WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Lion King, in theaters now.
The Lion King, at its very core, is a musical. The original reveled in peppy musical numbers like, "Can't Wait To Be King," and romantic ballads like, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." The new incarnation of the film embraces that aspect of the original, busting out every song from the '94 movie but staying more in tune with the less-showy overall tone of the film. It also adds a new song by Beyoncé to the film, "Spirits."
In the process, the film outright ignores a song from the Broadway show that does the same narrative job as the new pop song... but better. The new song is also out of tune with the rest of the film and is distracting more than anything else. The most absurd part is that this is actually the second Disney remake of an animated classic to make the same exact mistake.
The Lion King follows Simba's journey from an impetuous prince into a reluctant king. One of the biggest moments in his journey is being confronted by his father's memory. The moment inspires him to rush back home to fight for the throne, a point at which the original film included a quick musical montage of his journey. The Broadway musical introduced, "He Lives In You," by Lebo M. Lebo is the voice behind "Circle Of Life," and the new song is one of the highlights of the live version of the story, and one of the stand-out numbers in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
The new film doesn't use the song at this moment. Instead, the montage is set to a new song, "Spirit." The Beyoncé tune is much more pop-inspired than the rest of the soundtrack, and is honestly repetitive. It's a small song over a big moment that should work better.
The original Broadway song accomplishes the same narrative moment but, instead of being the singular pop song in a massive, traditional musical, "He Lives In You" feels consistent with the other songs in the film, in-tone with the rest of the narrative. It's also just a great song, replaced for no real reason. It's not like they entirely forgot the song existed, either, as it does show up during the credits for the film.
The Lion King isn't even the first Disney remake to make this kind of mistake. The Beauty and the Beast remake from 2017 likewise set itself up for the addition of a song from the expanded Broadway version of the story. In that case, it was "If I Can't Love Ever."
The song comes when Beast lets Belle leave the castle to save her father, knowing it dooms him to a cursed life without her. But instead, the new film introduces a song titled, "Evermore," written by Alan Menkin and performed by Josh Groban. It's a huge tonal shift from the musical theatre genre that inspired the rest of the soundtrack.
It's a shame that Disney isn't willing to expand their musical remakes in the way Broadway successfully did. Rather than adding a jarring pop song to the soundtrack, they could make strong additions from the stage productions into the full-blown cinematic canon. It's the kind of expansion these films need, instead of the more forgettable, chart-baiting songs we get saddled with.
Directed by Jon Favreau, The Lion King features the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Eric André, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones.