2:00 pm EDT, July 19, 2019

‘The Lion King’ 2019 vs 1994: Who sang it better?

How could The Lion King 2019 edition ever hope to top the 1994 Disney classic? Even I was surprised.

The cartoon allows us to see something “live-action” cannot — lion cubs sliding down a giraffe neck, animals making improbable jumps and narrow escapes, each with painted with cartoony expressions that give everything a sense of human connection. It’s easy to project emotion onto an animal when you are not being asked to do so.

Walking into the theater already aware of the emotional highs and lows that these creatures are going to experience, searching for pain, happiness, regret, sadness felt more like a chore in the songs. With the animated feature, we were passively granted these emotional cues.

While Simba’s face doesn’t curl up out of proportion to really sell that bugs taste disgusting and Scar comes off as less playfully evil than simply pissed off and bored, some of the musical elements of the film help to elevate those moments.

But there were some songs, some fleeting moments, where Jon Favreau’s direction surprised me, managing to improve on, or at least meet the bar set by a few of the 1994 musical soundtrack of my childhood. (And, in one surprising scene, blow another live-action’s attempt out of the water).

Related: Read our review: The Lion King is gorgeous to look at but loses some of the original’s warmth

So, who did it better? The 1994 Disney animated classic or the 2019 Disney “live-action” CGI-fest?

‘The Lion King’ soundtrack: Which is better?

‘Circle of Life’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: Lion King (2019)

At my screening of film when the sun began to rise and the familiar opening notes of Circle of Life flooded the theater, much to my surprise, people began to laugh. It took a minute to shake that reaction and realize that I was not watching an edit of Planet Earth with Spotify left on in the background. But shot for shot, it was gorgeous and just as goosebump-inducing as the original.

‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (1994)

Visually, I was shocked to find that the updated feature pulled off a great sequence of Simba and Nala navigating the watering hole. There were plenty of animals and their antics kept up with the energy set by the original. However, the vocals were unfortunately not bringing it.

‘Be Prepared’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (1994)

I could have written this answer before ever setting foot in the theater, but I decided to give it a fair shot. Unfortunately, Chiwetel Ejiofor barely sang, delivering more of a speech set to the ominous orchestration. This scene sets the stage of the hyenas joining forces behind Scar and after the scene concluded, I wanted the movie to take a turn behind their appointed leader, Shenzi (Florence Kasumba). Scar never truly felt like he took up a leadership position and I would attribute a great amount of this to the flatness of “Be Prepared.”

Also, I won’t lie I missed the larger role played by the hyenas.

The Stampede

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (2019)

The stampede was one of the most terrifying scenes I witnessed in a cartoon as a child. Having developed a soft spot by this point for the little fuzz ball Simba, watching as the gorge is taken over by wild animals and dust, the theater felt as if it was shaking as the music kept pace with Zazu frantically trying to locate the cub and Mufasa racing down to attempt a rescue.

‘Hakuna Matata’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (1994)

This was no contest up until one particular moment that almost swayed me towards the 2019 feature — when Simba sings for the first time as an adult. I knew Donald Glover would infuse adult Simba with the right amount of energy, humility, and humor as the original. So when he comes out swinging with “It means no worries…” I felt a pause in my rash judgement.

However, the elements of the original feature, from the bug dinner (which look far less appetizing in reality than in the cartoon), to Pumbaa’s confession (though the baby warthog was adorable), straight through the vine swinging into the water are all superior to the 2019 adaptation.

‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: Lion King (2019)

One of the strongest elements of this film are the comedic trio of John Oliver, Billy Eichner, and Seth Rogan. Eichner felt groomed to play the role of Timon, while Oliver and Rogan slipped in and out of their roles disappearing behind some lines while seemingly proving a comedy track over the shots of others.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the gathering of all the CGI safari friends was delightful and so enjoyable that the jump scare of Nala appearing really made an impact.

‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (1994)

The combination of Glover and Beyoncé, what could be better? Unfortunately, a Beyoncé solo. Her voice felt stifled against Glover’s as they were both independently wonderful, their moments of duet felt disjointed, much like their younger counterparts.

Chasing Rafiki

The Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: The Lion King (1994)

The improbability of Simba navigating the jungle setting to follow Rafiki towards his father’s spirit was much more enthralling in the animated feature. The end of the journey, however, when Simba speaks to Mufasa, goes to the 2019 film. It was powerful.

‘Be Our Guest’

The Lion King (2019) vs Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Winner: Lion King (2019)

I have not been shy about the fact that I almost walked out of the movie theater while watching “Be Our Guest” a few years back. The delivery here was surprising and brilliantly delivered. I am also indebted to Favreau for not bringing in my all-time favorite scenes from the original animated feature — Timon and Pumbaa’s Hawaiian number and Zazu singing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.”

‘Circle of Life (Reprise)’

Lion King (2019) vs The Lion King (1994)

Winner: Lion King (2019)

A fantastic conclusion to the film. I don’t have much more to say other than it was the perfect way to ensure that this was not a complete waste of time.

The Lion King is in theaters now.

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