Here comes a Lion... oh yes, it's a Lion...
October 1, 2011 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! It's been nearly two decades since that glorious savanna sunrise, and once again The Lion King is at the top of the box office. It's a good chance to revisit what made the original the capstone of the Disney Renaissance, starting with the music. Not the gaudy show tunes or the Elton John ballads, but the soaring, elegiac score by Hans Zimmer which, despite winning an Oscar, never saw a full release outside of an unofficial bootleg. Luckily, it's unabridged and high-quality, allowing one to lay Zimmer's haunting, pulse-pounding, joyful tracks alongside the original video (part 2, 3, 4), revealing the subtle leitmotifs and careful matching of music and action. In addition, South African collaborator Lebo M wove traditional Zulu chorals into the score, providing veiled commentary on scenes like this; his work was later expanded into a full album, the Broadway stage show, and projects closer to his heart. Speaking of expanded works, there were inevitable sequels -- all of which you can experience with The Lion King: Full Circle (download guide), a fan-made, three-hour supercut of the original film and its two follow-ups. Want more? Look... harder...

Excellent orchestral covers of the score by the SAMOHI Orchestra (synced with the film) and the Bulldogs on Broadway, along with the Broadway cast recording. Also: Lebo M stages an impromptu show while accepting a 2004 award.

The original working script with production notes [PDF], a full annotated transcript, and original promotional notes.

Concept art:
Never-before-seen concept art from Disney, a slideshow of original art from the first film, and test sketches and video from a former animator's blog. See also the line test of the three-minute stampede scene, which involved 800 cel-shaded CGI wildebeests following cutting-edge flocking algorithms that took three years to animate (discussed here under "Building the Perfect Wildebeests").

Fansite also has a large gallery of surprisingly moody production and concept art in several galleries:
Concept Paintings - Composite and Matte Backgrounds - Layout Drawings - Flora - Storyboard Art - Character Cross-references
The maddening Sega Genesis game - Multilanguage mixes, including the first Zulu dub (previously) - The MAD parody - Was The Lion King stolen from Kimba the White Lion? (or Hamlet?) - TVTropes!
posted by Rhaomi (22 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post.

My favorite Lion King tidbits not otherwise covered here:
- some of the animation work was subcontracted to North Korean animators.
- Joss Whedon wrote the lyrics to the song "My Lullaby" in Lion King 2.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:35 PM on October 1, 2011

Hans Zimmer did another African influenced soundtrack a couple of years previously, which was sampled the 1992 breakbeat classic God Within by Scott Hardkiss.
posted by empath at 3:55 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

::gets in the car::
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:20 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, ashamed to say I'd barely noticed the brilliance of the instrumental score before watching these videos. It's Zimmer all right - it's as though he was rehearsing for both Gladiator and Inception simultaneously, with plenty of added Haunting Sound Of The Panpipes® - but that's no bad thing at all.
posted by sleepcrime at 4:23 PM on October 1, 2011

Watching the music-only version of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, of all things, gave me a new appreciation for film scores. I wish this were a feature on more DVDs.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:54 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm SO excited about this "The Lion King: Full Circle" thing. It's like The Godfather Saga, but for a Disney animated feature. What could be better?!
posted by cvp at 5:21 PM on October 1, 2011

A little girl in my line yesterday sang a 2 year old's version of those opening lyrics about 3 thousand times while I was ringing up her mom's groceries. The mom looked mortified and said "but she's never even seen the Lion King!"

I'll be delving into this post with her in mind.
posted by Biblio at 5:36 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, what a fantastic post. I've been a music score junkie ever since I heard the Star Wars soundtrack and first learned what a leitmotif was. I love the Lion King score and Broadway recording. I can't believe it's really been that long since the movie came out.

Old old oh my God I am so old.
posted by Salieri at 5:42 PM on October 1, 2011

The marriage of the phrase "Hakuna matata" with the tune used in the Lion King has got to be the clunkiest thing I've ever heard in any show tune.
posted by straight at 6:23 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

But what a wonderful phrase!
posted by Spatch at 6:29 PM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Stop trying to make Hakuna matata happen, it's not going to happen.
posted by joannemullen at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2011

Stop trying to make Hakuna matata happen, it's not going to happen.

It's already happening in my head.

This, along with Star Wars/Jaws/Indiana Jones and the aforementioned Pee Wee's Big Adventure, are examples of movies who's impact and appeal would not be as immense as it was without its musical underpinnings. The Lion King also broke ground for its sound effects, presenting animation with a vast, open soundscape that drew the viewer into the world with excitement, humor and tension.

It means no worries for the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
Hakuna Matata!

posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 PM on October 1, 2011

Thank you so much for posting this!

We are going out tomorrow to see the Lion King. It was the very first movie we ever took Elder Monster to see in the theater. He was just three years old, and he adored it. We're very excited to see it on the big screen again.

We saw the musical three years ago and loved it for a million other reasons, but there's really something special about the film.
posted by MissySedai at 7:46 PM on October 1, 2011

If you haven't seen the stage version, treat yourself. It is absolutely out of this world.
posted by xedrik at 7:51 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's been out for nearly two decades. Two decades. I remember watching it in first release. I'm not even thirty and I feel very very old.

(That said, this is a terrific post, and I'm going to spend my entire Sunday going through all these links, 'cause this is a goldmine.)
posted by The Shiny Thing at 7:51 PM on October 1, 2011

I've never seen the lion king. Was gonna try to see it this time around, but was too annoyed by the psuedo deadline of "only two weeks" to be bothered to rearrange my schedule. Disney marketing makes me crazy. That said, I do love the music.
posted by dejah420 at 8:41 PM on October 1, 2011

I just happened to watch the (newly released in Denmark) Blu-ray yesterday prior to seeing this post. According to the extra material, ABBA (presumably Benny and Björn) were first choice to write songs, but Benny turned Disney down, as they were too busy writing a musical. Then they turned to Elton John.
posted by bouvin at 12:44 AM on October 2, 2011

There is a whole new generation of regrettable Hakuna Matata tattoos being inked as we speak
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:10 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

dejah420: "I've never seen the lion king. Was gonna try to see it this time around, but was too annoyed by the psuedo deadline of "only two weeks" to be bothered to rearrange my schedule. Disney marketing makes me crazy."

I hope you give it a chance -- it's my favorite Disney movie by far, up there with Pixar's stuff. It has its share of sillyness, but it also has an epic sweep to it that feels absent from their other movies. The score is a huge part of that, but it's also in the lingering pans of the landscapes and the murmurings of the Greek Zulu chorus, blade of grass shots like the skull washing away and repeated visual cues like the evolving tree painting or the cracking melon. It's very well-considered visually, syncs with the music so well, and it all just clicks.

The closest movie I can think of is Dreamworks' Prince of Egypt, another visually striking film with an epic Zimmer score.

cvp: "I'm SO excited about this "The Lion King: Full Circle" thing. It's like The Godfather Saga, but for a Disney animated feature. What could be better?"

What's really interesting is that the third movie (Lion King 1 1/2) was more of a "midquel" than a sequel, showing the events of the first movie from a different perspective. So the Full Circle edit actually has to splice together a number of overlapping and sometimes simultaneous scenes, editing the music and such to make the change from one to the other seamless. It's an impressive technical accomplishment, much more involved than just cutting out the credits and running three films back-to-back.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:18 AM on October 2, 2011

For those of you who followed the "unofficial bootleg" link and found the tracks all out of order, here's the properly ordered playlist.
posted by bettafish at 10:55 AM on October 2, 2011

If the Lion King was Hamlet, the Lion King 1 1/2 was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
posted by charred husk at 4:50 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Disney Renaissance's capstone was The Great Mouse Detective. Feel free not to care.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:22 PM on October 2, 2011

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