What are the best songs in The Lion King? In order to find out, you might have to do a little self-deprogramming. As parents, we sort of take for granted that our kids are exposed to Disney songs, and on some level, we all have entered into a social contract that just grants that Disney songs are “good.” Not good in the sense that they are actually always good pieces of music, but good insofar as our kids like Disney songs (see: Frozen, Moana) and that most these songs are, harmless. Part of this mental deal-with-the-Disney-devil is that we forget to actually ask ourselves if good Disney songs are songs we would want to listen to, on their own. In other words, do we accept Disney songs as good because they are earworms or do we actually like them?
With that in mind, here’s a look at 8 songs on 1994 version of the animated Lion King soundtrack, ranked in order as if these are even songs we can stand listening to in isolation from their inclusion in the movie. Yes, Elton John co-wrote these songs with Tim Rice, and Elton is generally a pretty great songwriter. But, what happens when you submit the songs in the classic Lion King to the pitchfork of actually caring about music? Read on to find out which song is last and which song is first and which song we just can’t wait to never hear again.
8. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” (Elton John Version)
This song is barely tolerable in the movie and even worse when Elton John tries to make it “cool.” Can you invent a world in which Imagine Dragons covers “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins? The emotional effect would be the same as this piece of weaponized garbage.
7. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” (Movie Version)
Only higher on the list because the Elton John version exists. Fun fact, Jonathan Taylor Thomas doesn’t even sing this song in the movie. Instead, the song’s lyrics are attacked by a guy named Jason Weaver. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” isn’t a nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of bad pop song in a cartoon movie. It’s more like drinking nail polish remover and then starring at a chalkboard and pretending like it’s a magic eye poster from the nineties. Truly horrible.
6. “The Circle of Life” (Elton John Version)
Spoiler alert: the song “The Circle of Life” is pretty good, and it’s pretty damn good in all the way it crops up in the new live-action Lion King. So, why is this Elton John version so low? Because. Elton John is fine, but he really hams-it-up with his stab at the song. Yes, yes, he co-wrote the thing, but that doesn’t mean he does the best version it, right? For the most part, Elton John doing his own vocals for alternate versions of songs from The Lion King soundtrack feels like a contractual obligation, and his performance reflects that. The audio version of a hologram.
5. “Be Prepared”
You actually forgot this song existed, didn’t you? This is just sort of a song where Scar envokes the values of the Boy Scouts, but for evil purposes. The only reason this song isn’t dead-last on this list is because of the probable novelty connected to the fact that you haven’t heard it since 1994.
4. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (Movie Version)
Okay. This song is okay. It’s sweet and the version in the movie is memorable enough and sung very well by Kristle Murden (sometimes credited as Kristie Edwards.) If you hate this song, you’re probably a monster.
3. “Hakuna Matata”
Wow. I really wanted to rank this song last because I am decidedly not on the Timon-and-Pumbaa-are-funny-train. Like at all. Even as a kid (I was 12 when The Lion King came out in 94) I was sort of over these two. But, dammit, this song is catchy and it does make me feel better about my busy life, in Bobby McFerrin’s ghost kind of way.
2. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (Elton John Version)
Elton John comes through! Look, his lyrics and melodies on all of his Lion King songs are pretty solid, I just object to him singing most of them. But this is different. This is the only Lion King song that feels like an Elton John song when Elton John sings it. Literally, no one could have pulled off these lyrics, nor educated generations of kids about what the word “vagabond” meant. (Sidenote: What the FUCK is happening with this 1994 music video? Is this the same set for “Champagne Supernova” or what? Is Elton beaming into the movie via astral projection?)
1. “The Circle of Life” (Movie Version)
Come on. The hair is standing up on the back your neck just thinking about the epicness of this song. Also, parents everywhere literally cannot avoid crying if they even hear part of this song. It’s brilliant and simple, and in the movie, it works ridiculously well. In case you’re wondering, the singers on this one are Carmen Twillie and Lebohang “Lebo M” Morake. That second dude is the one who made those opening Zulu chants famous. Doesn’t get much cooler or more evocative than this song. A classic for a reason, and really, there’s no way you can get cynical about it.
The live-action Lion King is out in theaters this Thursday. And yeah, we’re gonna talk about those songs at the end of the week.