Twenty-five years after the release of the beloved original, Disney added The Lion King to the roster of live-action (or, in this case, "photorealistic" computer animation) remakes of golden-era classics. Much like Aladdin -- which also arrived in 2019 -- The Lion King [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] is a mixed bag, veering between shiver-inducing highs that cash-in on nostalgia and a few lows that are crushed under the weight of that very same nostalgic heft. The original team returned for this effort, including Hans Zimmer, Lebo M., Elton John, and Tim Rice, while Pharrell Williams and Beyonce also contributed to the affair. On the orchestral side, Zimmer reimagined the original compositions, reinvigorating them with an energetic live band feel that finally adds appropriate African instrumentation and rhythms (the breakdown on "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" is a standout, transforming the song into a joyous jam session). Lebo M. also gets his due credit here, sharing the spotlight with "He Lives in You" (previously heard on Rhythm of the Pride Lands and in the Broadway show), and "Mbube," a cover of Solomon Linda's 1939 original that returns "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to its African roots. Of the other positives, "Hakuna Matata" remains a delightful scene stealer (with Donald Glover and Seth Rogen as welcome additions) and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" is a stunner, playing Beyonce and Glover off one another in a lush, dramatic duet. The instrumental "Elephant Graveyard" and "Reflections of Mufasa" are similarly sweeping, packed with appropriate grandeur and emotion. The highlight of the album, however, is Beyonce's soaring "Spirit," a goosebump-inducing empowerment anthem co-written with ILYA and Labrinth that takes clear aim at the Oscar bullseye. Another new track, Elton John's "Never Too Late," doesn't fare as well, an awkward Afrobeat-meets-disco throbber that ends up being more of a head-scratcher than anything. Similarly disappointing is the 2019 version of "Be Prepared," which is somehow neutered of danger and menace. Despite those few moments that don't quite live up to expectations, there are enough highs on The Lion King to warrant enjoyment, regardless of the unnecessary cinematic remake.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung