The Lion King

Hans Zimmer

Rating: 7.2

The release of The Lion King in 1994 signaled a change in the way Disney animated movies were made. Alan Menken, while still having a certain amount of success ahead of him in the form of the controversial yet popular The Hunchback of Notre Dame, had, with the death of Howard Ashman, became the composer of the past, and Hans Zimmer was the new big thing. I would also add, however, that The Lion King was the very beginning of a major slide in quality for Disney. Elton John, pop music legend, was the composer of choice for the songs. Without exception, the songs credit Elton John for the music and Tim Rice for the lyrics. This marked the beginning of a new (and shameful) era in which pop songs were the main musical draw of movies. The Lion King, while not a complete pop-fest by any means, is still aimed more in that direction, and marks a turning point. One which did not turn for the better. So, apart from its historical significance, is The Lion King really that bad? Well, get ready to find out.

The album version separates songs and score, clumping all of the songs which appear in the movie at the beginning, followed by the score, ending with the Elton John performances of each of the songs in the movie besides "Be Prepared" and "Hakuna Matata". To say that I am unfairly biased against pop-ish songs would be an understatement. Thus "Circle of Life", "I Just Can't Wait to be King", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" all rub me completely wrong, even in the movie versions. "Circle of Life", while containing some excellent background vocals (did Elton John actually write that? Somehow, I doubt it...), just has too much of a dumbed-down feel to it. I don't care for "I Just Can't Wait to be King". But, that song was not written for me, it was written to appeal to children around the age of 1-10 or so, and it seems to have done that effectively.

The one song I have been curiously silent about up until now is the evil and menacing "Be Prepared". I really consider this to be the highest point the songs ever reach in the movie. Again, some very nice background chanting, but this time the music is not trying be "accessible" (read: soft pop), as it was in "Circle of Life", and so there is more freedom of instruments and sung melodies, amounting to a more interesting listen. "Hukana Matata" again is appealing to the 1-10 year-olds, and while I enjoy this one more than "I Just Can't Wait to be King", it still does not quite cut it for me. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", the movie version, is mostly interesting for the acting talents of the two characters who get dialogue and some singing through the first verse, as well as more good background vocals. But, let me step completely out of character and say that I actually enjoy Elton John's pop version recording of this one more. That is not because it is more musically interesting. It is, in fact, much less. Extremely boring, to be exact, and it even uses a few synth techniques which usually set me against a song. I in no way try to defend the song musically. I just happen to like it a tiny bit.

But, for the real interest, the score. This is Zimmer at his animated best. While the songs in The Prince of Egypt completely obliterate the sung content in The Lion King, the score for The Lion King is where it really starts to soar. Unfortunately, we are given a grand total of four tracks worth of score, compared to the 8 tracks worth of song material. Obviously, this is a disaster. The score is itself excellent. Soaring and unbound, Zimmer really put a lot of himself into this one. "Under the Stars" contains some of the best Zimmer woodwind work to be found, while "...To Die For" is an intense ride the whole way through, first excitingly and then emotionally. The African chanting is incorporated into the texture of much of the score in an excellent way, and, though often more homophonic than I would desire, Zimmer's style fits what he tries to convey through this score very nicely. It is just a shame we don't get any more...

Historically, The Lion King is very important, in an almost sobering way. Gone is the traditional and innocent beauty of Beauty and the Beast. Disney is crumbling to the mighty kingdom of watered-down pop. While not the end product by any stretch of the imagination, The Lion King still stands out to me as a turning point, and a sobering one at that. While a bright moment or two was still on the way for Disney, from this point on it was a downhill slide, and one from which Disney has only ever made half-heated attempts to climb. The score is excellent. The songs are not all bad. The historical implications are, to be blunt, sad.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:

Circle of Life
I Just Can't Wait to be King
Be Prepared
Hakuna Matata
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
This Land
....To Die For
Under the Stars
King of Pride Rock
Circle of Life
I Just Can't Wait to be King
Can You Feel the Love Tonight

No comments: