Elton John isn't too thrilled with The Lion King remake, saying it messed up his musical legacy. The film (itself, based on the 1994 animated movie) marked director Jon Favreau's second go at remaking a Disney classic after 2016's The Jungle Book, and boasted a star-studded cast led by Donald Glover as the voice of adult Simba, John Oliver as Zazu, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, John Kani as Rafiki, and the legendary James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa. However, despite having a beloved narrative and a great cast (not to mention, an award-winning soundtrack), the film still fell flat for many.
While The Lion King became a box office smash, earning more than $1 billion at the global box office, its reviews were mixed. Criticisms generally took issue with the film's lack of new narrative elements, as well as the film's photorealistic, yet unexpressive CG animals and characters. John, on the other hand, was primarily disappointed by how the soundtrack for the remake was handled.
Speaking with GQ while promoting his memoir Me, John was asked about his thoughts on The Lion King (2019). Known for his candidness, the veteran singer/songwriter opened up about what he truly felt upon watching the film. He's also bummed out that its soundtrack didn't resonate with the public the same way the original OST did.
"The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music up. Music was so much a part of the original and the music in the current film didn’t have the same impact. The magic and joy were lost. The soundtrack hasn’t had nearly the same impact in the charts that it had 25 years ago, when it was the bestselling album of the year. The new soundtrack fell out of the charts so quickly, despite the massive box-office success. I wish I’d been invited to the party more, but the creative vision for the film and its music was different this time around and I wasn’t really welcomed or treated with the same level of respect. That makes me extremely sad. I’m so happy that the right spirit for the music lives on with the Lion King stage musical."
Based on John's comments, it seems like he wasn't too involved in crafting the music for The Lion King remake. John was supposed to collaborate with Beyonce on new music, but it seems like that didn't really happen (although it's worth noting that he is listed as a writer with Emma Rolfe, Tim Rice, Ilya Salmanzadeh, Labrinth and Beyoncé for the new song "Spirit"). He and Tim Rice, who wrote all the songs for the animated Lion King, also re-teamed for the end credits song titled "Never Too Late" and performed by John. Original composer Hans Zimmer, on the other hand, was brought back to take care of the movie's score, while Pharrell Williams produced the soundtrack.
Comparisons are inevitable when it comes to remakes, and frankly, the criticisms on The Lion King are mostly fair. Since its soundtrack is integrated with its narrative, people's response to it was also most likely affected by their disappointment in the live-action retelling. That's the biggest risk in terms of attempting to recreate well-loved entertainment - either fans like it the second time around, or are let-down by it and feel it tarnishes its predecessor's legacy.