Released to coincide with the first DVD release of The Lion King (Disney's impressive animated, coming-of-age musical set in motion by regicide [!] amongst Africa's fauna), this special edition brings back the original hit soundtrack with two new tracks, classier packaging, and superior sound.
Elton John's popular music and Tim Rice's mildly schizophrenic lyrics run the gamut from profound to puerile. 'The Circle of Life' is an evocative selection ("There's far too much to take in here/More to find than can ever be found/But the sun rolling high/Through the sapphire sky/Keeps great and small on the endless round"), but leads us quickly to the childish--appropriately so, mind--'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' sung by the lion prince Simba (Jason Weaver).
Jeremy Irons' performance on 'Be Prepared' remains spectacularly villainous as he plans a coup d'etat, suggestive of Hamlet on the Serengeti. And every child's favourite 'Hakuna Matata' is amusing despite Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella hamming it up in a song that includes a discussion on warthog flatulence.
Those that enjoy film music trivia should note that Joseph Williams, one of John "The Dean of Film Music" Williams' offspring, provides the adult singing voice of Simba here, as well as in the award-winning 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight'.
'Can You...' does stand out as the most refined of the songs, and it gets a workout here in the film version, a solo version performed by Elton John, and a dance remix of Sir Elton's track with African vocals thrown in for extra measure. The songwriter also elaborates on ''The Circle of Life' and, in a surprisingly Memphis Rock arrangement, sings 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' (but he is no Elvis, though I recall that Sir Tim once was). A new Rice-John track, 'The Morning Report', is already known to fans of the stage production, and is notable for Rice's wordplay, James Earl Jones' vocal presence, and the disappointment of having a substitute for Rowan Atkinson.
Pleasure comes with Hans Zimmer's underscore. A shocking revelation for some, I imagine. His (and his associates') song arrangements keep the musical atmosphere consistent, yet the real joy is in one of the composer's most powerful orchestral scores. Lebo M. contributed to Zimmer's earlier "The Power of One", almost certainly the soundtrack that gave them both the competitive edge for The Lion King, and again the African artist provided chants, and authenticity, to Zimmer's music. Most unfortunate is that there are no newly released instrumentals to expand upon the four short tracks at least 10 million people already know. 'This Land' still introduces a gorgeous theme for the grasslands, bearing all the hallmarks of Zimmer's melody-writing till it concludes with a jubilant chant.
The powerhouse track is 'To Die For...' Keeping pace with a deadly wildebeest stampede, full orchestra & chorus give a virtuoso sound to a real nail-biter of an action cue, and then shift to a quiet, Mozart-influenced requiem. 'Under the Stars' continues the reflective mood as destiny and dynasty are questioned amid pastoral themes, rhythms transform into a breakneck journey, and the mighty chant returns. Zimmer lets the listener down a little with the climactic 'King of Pride Rock': Synthesizers are more obvious during the dark final confrontation (Dies Irae included), and the main themes play in a progressively more hopeful row, culminating in a reprise of 'The Circle of Life'. Here the score does venture into predictable quarters.
But it's all good. Maybe kingly in places. This expanded release of The Lion King does not offer much fresh appeal to owners of the original album, but by Goofy, the music is still worthwhile a decade later.