I don’t normally review soundtracks. But occasionally the anniversary of a soundtrack comes up, when the soundtrack was so big, and so culturally relevant to a generation, that to ignore it would be against the purpose of my podcast. So here I am. This one has a lot of baggage.
In the summer of 1994, we still had our cottage, at least that’s how I remember it. Whether or not we still had our cottage, the five of us would pile into the minivan to travel for ours, to our cottage, to my aunt and uncle’s cottage, or to the States. One time, we were coming back from Kingston on a Sunday, and we got stuck in traffic, as will happen when you drive to Toronto on the 401 on a Sunday, even 25 years ago. We inched along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And, for the entire time, this tape was playing.
To the extent that I hate The Lion King it is because of that trip. (I may have conflated more than one trip in my memory, I don’t actually know. I just know that this one summer, this soundtrack was played in our car ad nauseum, and at least one of those times, we were in a traffic jam on the 401.) What’s so much worse about this album being played over and over again is that three of the songs – “Circle of Life”, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, are here in two versions, which bookend the album. That means that, if the tape is being played over and over and over again, you hear those versions back to to back, only interjected by the two other songs from the movie, and some excerpts from the score. It is not the fault of Disney that my parents gave in to my step-sister and played this tape over and over again. It is their fault that they produced and sequenced this record poorly.
This soundtrack doesn’t know what it wants to be – it’s one third soundtrack to the actual film, it’s one third score to the actual film, and it’s one third Elton John solo album. (Needless to say, the Elton John versions of the songs are considerably cheesier than the movie versions.) Those three things likely appeal to three different groups of people, or so I would have thought. Yet this album sold something like 18 million copies – presumably, mostly to parents of 10 year olds.
I cannot listen to it without acid flashbacks, even if I know every word to each of the 5 songs contained here. (Yes, 5 whole songs in 46 minutes.) But even with that baggage, I still think I can safely say this is not a good soundtrack. I don’t know if there wasn’t enough material from the movie to fill out a 40-minute album, as I haven’t watched the film in 25 years – because of these car rides! – but if there wasn’t it could have just been padded out by the score, like so many soundtrack albums. We don’t need two versions of three of the songs. That’s inexcusable in my mind, and clear proof that this record was marketed to kids, who like repetition and don’t care if there parents and siblings have to listen to the same thing ad infinitum. As an adult listening to it, it’s pretty painful, though nowhere near as painful as being stuck in the backseat of your parents’ minivan, with your step-sister throwing a tantrum every time the parents threaten to take the tape out.