Reviews of the new “live-action” remake of “The Lion King” have started to come in, and they’ve been … well, about average. It seems that, while the original animated movie from 1994 was heralded as one of Disney’s best works of art ever — even winning a Golden Globe for best picture for a comedy or musical — the new iteration is just simply “good.” But one part of the franchise that is getting great reviews is Beyoncé’s accompanying album, “The Lion King: The Gift.”
Beyoncé, who plays adult Nala in the new movie, was tasked with creating a concept album that meshed well with lines from the movie and Elton John’s original soundtrack, but could also stand out on its own, and in true Queen Bey fashion, she knocked it out of the park. While “The Lion King: The Gift” still feels like it comes from and belongs in the realm of the movie, it also feels like it could simply be another one of Beyoncé’s solo studio albums.
The issue here is that the album far outshines the movie. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is good; it is visually stunning, lots of fun and, overall, a lot like the original — but this last point is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
The storyline, the characters and even individual lines are so similar that it doesn’t really feel like a new movie. The key differences are small and detract somewhat from the appeal the original had. The songs feel shorter, there’s no choreography and the realistic animation style comes off as awkward; not only is it difficult to make it seem like these animals are emoting, but they’re animated to act how real animals would, which means, at some points, they’ll turn away while they’re talking, they’ll randomly start scratching themselves in the middle of a joke and they’ll definitely ignore each other’s personal space.
Along with these strange differences, it felt like the live-action version just wasn’t given the same level of love and care that the first was. Throughout the entire movie, I kept thinking about how special the original was, and how this one didn’t feel like it had the same touch; there wasn’t the same obsessive oversight to make that sure it was just perfect. I mean, in this one, they sang “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” in the middle of the day, even though the lyrics mention that it’s supposed to be twilight.
By the end, the movie left me feeling empty; I had simply been presented with another cash-grab remake from a company that already makes way too much money.
But I’m not here to bash the movie. It was good. I enjoyed it. The voice acting was great, the animals were cute and the story was the same one I grew up loving. But it wasn’t incredible.
That’s why it’s almost shocking to hear “The Lion King: The Gift,” because it actually is incredible. It’s probably the main reason you should go see “The Lion King”; just the fact that the movie is attached to the album makes it worth the ticket price.
Some of the standout tracks on the album include the introduction song, “BIGGER,” the black girl celebratory anthem, “BROWN SKIN GIRL,” and the album’s first single (and the highlight of the film), “SPIRIT.” These songs have been the focus of a lot of media attention lately, both for their incredible performances and the messages that they send. “BROWN SKIN GIRL” has been a topic of particular discussion, since many have criticized its appropriation by non-black fans with brown skin. “SPIRIT,” on the other hand, has been racking up a different type of buzz: mostly, speculation on whether or not it could score Beyoncé an Oscar nomination (and possible win) for best original song.
The album itself is a similar concept to another Disney project, Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther: The Album,” and Lamar himself is even featured on “The Lion King: The Gift” on the track “NILE.” This begs the question: Is Disney starting a trend of getting big-name musicians to craft concept albums for popular movies? Considering the success of “Black Panther: The Album” (Lamar scored an Oscar nomination and multiple Grammy nominations, including album of the year) and the outstanding reviews currently coming in for “The Lion King: The Gift,” it sure seems like they should be.
My main point is that, while both the movie and “The Lion King: The Gift” are quite good in their own ways, the album far outshines the film, which makes the entire franchise and its marketing strategy quite strange. For “Black Panther,” Disney’s execution of the album and film in tandem went really well, but I don’t see the same thing happening for “The Lion King,” because you have an outstanding, award-worthy hip-hop album in one corner, and a… mediocre children’s movie in the other.
The two just don’t fit together like “Black Panther” and its accompanying album did; in that case, both were iconic in their own right, which made them even better together, but “The Lion King” and “The Lion King: The Gift” lack that same complementary nature. In my opinion, being too attached to “The Lion King” for sentimental reasons will only take away some of the well-deserved praise being given to “The Lion King: The Gift,” since the album sets up expectations that the movie ultimately fails to meet.
So, if you’re considering going to see “The Lion King” before you listen to “The Lion King: The Gift,” keep an open mind, and don’t let it skew your perception of what this beautiful album is. There are some huge differences between the two, and trust me when I tell you that “The Lion King: The Gift” is way better than the new “The Lion King.”