumably chase Simba out of the pride lands. It has a more threatening tone than their original theme, but it still stays true to it. This element is also more frantic, to indicate Simba’s desperate attempt to escape the predators. “Stampede” is an incredible piece that highlights Zimmer’s attempts to rework his previous music into something with even more emotional power than it had originally.
The new Lion King soundtrack is out now, and the film releases this Friday, July 19th 2019.