Disney has experimented a great deal by turning animation into live action, but it seldom tinkers with the songs from the original productions. The recently released soundtrack of The Lion King (2019) is an example. All the songs that Jon Favreau’s remake shares with the 1994 animated classic feature new voices, but nowhere has the arrangement or the vibe of Elton John’s original tunes been altered.
This shows Disney’s belief that the music of their animated classics will lose their capability to entice audiences if reimagined for contemporary tastes.
The rare times when Disney has revamped songs, such as in the case of Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin remake this year, the updated versions of the songs have been used in the end credits. But within the live action remakes, the songs still have the familiar and timeless Broadway musical quality.
The Lion King will be released in India in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on July 19.
One of the two highlights of the new soundtrack is Lebo M’s fusion pop track He Lives In You, which first appeared in The Lion King-inspired 1995 album Rhythm Of The Pride Lands. The other is the rousing gospel-inflected Spirit by Beyonce, who voices Nala in the film. Released a day before the album, the song has already inspired covers online.
John has an additional new song, Never Too Late, which is immensely forgettable. A rendition of Mbube has been added to the soundtrack, possibly to commemorate the tune’s original South African writer Solomon Linda. Linda’s Mbube, over the years, became famous as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which appeared in the original The Lion King.
While Disney’s animated originals were musicals with at least half a dozen tunes, the studio has been doing away with the songs in their live action remakes up until recently. Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 Cinderella remake ditched all the 10 songs of the 1950 animated original. However, the end credits featured a promotional single and two songs from the original one after another.
Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016) was the first Disney live action remake to prominently feature songs. The movie retained three songs from the 1967 original and got rid of three others. The ones that did not make it were because the story itself was altered to that effect.
The elephants in the original film are comical and sing Colonel Hathi’s March, but there’s no such occasion for the solemn and stately elephants in Favreau’s film. The vultures disappeared from the remake too, as did their song That’s What Friends Are For.
The 1967 production ends with My Own Home, sung by a village girl who draws Mowgli towards a human settlement away from the animals. The 2016 film ends with Mowgli sticking with the animals, and hence there’s no closing song.
Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast remake (2017) not only had all the songs from the original, but also featured additional tracks. This was also the case with Ritchie’s Aladdin. Both films have extra songs for characters who did not get to sing in the original, which, in turn, left their inner lives and backstories unexplored.
The 2017 Beauty and the Beast features four songs in addition to the six originals. The Beast (Dan Stevens) gets the sad tune Evermore when he is separated from Belle (Emma Watson). Belle gets How Does A Moment Last Forever, in which she reminisces about her mother – a backstory that wasn’t in the Disney film. Days In The Sun looks at the relationship between the Beast as a child and his mother.
Princess Jasmine in the 1992 Aladdin film does not have much to do in the plot, and is largely the object of affection and conquest for Aladdin and Zafar respectively. In Ritchie’s remake, Jasmine (Naomi Scott) gets a moment to have an outburst through the song Speechless.
That aside, the rest of the original’s songs have been recreated for the latest Aladdin version. It’s only in the end credits that contemporary pop stars DJ Khaled, Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward show up. Even Will Smith raps over the end credits, maintaining the tradition from his blockbusters through the 1990s and 2000s, which often ended with him dropping some verses in the end.