Album Review: The Lion King- move aside 1994, 2019 is the Mane Event

The Lion King OST, released in 1994 containing songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice, is widely recognized as one of the best soundtracks ever from an animated film. A little about me: My wife and I love everything Disney. In fact, we have a newborn arriving at the end of August that has two Disney references in her name. We have seen The Lion King and Aladdin on Broadway (which are both excellent by the way), and we’re dying to see Jon Favreau’s latest work of art. As far as original soundtracks go, there is nothing more iconic than the music from The Lion King.

Before we start, I was very disappointed with the soundtrack and overall film from the live adaptation of Aladdin. Due to the greatness of Robin Williams’ Genie character and it’s overly-simplistic plot, the film simply should never have been made. Listen, I love Will Smith, but the role swallowed him up and that could not have been more evident than by Will Smith’s singing voice. Aside from the spectacular Speechless by Naomi Scott, the Aladdin soundtrack was not the whole new world I had hoped.

I was very nervous when The Lion King OST released a couple of days ago, especially after learning that Pharrell was a producer on the project. Rather than modernizing the classics like Aladdin did by adding hip hop elements to A Friend Like Me, many of the African sounds from the original The Lion King are largely present. Disney fans can collectively take a large deep breath. This is a beautifully composed soundtrack that pays homages to the past and adds some very strong new songs that will make all Disney fans smile. In my review, I’ll compare the two versions and pick a winner between each of the heavy hitters.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight

Can You Feel the Love Tonight has some slight differences compared to its counterpart. The Timon and Pumbaa components are virtually identical to the original, but this feels more like a Beyoncé single than a song from The Lion King. By no means does that mean it’s a bad song. In fact, I find this version to be a very strong take on the original. Beyoncé’s strong vocals only make me more excited to see the new take on adult Nala. My rating 8/10.

Which version wins? 1994. This could very well change after I see the film, but the original is the winner here (so far). Everything depends on how well the film sells the romance built between Simba and Nala. We shall see.

Hakuna Matata

Wow. Without seeing the film, this song was easily one of my favorites from the album. Timon and Pumbaa, played by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan, seem to be on their A-game in this piece. The new version is widely unchanged compared to the original, but the seemingly brilliant chemistry between Eichner and Rogan is oozing through my speakers.

Pumbaa: Every time that I FARTED… ARE YOU GONNA STOP ME

Timon: NO I’M NOT, YOU DISGUST ME

Absolutely hilarious lyrical addition. The transformation of Simba’s voice into adulthood at the 3:00 minute mark showcases Donald Glover’s talent. This moment in the piece gives me chills. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would pick a version over anything touched by Billy Crystal. But here it comes… My rating: 9.5/10

Which version wins? 2019 (I’m going to get flamed for this, bring it on). I simply cannot wait to see this take on Timon and Pumbaa.

Circle of Life

Before we begin, forgive me while I retrieve a box of Kleenex for the display of waterworks. For me, the nostalgia and emotion this song brings forth is unrivaled in any other Disney film. The beginning of this title, sung by Lebo M. who did the original, immediately reminds us why we fell in love with Disney during our childhood. Lindiwe Mkhize provides the vocals for this powerhouse single and continues to remain largely faithful to Carmen Twillie’s original.

Mkhize’s vibrato towards the end of the piece is truly stunning. What a voice. My rating 9/10

Which version wins? 1994. It. Simply. Cannot. Be. Beaten. However, this versions hits all the feels that will make you feel 12 years old one more time.

I Just Can’t Wait to Be King

I Just Can’t Wait to Be King highlights John Oliver’s portrayal Zazu, and I absolutely love it. You will undoubtedly be unable to sit still during the duration of the instrumentals in this piece. The newest version is widely unchanged compared to the original, but it’s handled so incredibly well that you easily forget that there are different singers in play here. JD McCrary, who plays Young Simba, is a showstopper. Shahadi Wright Joseph plays is equally impressive as Young Nala. That vocal talent displayed between JD and Shahadi is simply jaw dropping. My rating 9.5/10

Which version wins? 2019. The instrumentals are so incredible that the new version gets the nod.

Be Prepared

The biggest difference across soundtracks has to be Be Prepared. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the infamous Scar, largely speaks this tune rather than utilize his vocals. In fact, there aren’t any vocals at all until the very end. However, Ejiofar is clearly loving this role in this piece. Scar sounds absolutely sinister and psychotic. A darker version of Scar earns major points for me, and I truly can’t wait to see his performance on the big screen.

This song is militaristic and Ejiofar absolutely nails this role. The ONLY reason why this version doesn’t get a 10 is because we don’t get the “YOU WON’T GET A SNIFF WITHOUT ME” line. Regardless, Scar sounds terrifying, and I’m loving it. I predict that this song will be very divisive. My rating 9.5/10

Which version wins? 2019. Move over Jeremy Irons. We have a new Scar in town.

Wait… Did you just say…

For those keeping score, your math is not wrong. I just said that the newest soundtrack of The Lion King beats the original. Believe me, I’m stunned just as much as you are. As a person who loves film scores, it’s going to be tough to beat 2019’s The Lion King. Yes, these are the same songs compared to the 1994 version. However, I can’t neglect the improvement in quality here. We’re not even done yet. Let’s get into some of the new songs, which include some major standouts.

Spirit

This piece by Beyoncé’s is yet another emotionally uplifting piece posted to the backgrounds of African sounds on this soundtrack. This is a song that will be widely heard for the next several months by adults and children. What a performance. Just give Beyoncé the Oscar already. Mind blown. My rating 9.5/10

Never Too Late

The sounds of Africa and Elton John are a beautiful thing and the instrumentals in this piece are top notch here. I’ve been singing this song in the shower for the past couple of days straight. I have no doubt that you’ll be dancing to this song in the street the moment you step out of the theater. Another great addition to The Lion King soundtrack. This song brought me back to the days of Billy Joel’s Why Should I Worry from Oliver and Company. So, so good. My rating 9.5/10

He Lives in You

I saved my favorite for last. As someone who loves film scores, this is an absolutely stunning piece of music. Lebo M. sings in Swahili here, and it’s incredibly emotional. The hair on my arms is standing straight up just talking about this piece. My rating 10/10

Final Thoughts

I have been stunningly impressed with the production of this soundtrack. This is a soundtrack that deserves a listen. It brings the nostalgia forth and enhances it through incredible vocal performances and instrumentals. From the heart of this old Disney fan, this is a truly incredible soundtrack. If there really is a God, then I have no doubt that Lebo M. will be right there singing for me as I take the escalator to heaven on the day that I move on from this Earth. Another win for Disney.

Final Album Review 9.7/10