Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Young Simba (JD McCrary) in a scene from Disney's live-action remake of the movie The Lion King.
Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Young Simba (JD McCrary) in a scene from Disney's live-action remake of the movie The Lion King. Disney

The Lion King's environmental message for a new generation

HANS Zimmer, the man behind the Oscar-winning score of The Lion King, is happy to see the film taking on a new meaning with its CGI remake.

Having worked on Sir David Attenborough's recent series Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II - he will also score Attenborough's upcoming documentary One Planet, Seven Worlds - Zimmer believes the film's central message of balance in nature is more important than ever.

"It seems to have found a new tone," he says. "It actually seems to have a message that it didn't have before. Because of David, we look at things differently. I think that's important, especially because my generation is responsible for leaving the planet a complete and utter mess."

Hans Zimmer poses for photographers upon arrival at The Lion King European premiere in central London.
Hans Zimmer poses for photographers upon arrival at The Lion King European premiere in central London. Joel C Ryan/AP

Even with more than 160 projects under his belt, the acclaimed composer admits it was a daunting prospect to revisit the music which won him the 1995 Oscar for best original score.

The original animated film, about an exiled lion cub who must embrace his identity to win back his home, was originally overshadowed by Pocahontas, which was in production at the same time, but went on to become the highest grossing film of 1994.

A scene from the original 1994 animated film The Lion King.
A scene from the original 1994 animated film The Lion King. Disney

"You are constantly reminded you can't mess it up because it's hugely successful, even though at the time no one thought it would be hugely anything," Zimmer says.

"None of the animators wanted to work on The Lion King; they wanted to work on Pocahontas. I got the job because I don't like Broadway musicals and they promised me it would never become a musical (laughs)."

Of course, The Lion King musical also went on to equally great success, grossing billions worldwide, and is the third longest running show on Broadway.

Nick Afoa as Simba in a scene from the Australian production The Lion King musical.
Nick Afoa as Simba in a scene from the Australian production The Lion King musical. Supplied

Zimmer says he was blown away when director Jon Favreau, the man behind Disney's successful live-action remake of The Jungle Book, revealed his plans for the new Lion King.

"Jon just phoned and said he would like to show me something without saying a lot. He put me into a small and darkened room, hit go and showed me the whole opening sequence. It just blew me away," he says.

"I didn't think it was possible, even though everybody had told me what you can do with the technology.

"You have to go and see it. It really is a completely immersive experience."

Simba (Donald Glover), Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) in a scene from Disney's live action remake of The Lion King.
Simba (Donald Glover), Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner) in a scene from Disney's live action remake of The Lion King. Disney

When it came to re-recording much of his original music, Zimmer was inspired by his 2017 Coachella appearance with Pharrell Williams,who is a producer on the new Lion King soundtrack.

The festival set covered everything from The Lion King to The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean.

"Pharrell is like my little brother and a great guiding light in my life. A few years ago he very sweetly bullied me into going and performing live," Zimmer says. "He was saying 'You can't hide behind the screen for the rest of your life. You've got to look an audience in the eye'.

"The first thing I said was 'We are not going to do The Lion King' but the band said 'Hans just get over yourself. It's the soundtrack to our generation'.

"Watching the audience have a beautiful, emotional reaction to it gave me a clue as to who I wanted to go and do this for.

"My daughter (Zoe) was six years old when I worked on the original film and I very much wrote this music for my child. It was so dad could show off, which might sound like a shallow reason to you."

Zimmer enlisted the New York-based Re-Collective Orchestra to play the new film score.

"They're this African American orchestra and I put them together with my band and the session musicians who had played on the original movie. It was this super band of diversity and the first thing that happened was from diversity it went into complete unity," he says.

"I said let's just rehearse the whole movie for a couple of days and do it as if we were going to do a live performance. We got all the other filmmakers and built a little audience - it does something to me to have an audience - and we put the big screen up and rocked out and did the whole movie.

"If you think about it, it's the only movie you can do this on. Everyone knew the material and they really understood what this movie was about. Even when I strayed from the original notes, it's still within the language."

The only original vocals he preserved are Lebo M's powerful Zulu lines in the film's opening song Circle of Life.

"I had to; Lebo M has aged by 25 years and his voice has changed. Those first few notes need to be authentic," he says.

"Everything else we had a go at playing better or slightly differently."

While the film is receiving mixed reviews, there's only one opinion Zimmer cares about.

Hans Zimmer and Zoe Zimmer pose for photographers upon arrival at The Lion King European premiere in central London.
Hans Zimmer and Zoe Zimmer pose for photographers upon arrival at The Lion King European premiere in central London. Joel C Ryan/AP

"Disney sent me all these tickets to the premiere. I gave them all back except for two so I could still do a daddy daughter date (with Zoe) - just the two of us," he says.

"I was genuinely worried would she like it? She did, so phew I dodged a bullet there."

The Lion King opens in cinemas on Thursday.



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