The Lion King (2019)
: (Hans Zimmer/Various) Originally suggested to be a shot-for-shot remake of the classic 1994 animated Disney film, Jon Favreau's 2019 photorealistic remake of The Lion King
eventually ran 30 minutes longer and didn't faithfully follow its predecessor's exact direction. And yet, at the end of the day, audiences and critics felt that the 2019 version didn't offer anything new of substance to the story, for the film had lost the soul of the original product. A young lion in Africa, Simba, is destined to overcome the loss of his revered father and king of the land, Mufasa, at the paws of his evil uncle, Scar, to discover his place atop Pride Rock after much self-discovery with the assistance of an assortment of supporting comedy characters. The production attempted to right some ethnic wrongs of the original by expanding its cast of African-American vocal talent to most of the leading roles. The return of legendary James Earl Jones as Mufasa was critical to 2019's The Lion King
, though other casting choices were not as successful. The loss of Jeremy Irons as Scar, despite Irons' professed interest in returning, was a substantial detriment to the remake. John Oliver is terribly distracting as the hornbill, Zazu. Perhaps most detrimental to the endeavor is the fact that the animals themselves just don't look right. No matter how many times animators attempt to provide human facial expressions to animals, all of that processing power cannot seem to make it work. Still, audiences propelled The Lion King
to become the second highest grossing film of 2019, and the soundtrack's iconic music once again enjoyed mainstream attention. The original 1994 soundtrack for the concept was a true phenomenon, its songs and score by the likes of Elton John, Hans Zimmer, and Lebohang Morake (Lebo M.) immensely popular to this day. That group returned for 2019's The Lion King
, but with different supporting influences. For John, who wrote and performed one new song for this film, the entrance of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, the voice of Nala in the picture, led to a shift in the tone of the songs towards a more contemporary ambience, including one new song for her to perform due to Nala's increased presence in the story. For Zimmer, his collaboration with Mark Mancina is long, long gone, and he turned to Pharell Williams, along with Remote Control regulars David Fleming and Steve Mazzaro, to help rearrange the score.
The production's efforts to involve a more diverse cast and crew in The Lion King
directly carried over to the talent and processes involved with the soundtrack. Knowles-Carter's own song was moved from the end credits to the actual story by Zimmer's recommendation during planning phases, infusing a distinctly gospel tone in the movie. The song "He Lives in You" from the "Rhythm of the Pride Lands" album and the Broadway production is performed by Lebo M. here and inserted into the middle of the end credits. It represents an intriguing infusion of Mark Mancina and Jay Rifkin back into this equation and is arguably a more authentic addition to this film than the new Knowles-Carter and John songs. Those two artists were supposed to have a duet featured over the start of the end credits, but it didn't make the cut, forcing John and lyricist Tim Rice to pen "Never Too Late" for that placement. Zimmer, for his part, was terrified about screwing up his Academy Award-winning score, but the reception he received while performing this music on stage led him to return. The composer, never one to miss the opportunity to dilute a score by emphasizing the process over the product, decided to supplement the standard Hollywood orchestral musicians with the "Re-Collective Orchestra," an ensemble consisting of only black performers, and record the entire endeavor live, as if the score was being performed to a concert audience. Favreau encouraged the score to follow adaptations that had been made for the Broadway production, and Zimmer supplemented those changes with a number of his own tweaks to correct his perceived faults with the original work. In the end, unfortunately, Zimmer, Williams, and Knowles-Carter did manage to sully the end result, yielding a soundtrack that loses the impact of the original. John himself was highly annoyed by the result and summed up this soundtrack's ills quite well, stating, "The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music up. Music was so much a part of the original and the music in the current film didn't have the same impact. The magic and joy were lost. The soundtrack hasn't had nearly the same impact in the charts that it had 25 years ago... I wish I'd been invited to the party more, but the creative vision for the film and its music was different this time around and I wasn't really welcomed or treated with the same level of respect. That makes me extremely sad. I'm so happy that the right spirit for the music lives on with the 'Lion King' stage musical."
The songs of the 2019 remake of The Lion King
are largely intact, with the excruciating exception of "Be Prepared." The voice of Lebo M. is indispensable in "The Circle of Life" and its "Nants' Ingonyama" supporting chant, and the execution of the song here is adequate but suffers from a poor mix between the lead voice and background elements. This imbalance, which forces the lead vocals into a far too dry and dominant placement compared to a muted background ensemble, extends throughout the whole soundtrack. This recording also expectedly pales compared to Lebo M.'s stunning performance of the song at the 2014 HAVASI Symphonic concert in Budapest. For enthusiasts of this soundtrack, the performance of "The Circle of Life" at that concert (readily available for viewing online) will be an emotionally powerful experience, and from a broader perspective, aside from some audio distortion caused by the solo recorder being too close to the microphone, it represents one of the best performances of a piece of film music ever to exist on stage. At the very least, it begs the question of why Lebo M. wasn't given the opportunity to perform all the vocals in the 2019's remake of that song. For all of Zimmer's toil in arranging the song for the remake, he was badly outclassed by the music producers for that 2014 tour. The pair of comedy songs fare better, "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and "Hakuna Matata" afforded superior percussion and background choral lines. Meanwhile, "Be Prepared" is an unequivocal disaster in this film. How could Disney allow its villains' songs in both its back-to-back remakes of 2020, this and Aladdin
, to become so marginalized? Originally, Favreau wanted to axe the song in totality, but he decided to work with Zimmer to turn part of it into a spoken monologue with new Rice words over score and only feature a few token bars of the actual song. This choice was a disaster, reducing the "song" to an afterthought because the director and composer couldn't creatively adapt it. While Jeremy Irons' can be teased for his awkward performance of this song in the original film (Irons actually did sing professionally on stage for a period of his career), his snarling but oddly sophisticated persona is badly missed in this film and song. The instrumental personality of "Be Prepared" is also completely changed by Zimmer and his team, with the quirky but effective panpipes replaced by a more ominous, militaristic march better suited to the gloominess of Zimmer in the 2010's. The performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor here is half-hearted and defeats the whole purpose of having a functionally entertaining villain's song.
The prevalent mixing issues with the songs causes continued problems with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," which is diminished from its once triumphant place atop this soundtrack. The alluring background vocals are barely audible over the voices of Beyoncé and Donald Glover, the former simply too polished to fit in this role. She performs here as though she's belting out an album and not recording as a female lion tentative about the encounter in the scene. The same can be said of her new single for the film, "Spirit," which just doesn't fit on screen at all. What on earth was Zimmer thinking when he advocated that this song move out of the end credits and into the narrative? Did he not realize it doesn't jive with the demeanor of John's songs at all? Again, process over product. The reprise of "The Circle of Life" assumes its proper place at the end of the film, appended to Zimmer's kingdom fanfare as before, and aside from the lack of Lebo M. in the actual reprise, it's fine. The new John song, "Never Too Late," is a better match for the soundtrack than "Spirit," but even he is a bit too exuberant in tone for this narrative. The Mancina and Rifkin holdover, "He Live in You," is performed well by Lebo M. and is the highlight of the "new" material included with the remake. His voice has taken the place of John's as the musical representation of this concept, and it's good to hear him provide this song here. His humorous reprise of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (performed in source form by characters earlier in the soundtrack), titled natively as "Mbube," is a fun way to end the credits, though a piece of Zimmer's score would have been appreciated as well. Sadly, that underscore by Zimmer suffers from some of the same lack of joy and magic exhibited in the songs. Let's face it, the Zimmer of 2019 is not the Zimmer of 1994. The man's music in 1994 was overflowing with lyrical, warm personality, often with panpipes and other counterintuitive but nevertheless effective instrumentation. In many ways, 1994's The Lion King
represented a tearful goodbye to the early Zimmer days, his knack for conjuring innocent and affable melodies replaced by his masculine power anthem mode in years to come. Perhaps more importantly, the man has become consumed with the collaborative production of music rather than smart, intuitive choices about the spotting and composition of music for the story, and many of the rearrangements of his work for the 2019 The Lion King
are tactical failures that could have been prevented with some gut instincts from 1994 Zimmer. The overall result is still fine, and it even excels at times, but the new score still leaves you with nagging discomfort at times.
Zimmer collectors expecting to hear all of the original 1994 score's themes will be largely pleased that the composer brings back his two main themes for the film. But marginalized in 2019's The Lion King
are three of his important subthemes, and his instrumentation now favors his heavy-handed melodramatic sensibilities that chase away the charm of his original recording. Woodwind performer extraordinaire Richard Harvey returns, thankfully, but with the panpipes somewhat sidelined outside of a cameo in "Life's Not Fair." One must theorize that Zimmer considered the panpipes, ever-present in his early scores, to be one of the things he needed to change about the score, because they are often replaced here by occasional flute and recorder solos that are just as pretty but not as authentic to the original score. Yes, the recorder in the interlude of "The Circle of Life" and the flute in the ascension theme are still present, and that will satisfy some listeners, but the lack of additional woodwind diversity does leave you wanting. Conversely, the weight of the strings and brass is increased, lending more depth to the quasi-religious aspect of the score. Several cues, including "Scar Takes the Throne," really push the melodrama up several notches, and it counterintuitively diminishes the emotional scope of the score. With more emphasis on the orchestration of drama in these cues, there's less room to breathe adventure and fun into the equation. Of course, Zimmer employed fifteen orchestrators (15! They're reproducing!) for this recording, so it's no wonder the essence of Pride Rock got lost somewhere. The main theme of the score is Zimmer's ascension theme, representing Simba and sharing a closing phrase with John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" melody, and while it doesn't make as much of an impact in the remake as Mufasa's kingdom theme, it does receive some really lovely performances. The idea shines in the latter half of "Rafiki's Fireflies," the middle and end of "Simba is Alive!," and with reverence in "Reflections of Mufasa." The Mufasa kingdom theme is the religious powerhouse of the score, featured in "Scar Takes the Throne" and "Reflections of Mufasa," among others, and Zimmer overplays this theme during conversational scenes between Mufasa and Simba this time around. One of the loveliest and most effective cues in the 1994 score is "We Are All Connected," and there's simply no equivalent here. The panpipes of that fantastic cue are gone in the equivalent replacements as well. The merging of these two themes in "King of Pride Rock" at the end is arguably an improvement, as this is one place where Zimmer's increased melodramatic weight really works.
The diminishment of three supporting themes in Zimmer's score for 2019's The Lion King
is truly unfortunate. The nasty saxophone and bassoon theme for Scar is limited this time, heard mostly in "Life's Not Fair" and not seemingly performed in full. The kingdom fanfare playfully previewed in the middle of "We Are All Connected" has been totally replaced by a more generic, ethnically heavy sequence in "Reflections of Mufasa," leaving the fanfare in full for only the closing moments of the film. The family theme that doubles for romance is marginalized as well. The action and suspense music in the remake is about as expected, more finely orchestrated and leaving the days of Black Rain
further behind. Some of the more childish, drum and cymbal-happy portions of "Battle for Pride Rock" are a bit obnoxious. Another complicating issue with this score is the fact that the 1994 recording still hasn't experienced a truly satisfying album release, even with the 2014 "Legacy" edition from Disney. There remains a slew of lovely recordings for 1994's The Lion King
missing from collections, and there was some hope that the 2019 album release would relieve some of that pressure. But despite the remake being 30 minutes longer in length, there's still only 44 minutes of score on the one and only soundtrack album for the remake. That product is presented largely in chronological order with the events of the film, songs and score mingling, and that's a great choice. And, ironically, the overwrought production values of the score and similar efforts behind the songs have brought them into better alignment in terms of the album's flow. The two new songs from Beyoncé and John really break the album's narrative, however, with their discordant styles. Overall, film score collectors will want to bypass the songs on this remake and take snippets of the re-arranged score to add to their 1994 The Lion King
favorites. For all the hype and hysteria about Zimmer's recording of the score in a "live" manner, entire cues done in one take, the end product doesn't really sound any more revolutionary. You can't tell the difference what recording process was applied or what ensemble was used. In the end, the music is simply okay no matter all that fuss, and there's something quite disappointing about that. After all that effort, Zimmer didn't ruin his score, but he didn't improve upon it, either. If you want to hear this music with all the heart, joy, and glory of its best potential, do yourself this favor: bypass the 2019 soundtrack and appreciate the video of the aforementioned Lebo M. performance of "The Circle of Life" at the 2014 HAVASI Symphonic concert in Budapest. That performance is the benchmark by which this remake soundtrack fails. *** @Amazon.com: CD or
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The insert includes a lengthy note from Hans Zimmer, lyrics to all the songs,
and a list of performers.