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The Lion King: a side by side soundtrack comparison between 1994 and 2019

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Few Disney movies cast a shadow quite like The Lion King, revered as one of the jewels in their 'renaissance' period spanning the late 1980s through to the 1990s.

From the gorgeous hand-drawn animation to the onslaught of scene-stealing vocal performances, this animated take on Hamlet with anthropomorphised big cats deals unashamedly with grand emotion and big themes. And the sweeping soundtrack is as responsible as anything for cementing the movie in the memories of filmgoers.

Hans Zimmer composed the Oscar-winning score, and Elton John and Tim Rice the songs, for the original. And all three creative powerhouses are back for the remake, released this week and directed by Jon Favreau with an all-star cast, led by Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and a returning James Earl Jones as Mufasa.

Inevitable comparisons are going to be raised between the soundtracks for the two films, so we thought we'd do a side by side comparison of a selection of songs and score, showcasing how The Lion King has roared into a new age.

Donald Glover as Simba in Disney's The Lion King remake


'The Circle of Life'

In the years since the original Lion King's release in 1994, we've not only had the legacy of the movie to contend with but also that of the critically acclaimed Broadway production, directed by Julie Taymor.

South African vocalist Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, who portrayed wise mandril Rafiki on stage, now takes over from the original movie's Carmen Twillie, collaborating with the returning Lebo M to put stirring embellishments on the movie's unforgettable opening number. Hearing this in conjunction with the jaw-dropping, photo-realistic visuals is more than enough to send chills down the spine.


'I Just Can't Wait to be King'

Original young Simba Jonathan Taylor Thomas now gives way to rising stars JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph as Nala (the latter of whom was recently seen in critically acclaimed horror Us). The new version of 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' broadly sticks true to the infectious spirit of the original as Simba eagerly boasts about the moment he'll become ruler.

The biggest difference comes in the vocalisation of hornbill advisor Zazu: the amusingly exasperated tones of Rowan Atkinson now give way to a more highfaluting turn from chat show host John Oliver.


'Be Prepared'

Now here's the showstopper that's undergone the biggest transformation. The 2019 version of 'Be Prepared' is bound to provoke discussion, as Jeremy Irons's deliciously theatrical vocals as Scar give way to brooding spoken verse from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who takes over as the character.

It's a clear indication of how Favreau and his team have transformed Scar's character: no longer the devious uncle who revels in being bad, this Scar is clearly much more dangerous and unhinged, as the subtle changes to the lyrics (now brimming with angry intent) suggest.




'Stampede'

We now move onto a score-only piece from Hans Zimmer, and it's surely one of the tracks that helped him clinch the Oscar back in 1994. The thunderous nature of the original 'Stampede' track is scoured onto the memories of a generation of filmgoers, who can't fail to recall the surging strings and chanting choir as Simba faces imminent death in the gorge.

Fast-forward 25 years and Zimmer is clearly a more accomplished composer, adding busier orchestration and more complex layers to an already-powerful piece of music. The end result, amazingly, marks an improvement upon what seemed perfect the first time, clearly drawing inspiration from the grittier, life-like staging of the scene itself. And that devastating conclusion (you know what scene we're referring to) is still very much intact.


'Hakuna Matata'

A new Timon and Pumbaa? No worries! Actors Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner have been praised as more-than-worthy successors to the first film's Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane, and their infectious riffing with Donald Glover as Simba helps bring this bantering duo into a new age.


'Reflection of Mufasa'

The moment in the first film where the outcast, adult Simba finds himself burdened with destiny and purpose was always one of the most spine-tingling moments. At the behest of his late father Mufasa, whom lest we forget manifests in the form of a cloud, Simba realises what he must do to restore his kingdom, and Hans Zimmer's emotionally-charged score rams home the story's themes of family, destiny and duty.

Zimmer has refused to let the side down in the remake, further bolstering his original tapestry of music to wrench the tears out of us even harder.




'Can You Feel the Love Tonight'

Elton John and Tim Rice's Oscar-winning romantic ballad was a fine showcase for the vocals of Joseph Williams (son of renowned composer John Williams, and lead singer of Toto), and Kristle Murden.

The remake, however, boasts even more star-power in the form of musical megastars Donald Glover and Beyonce, seamlessly harmonising and uniting music fans from across the spectrum. Few A-listers are as emblematic of their era as these two, and their presence lends a formidable kick to Favreau's take on The Lion King.


'Remember'

No spoilers here (as if you don't remember the original anyway), but Zimmer's climactic musical crescendo is just as stunning powerful in its new iteration as it was the first time around. In fact, as with the 'Stampede' cue, Zimmer is emboldened to add new orchestral flourishes to the ensemble, ensuring his score is part of a rich musical heritage even as he moves the soundtrack forward into a brand new century.





What new songs are on The Lion King soundtrack?

Bringing the film's running time up to two hours are brand new tracks from Beyonce and Elton John. The former Destiny's Child member gives us the graceful 'Spirit', a Nala solo that lends the character more authority and personality compared to her hand-drawn counterpart. And John's 'Never Too Late' rounds everything off during the end credits – listen to both pieces below.

Has this whet your appetite for the movie? Then click here to book your tickets for The Lion King, opening in Cineworld on Friday 19th July. Don't forget to tweet us your reactions to both the movie and soundtrack @Cineworld once you've seen it.