The Lion King (2019) Soundtrack Review

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Love it or hate it, Disney Live-Action, or in this case CGI remakes, are now a staple of Disney culture. Or at least cashing in on nostalgia. Personally, I love the retellings that come from the classic Disney films. The thing that has really hit home with me for almost every major release to date has been the soundtrack.

I listen to Disney music in some capacity almost every day, so new takes on the songs always builds a lot of excitement for me going into a movie. I told myself that I would always wait to see the movie before listening to the new soundtrack; to really be surprised by all of the new elements and sounds. I did it with The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin; and I planned to follow the same guideline when the new Lion King soundtrack was released last week.

The thing is, I broke my own rule instantly. With artists like Elton John, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover), Pharrell and Beyoncé all having a hand in the music, I just couldn’t wait on this one!

The Lion King is my favorite movie of all-time, so I have been anticipating this new music for what feels like years.

The soundtrack features 19 tracks, including all songs from the 1994 film, 9 instrumental scores composed by Hans Zimmer, and two new songs, in addition to two charming tracks recorded by Lebo M. in traditional African styling.

“Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama” - Brown Lindiwe Mkhize & Lebo M.

The iconic titular song from the 1994 film starts off the exact same way that it does in the animated film. Though once the chorus comes in there is a clear difference in the vocals compared to the original, as the new recording boasts more of a traditional African sound. It is more similar to the broadway version of the song than the animated version, and I say that in the best way possible.

“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” - JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright & John Oliver

Arguably the most underrated song from the original film, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” brings back the same playful sound. JD McCrary has an outstanding voice and I truly prefer this version over the original. I especially like the short choral riff about 3/4 through the song.

“Be Prepared” - Chiwetel Ejiofor

Originally rumored to be excluded from the new film, I was so immensely excited to see this was included when the soundtrack’s track listing was released because “Be Prepared” happens to be one of my favorite Disney songs ever.

This version is easily the most different from the original recording. Compared to the original, this is extremely abridged, and feels more like monologuing rather than the frightening and criminally underrated musical number that was present in the original film.

When I first listened to this I wasn’t a fan at all, mainly because of how much I love the original song. Though the more I listen, the more I like what they have done to this. Ejiofor certainly has a powerful voice, and although his vocals aren’t excellent, he absolutely gives off a menacing vibe that is on par with Jeremy Irons and Jim Cummings. I can’t wait to experience how this scene is animated, because I have a feeling that it will be even more terrifying than the animated sequence.

“Hakuna Matata” - Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, JD McCrary & Donald Glover

Probably one of the most popular Disney songs ever, “Hakuna Matata” was the track that I was most looking forward to hearing. Seth Rogen can’t sing. Like at all. But he makes up for his lack of vocal talent with comedy. I actually laughed out loud the first time I listened to this track, as he and Billy Eichner already seem to have such wonderful chemistry together.

JD McCrary’s first lines as Young Simba seem to genuinely impress Seth Rogen, and I felt the exact same way the first time I listened to this track. I can’t stress enough how good this kid’s voice is.

As for Donald Glover, damn! What an entrance! His first lines as Adult Simba are absolutely epic. To the point that I instantly got chills the first time that I listened. I am a big fan of Childish Gambino, which is Glover’s rap alias, and hearing his signature yell in this song made me so insanely happy to hear.

It’s not the original, but it’s sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” - Billy Eichner & Seth Rogen

Not an original song, but featured in a short snippet in the original film, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” makes another appearance, and man am I happy that it does! Billy Eichner shocked me. He has a pretty awesome voice, and I was not expecting it at all. His vocal performance will surely be overshadowed by the other names on this list, but does an outstanding job throughout the entire soundtrack.

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” - Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, Donald Glover & Beyoncé

The Oscar winning song from the original film, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was the song that I - along with many others - was most looking forward to hearing with the release of the new film. Who wouldn’t be excited for Beyoncé to have her hand in this?

She and Donald Glover both sound good, but not great. I can honestly say that I was a little let down with this one. I don’t know if my expectations were too high or if I was just hoping for a little different take considering that the duet brought together two of the biggest names in the rap/hip-hop industry today. It just feels like this track is lacking the heart that the original song brings. Maybe it’s the Titanic-Eeque opening instrumental that is throwing me off, but it just didn’t live up to my high expectations. At least upon my initial listen. That could very well change over time.

“Spirit” - Beyoncé

“Spirit” is an original song recorded for the new film, and the soundtrack’s only official single. One word to describe this song: Powerful. The traditional African sounds are fantastic when they mix with the subtle instrumentals from “Circle of Life.”

It was inevitable that Beyoncé would be contributing to something new from the moment she was cast as Nala, but I am anxious to see if this song will be a new piece of the story or if it will follow the typical road to a song over the credits. For the sake of everyone, I really hope that it is a part of the film’s storyline.

Based on the placement in the soundtrack, I imagine that this will be the case, and anticipate it acting as a slight narration as Simba journeys back to Pride Rock to dethrone Scar and take his place as the rightful king of the Pridelands.

As I mentioned previously, I was hoping that these songs would have more of a hip-hop/rap feel based on the castings, and this one really solidifies that expectation.

On Tuesday, July 16 it was announced that this song would also be featured on another album, The Lion King: The Gift; which Beyoncé produced and curated. The album contains tracks featuring Childish Gambino, Pharrell, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.

“Never Too Late” - Elton John

Another new original song penned by original Lion King lyricist, Tim Rice, and performed by the man behind the music of the original film, Elton John. This song will surely be overlooked in the talks of true Disney classics, but has the same heart and sound that has made Elton John’s original 1994 pieces so iconic.

I’ll be blunt; I absolutely love this track! The instrumental riffs scream nostalgia, and the African choir adds a wonderfully emphatic touch to the track. The hook is fun, catchy and sure to leave listeners tapping their toes. It’s just all around wonderful.

I do not anticipate this song being integrated into the story, but it’s inclusion over the credits are sure to put a smile on the face of many fans of the original film, because without Elton John and Tim Rice the original Lion King soundtrack would never be as iconic as it is today.

“He Lives in You” - Lebo M.

“He Lives in You” was not written for the original 1994 film but was the title track for The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and is featured in the broadway musical production of The Lion King.

The song certainly draws inspiration from the broadway version, and anyone who has seen the show or listened to the soundtrack will be sure to pick up on the similarities.

This version of the song is recorded in traditional African languages of Xhosa and Zulu, so it truly doesn’t get more authentic than this. The song is underrated in itself, but it will be extremely pleasing if it makes its way into the new film as a nod to both the broadway show and the 1997 direct to video sequel.

“Mbube” - Lebo M.

Another song recorded in Xhosa and Zulu and performed by Lebo M. and his South African Choir, “Mbube” was the first noted recording of what turned in to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds in 1939.

The wonderful melodies and calming choir chants give this song so much life, and the inclusion on the soundtrack is a great nod to how traditional African music has evolved since the release of the original recording.

What are your thoughts on the new soundtrack? Are you a fan or did it underwhelm? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts!

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Matt MerlinoComment