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'Lion King Soundtrack' review: A mixed bag of successes and missed opportunities

Various Artists' "The Lion King: Original Motion Picture

Various Artists' "The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" on Walt Disney Records Credit: Walt Disney Records

VARIOUS ARTISTS

"The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

BOTTOM LINE A mixed bag of successes and missed opportunities in remaking a classic

Even if “The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Walt Disney) wasn’t connected to one of the most-anticipated movie releases of the year, it would still be a big deal because it boasts two of music’s brightest stars — Beyoncé and Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino — as well as some of the best-known songs in the Disney canon.

However, Beyoncé and Glover are best as innovative artists. And there is very little room for innovation in a Disney blockbuster soundtrack. (That's likely to be different for the Beyonce-curated “The Lion King: The Gift,” which includes her collaborations with husband Jay-Z, daughter Blue Ivy, Gambino, Pharrell and Kendrick Lamar. But, as with most Beyoncé projects, an advance version of the compilation was not made available for review before its release date.)

Her new song “Spirit,” which appears on both albums, finds Beyoncé, who plays Nala in the movie, taking on her most straightforward ballad in years. It showcases her warm, powerful voice, backed by a gospel choir, as she encourages people to “stand up and fight” in an uplifting anthem of embracing your destiny. But it doesn’t come close to the beloved singalongs that Elton John and Tim Rice crafted for the original soundtrack. And John’s new contribution, “Never Too Late,” which seems to blend bits of “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with South African rhythms, also pales in comparison.

The new version of “Hakuna Matata” improves, thanks to the comedic timing of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, while John Oliver keeps “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” adorable. Beyoncé and Glover’s take on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is pretty, but the soundtrack version isn’t really built for radio play.

The new “Lion King” soundtrack has all the elements needed for greatness, but it lacks the ambition to reach it. 

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