Photo: Kwaku Alston for Disney Studios
The Lion King: The Gift is a compilation album to the 2019 photorealistic remake of The Lion King that is decidedly true to its name and claim, arriving as a brilliant offering from one of music’s greatest minds–Beyoncé. The Beyoncé curated compilation soundtrack enlists a host of features, from majestic interludes delivered by James Earl Jones and new music from the likes of heavyweights Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Jay-Z to notable up-and-comers Jessie Reyez, Tierra Whack, and, of course, Blue Ivy. The inherent vibrancy of the entire affair feels like an anthemic landmark for music belonging to the African diaspora, which is exactly why it is such a disappointment that it is tied to such a lackluster project.
The Lion King is Disney’s latest in a series of remakes of their most treasured animated classics, and in sacrificing the magic of traditional animation for the supposed grandeur of CG-animated photorealism, the star-studded reimagining is at best a pointless showcasing of how far technological advancements in animation have come. The glorified nature documentary remake devoid of any of the life of its predecessor is a questionable, jarring decision that oddly enough is poised to be the studio’s most commercially successful remake to date. Whether that be out of pure nostalgia or undeniably impressive casting is still up for debate, yet one thing is for certain–a project cannot be carried solely by shoving the most famous people in the world into a recording booth.
Beyoncé’s compilation album is evidence of this notion. The Lion King: The Gift is not an utterly magnificent project solely because of its jaw-dropping host of features, but the way in which it captures the lush, vibrant imagery of the African Serengeti through diverse musical traditions of the African diaspora. To find Nigerian stars Mr Eazi and Burna Boy, South African artists Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly, Compton’s own Lamar, and many more all in one place feels like a historic landmark moment.
Every handpicked feature, every beat of a tribal drum, and every rapped verse is seemingly birthed from a place of love and reverence for both African music and the overflowing brilliance of the original The Lion King. The sentiment is made all the clearer given Beyoncé’s own words on her curatorial process,
“This soundtrack is a love letter to Africa, and I wanted to make sure that we found the best talent from Africa… It was important that the music was not only performed by the most interesting and talented artists but also produced by the best African producers. Authenticity and heart were important to me.”
While The Lion King: The Gift is a love letter to Africa, its music, its artists–the same sort of love letter the 1994 film painted with its breathtaking, multi-colored portraits of the Serengeti and the creatures that inhabited its vast ecosystem–The Lion King remake finds no inkling of Beyoncé or any of its collaborators creative drive or daring. The Lion King let out a pitiful whimper so The Lion King: The Gift could roar.
Listen to The Lion King: The Gift below: