The Lion King remake is here, and predictably, it did very little to differentiate itself from its predecessor. Aside from the updated visuals which are admittedly impressive, the movie tells the exact same story, at nearly the exact same pace, with the exact same songs. Of course, some things don’t tend to translate well from fantastical animation to realism, and in the new movie, we got slightly different takes on some of the iconic songs. Are you curious as to whether or not your favorite song held up? Here’s our list of the Lion King (2019) songs, ranked from worst to best.
7 – Spirit
I had heard reports that they added a song to the new movie. I wasn’t opposed to this — The Lion King has been expanded upon before with the Broadway musical, which contained several new pieces. A few of these were hauntingly beautiful, while still preserving the African spirit and energy of The Lion King music. I’m in the camp that would like to see more original content in these Disney remakes, so I was open to it.
So, imagine my surprise when the “new song” in the remake was barely present, and cut over one of the best musical moments of the original. Indeed, there is only a small snippet of Beyoncé’s Spirit. Instead of being sung by one of the characters (like, y’know, Nala, who was played by Beyoncé), it was played over the sequence of Simba running back through the desert to the Pridelands. In a vacuum, it was inspiring enough, but when you remember the iconic melody which played during this sequence in the original movie, the new music just felt like a disappointment.
6 – Be Prepared
Oh, Scar. I wish it weren’t so, but your song, Be Prepared, was done dirty in the new movie. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s fair to call the new one a song at all; it’s more of a, uh, poetic chant? During Scar’s meeting with the Hyenas, he gets them pumped up on his plan to take over the Pridelands, and then instead of music playing, he just kind of… starts rhyming as the tone gets more ominous. After a few words you realize he’s leading into Be Prepared, but it never quite gets there. He just kind of skips to the last verse, and it ends up being this weird neutered version of the original song.
I couldn’t help but feel like the song originally got cut, and that they added this half-baked version as a last minute change when they saw the online backlash. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what may have happened. Earlier reports on the movie suggest that the song wasn’t originally included. We don’t know whether or not they were always planning to replace it with this neutered version, or if they added it to save face, but either way, it kind of fell flat. For the record, I’m not upset with them changing the formula, it’s just that this song felt like a weird half-measure. It would have been nice for them to include the whole song or do something else entirely — anything but the weird in-between result we got in the film.
5 – Can You Feel the Love Tonight
Can You Feel the Love Tonight was, I don’t know, okay? I didn’t really have any strong feelings about it one way or another. Many fans have complained that the song didn’t actually take place at night, which kind of sucks, but I’m willing to give them a pass on that. But even so, the song just didn’t do anything to make itself interesting or special. It’s just a retread of the original, and when it was over I didn’t recall having any feelings about it. It was just like, “yeah, that happened.” It was a pretty song that showed the loveliness of Timon and Pumbaa’s jungle, but it’s arguably one of the most forgettable entries on this list.
4 – I Just Can’t Wait to Be King
While Can You Feel the Love Tonight was an aggressively forgettable piece that didn’t do anything new to distinguish itself from the original, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King was a pretty fun sequence to watch, even if it played out much differently than the original. This was always going to be one of the most difficult songs to adapt — no matter how far you stretch realism, it’s not really feasible to create a colossal dancing totem pole of animals like the cartoon did.
The remake chooses a more grounded approach, where Simba and Nala actually make it to the waterhole. The little cubs start running about, exciting the local animals as they sing their song. The infectious energy catches on, and soon a myriad of rhinos, zebras, and hippos are joining in on the fun. We see Simba and Nala excitedly running between the legs and splashing through the water as the flustered Zazu gets ever more exasperated. Overall, it was a fun piece to watch. It would have been cool if it took us into a colorful fantasy land like the original, but I appreciate attempts in these movies to do new things instead of just copying what came before.
3 – Circle of Life
Speaking of copying what came before, let’s talk about The Circle of Life. I’m very hypocritically rating this above the last, even though it does nothing — literally nothing — to differentiate itself from the original. It’s a shot-for-shot remake in every sense of the word. So why does it rank so high? Well, because this is the type of sequence that actually benefits from the realism treatment, instead of being hampered by it.
The Circle of Life, more than anything, is just a sequence of beautiful nature shots in Africa until it eventually arrives at the Simba presentation at Pride Rock. This is a song that’s focused on spectacle, and when you’re watching the entire thing play out in a way that looks 100% real, it’s hard not to be impressed. Yeah, it was unoriginal, and I’m not a huge fan of that in these Disney remakes, but this was one of the few scenes where I didn’t mind, because a realistic revision is just so jaw-droppingly beautiful.
2 – Hakuna Matata
Of the classic catalogue of The Lion King songs, Hakuna Matata was probably my favorite in the remake. While opinions are mixed on the new versions of Timon and Pumbaa, I personally quite enjoyed them. They are different yet familiar at the same time, respecting what made the original characters so appealing, while also providing a new take on their own. What I especially loved was their bleak, nihilistic outlook on life — the new film does a better job of suggesting that Timon and Pumbaa’s cynical worldview maybe isn’t the best solution to your problems.
Hakuna Matata was appropriately comedic, allowing the new versions of Timon and Pumbaa (played by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen specifically) to shine. One of the biggest advantages is that there’s a lot of non-musical banter in this song, leaving room for Timon and Pumbaa to inject some new material. A good example is the ending, where Timon wonders if it’s finally time to stop singing, implying that they were actually singing it the entire time that Simba grew up. Hakuna Matata, overall, felt familiar while still feeling fresh. Oh, and the absolutely adorable baby Pumbaa in the flashback sequence was nothing short of a blessing.
1 – The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Didn’t think you’d see this on the list, didja? To be honest, I wasn’t planning on including it either. But when I was writing about Timon and Pumbaa in the passage above, I remembered the Lion Sleeps Tonight sequence, and it was one of my favorite moments of the film. This song can’t really be considered a “true” Lion King song; it had already existed before the movie, and it’s really just a diegetic tune sung by Timon shortly before they get jumped by Nala.
In the remake, the song plays the same role — it’s not made into an actual musical number, and it’s just casually sung by a few characters until Nala comes pouncing. But the execution of this scene was so brilliant that I felt compelled to include it. In the movie, it starts off with Timon singing the song. Pumbaa joins in soon afterward, but it doesn’t stop there. One by one, spectating animals join in, each one adding their own unique beat and flair to the song. They march side by side, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” train gets bigger and bigger… until it’s interrupted by a savage Nala who comes bursting into the scene with literally no warning. It plays off as a chaotic jump scare, and it’s one of the few sequences of the film that was better than what came before.
While it’s not a proper Lion King song, it was probably my favorite musical moment of the movie, so I’m going to shamelessly rank it as top dog in this list.