Hans Zimmer’s new Lion King score is good, even great. What it isn’t however is different, being for the most part just a modernised rehash of the original 1994 album. At points it’s even note-for-note.
I’m struggling with how I feel about this score, I really am. On the one hand, there are some truly superb orchestrations in here, and all the themes from Zimmer’s original Lion King make their return in gorgeous-sounding form, but on the other, I can’t help but feel quite disappointed at the complete and utter lack of anything really…new. The album overall is pretty much just a “re-imagining” of the original score, and that’s all. It’s enjoyable for sure, but I definitely found myself a bit bored on more than one occasion as a result of the new album’s complete and utter…safeness.
It begins (as you might expect) with a brand new version of the iconic Circle Of Life song, with Elton John having returned to rework and “reimagine” his 1994 compositions, and Lindiwe Mkhize as the lead vocalist. Much like the original, it’s a fantastic song, and a very emotionally powerful four minute opener. They’re clearly not holding back with the nostalgia here, that’s for sure. Being much more of a score enthusiast than actual songs I don’t have much else to say about this track, except for the fact that it does sound awfully similar to its 1994 counterpart, to the point where I wonder if Zimmer actually pulled the backing track from the original and simply used it again here.
The actual score then begins with Life’s Not Fair and Rafiki’s Fireflies, and if there’s one thing that these two cues absolutely nail, it’s that now classic Lion King feel. The former opens with light percussion before then building up into a woodwind-based rendition of one of the themes from the original score (I couldn’t say which for sure, only that I most certainly recognised it). The latter cue begins with a much more atmospheric tone, with calming vocals and light strings taking the forefront initially before woodwinds appear once again, this time playing out a quiet and low rendition of the original score’s main theme. Zimmer’s not done yet though as the music starts to build up again, and after a few seconds the orchestra simply explodes with a loud, epic and frankly beautiful-sounding second playthrough of the aforementioned theme, before then fading quietly out to end the track.
I Just Can’t Wait To Be King sounds a lot like its 1994 counterpart, just with different vocalists. JD McCrary’s Simba sounds fantastic, though I do feel that John Oliver’s Zazu doesn’t hold a candle to Rowan Atkinson’s (who opted not to return for the remake, it seems). Much like with Circle Of Life I don’t really feel very much towards this track; it’s good, but it doesn’t really do anything new. We then return to the score with Elephant Graveyard, a much more action-centric piece that’s heavy on the fast-paced percussion. There is also a really great-sounding rendition of the original film’s secondary main theme about halfway through, and it’s here that Zimmer’s modernised orchestrations really shine. The two scores have twenty five years between them, and it’s obvious just how much the composer’s musical style has grown when comparing the albums at moments like this. I must admit, there’s a certain compositional finesse with the 2019 version that the original simply doesn’t have.
There are several key narrative moments throughout the story of the Lion King, and several now well-known Hans Zimmer tracks that accompany them. I was particularly curious to see how the composer would approach these with the remake; would he try to do something new at these moments, or would he simply redo the original music with a bit more orchestra behind them? With Stampede, it’s a bit of the former, but at the moments that matter, it’s mainly the latter. The track opens with familiar-sounding fast-paced percussion that harkens back to the olden days of Zimmer’s musical style, mainly because it’s the same notes as the original, just with a bit more orchestral finesse behind them. The same thing then occurs when that event happens (spoilers?) and by the end, I once again found myself underwhelmed. Sure, the music sounds good, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the first score because you know what’s coming, as you’ve heard it before. I suppose that’s the curse of remakes.
The more somber side of the score starts to emerge properly with Simba Is Alive!, which opens with slow and pensive brass in combination with rather mournful-sounding strings. The main theme then makes a brief percussion-based appearance before the familar vocals then start up, and I found myself once again listening out for the inevitable re-rendition of the Kings Of The Past music. This one starts slower and treads more lightly than the original, sadly lacking its build-up percussion but replacing it instead with admittedly dramatic and great-sounding brass before then exploding into a powerful, orchestral and vocal-heavy performance of the main theme. I do feel that the 1994 track still has an edge over this one, but this is definitely the closest Zimmer has come so far to beating his original compositions.
Beyoncé and Donald Glover then perform Can You Feel The Love Tonight, and it’s the first track on the album that I actually think is a tad over-modernised, despite sounding much crisper and clearer that the 1994 version. Admittedly songs have never really been my field of expertise, but this track feels a lot more like a cover than a redone piece for a remake movie. Beyoncé’s voice in particular stands out as being (for lack of a better description) out of place because I recognise it, and because of that that it doesn’t feel like a performance by Lion King characters anymore, it feels like a Beyoncé song. This feeling then isn’t helped by subsequent track Spirit, which is actually just a Beyoncé song. The score itself then returns with Reflections Of Mufasa, which features several newly orchestrated renditions of the main theme, and they actually sound fantastic. One thing that Zimmer has most certainly recaptured here is the musical essence of the first Lion King, and I have to give him credit for that.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for then finally arrives with Battle For Pride Rock. The Rightful King was easily the standout cue of the original 1994 score, and I and I’m sure many others were incredibly curious to see how Zimmer would approach this particular musical (and film) moment with the 2019 score. Credit where credit’s due, there are a lot of new orchestrations and musical structures in here, and they combine rather nicely with the significant number of thematic and sometimes even note-for-note callbacks to the first score. I particularly enjoyed the much more dramatic and percussion-heavy rendition of the fight music towards the end (as certain characters battle it out on top of a cliff).
What would be the last few minutes of The Rightful King then arrive in Remember, which opens with a rather solemn rendition of one of the major themes from the original before then building dramatically into the most epic rendition of the main theme yet, and that includes the 1994 score. The standout cue award therefore goes to the only track on this entire album that I feel actually beats the first, at least in terms of orchestral power. To close out the track (and the score), Circle Of Life then makes its brief reappearance just as it did in the original, and the music then draws to a dramatic end.
Overall, Hans Zimmer’s new Lion King is decent enough. The themes and musical style from the original 1994 score make a welcome return, and since the composer has obviously learnt and improved a great deal in the twenty five years between the two albums, there is a certain orchestral finesse with the new score that the first one simply doesn’t have (Remember is a great example of this). However, I do feel that the album plays it a bit too…safe. There’s nothing really new here (at least thematically) and at the key narrative moments the score is pretty much note-for-note the same as its 1994 counterpart, albeit with some minor orchestral improvements. Zimmer doesn’t really push the boat out at all here, and that’s a missed opportunity for sure.
I don’t really know what I expected from this album, but I definitely expected more.
Standout Cue: 16. Remember