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Chorus Lion: The Musical Magic of the Lion King…

Thanks to the ever wonderful Andrew who is running a mini-blogothon event this weekend. I’m delighted to have been asked to take part, and I’m sure there are some interesting choices being made.

When you mention “musical”, is it a cheat to think “Disney”? I’m not really sure. I mean, I could point to any number of iconic and important live-action musicals. The Wizard of Oz is perhaps the most enduring of these, but they run the gauntlet from quirky indie numbers like Romance & Cigarettes to bona fides Oscar winners like Chicago. There’s ones that have transitioned from stage to screen and those who have gone from cinema to theatre. However, for me, it has to be a Disney film. And not just because they own a monopoly on my childhood. And, if it’s going to be a Disney film, it has to be The Lion King.

Pride and joy...

Some of us fall by the wayside, and some of us soar to the stars,

Some of us sail through our troubles, and some have to live with the scars.

– Circle of Life

I have to confess something.  I wanted to rewatch the film before writing this article. But I didn’t have the chance with work and everything going on. Still, I reckon that I’ve watched it enough in my childhood that I can discuss it now without needing to give it another watch. All the songs are (probably) available on YouTube. I’ll just have to run a full review later.

So, why The Lion King? With nineties Disney, and Disney in general, Beauty and the Beast seems a safe choice. It was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and the last before Up. It has musical numbers up the wazoo, and I don’t even know where a wazoo is (it sounds unpleasant, though). Everyone can remember “Tale as Old as Time” and even get a second line out of that chorus. And “Be My Guest” is such a staple that The Simpsons have put together an almost equally iconic parody of it (“See My Vest”). Both my mother and my better half swear by the movie and are really anticipating the rerelease this summer (even I am a bit).

However, my heart lies with The Lion King. A lot of that has to do with the movie itself: it’s an adaptation of Hamlet; it features the best Disney villain ever, in my opinion and its quirky comic support is never too in-your-face. But this is a post about the musical elements of the film, so lets dwell on those.

They have become pervasive. They represent the last true grasp by Sir Elton John at the pop culture consciousness – though more recently he’s also tried using Robert Downey Jnr and a football advert. Some of the tunes, notably “The Circle of Life” or “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” have found their way past movie soundtrack into pop music staples. Even – and I’m not afraid to admit it – to an irritating extent. It’s like Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill, it has been played to death – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good soundtrack.

These are light pop songs that don’t need the movie to exist. They don’t really serve a narrative purpose. In fact, they could play as generically as “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They mostly exist to articulate and underscore the visuals, rather than providing insights into character and plot. Of course, they are tonally relevant, but so was “Push it to the Limit” in Scarface. So I can understand the argument that the movie shouldn’t even count as a musical. However, a great deal of the musical numbers – “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Be Prepared” in particular – do exist to advance the plot and outline character motivations. Plus they are accompanied by dance numbers even more elaborate than any Hollywood blockbuster. So, if you accept it’s eligible for consideration, why is it my personal favourite?

I don’t want to be the guy who boils a film down to a single song-and-dance number and rests his case on that. It’s like picking your favourite Arnie movie based on his one-liners (in which case Commando would win out with, “I lied”, but Batman & Robin would get a gold star for sheer volume of effort). Still, “Be Prepared” is a powerful little number. Not only is Jeremy Irons freakin’ amazing delivering his lines (“And soon I’ll be givin’ my due!”), but it’s also been suggested that Jim Cumming may have filled in for him when he got a throat ache (and wasn’t able to finish the song). in under three minutes, with a hauntingly demented yet charismatic voice, and iconography borrowed from source I was too young to understand at the time, the musical number managed to do what no amount of ranting or raving or threatening from any Disney villain before or since could do: it convinced me that Scar was irredeemably evil. Sure, he’d go on to throw his brother into a herd of stampeding wilderbeast and (in an act even more evil) convince his nephew Simba that he was responsible, but this musical number was the first hint that something was truly and deeply wrong with the cartoon lion.

I hope Mustafa doesn't take this threat to his kingdom lion down... (geddit?)

The future is littered with prizes, and though I’m the main addressee…

The point that I must emphasise is: YOU! WON’T! GET! A! SNIFF! WITHOUT! ME!!!

– Be Prepared

For years afterwards, the CD had pride of place in the family car. Hell, I suspect that, along with the Dean Martin greatest hits CD, it’s a major part of the reason we got the CD player in the first place (this was back in the era of car cassette players). Myself and my little brother used to sing along (hideously out of tune), swapping roles on the CD. I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that most of the soundtrack has found its way on to my iPhone (though I am singing it a lot less often these days).

There’s a reason that the movie spun off a hugely successful musical stage show. In fact, the one thing my nuclear family is most looking forward to about the new Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin is the admittedly vague promise that The Lion King stage show will pass through at some point. There’s an understanding that, if it does, we will all be in attendance.

It’s catchy, it’s effective and it’s well staged. What more could you ask for?

10 Responses

  1. Great work Darren. I know Scar is evil, but I still feel really sad for him…he’s pathetic really. The Lion King is excellent – and didn’t Disney have a monopoly on every child of the late eighties, nineties?

    • Thanks. And well done organising the event. Yep. It seems like there just was Disney. I can remember stuff like An American Tail, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule, I think.

  2. The Lion King was truly a Disney masterpiece and so was the wonderful soundtrack. Nice pick Darren! I should see it again someday to see if it’s still as great as it is in my mind.

    • Yep. Disney does Hamlet. And they do it well. I think, although the following movies are better than people let on, it was the last true classic Disney produced.

  3. Tim Rice and Elton John’s musical The Lion King won six Tony Awards on Broadway and has been nominated for eight Olivier Awards. Soundtrack Theatre Music Wholesale

  4. Snap with the family heritage Lion king connection! I watched this VHS so many times that my parents had to buy it again.

    Scar’s a great baddie, Pumba/Timone are awesome side-kicks, the hyenas make great numbskulls, Rafiki’sjust plain weird, and Hakuna Matatta is the best montage song ever.

    Unfortunately I tried to re-watch this a few years ago but they had changed a lot of the voices, put in an extra song and generally meddled with perfection. Rubbish. Also, the tie-in computer game was BALLS.

    • They changed it? Blasphemy. I remember the tie-in game. NES? It was pretty crap, but so are most official games, if I recall.

  5. Scar is truly one of the more sadistic villains in Disney lore (although Frollo gives him a run for his money).

    However Beauty and the Beast will always be my favorite of the pictures.

    • Yep, Frollo always creeped me out, and is one of the few Disney villains who is creepier to an adult than to a kid. Beauty and teh Beast was great. Did I hear rumours of a 3d rerelease this summer?

  6. Every song played on Lion King became a hit worldwide.Lion Kings brings so much fun and art.The story touches the heart of every viewer and i love the jungle,characters and music behind every scene.

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