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The new version of the The Lion King was a massive box office hit, just like the original film was before it. While the new film used cutting edge technology, the story and music remained largely unchanged from the animated original. The Lion King has one of the most iconic musical openings ever put to film. Considering just how memorable the entire opening number is, it's pretty surprising to learn that the song was never really meant to open the film, and composer Hans Zimmer had to improvise the song's ending at basically the last minute.
Speaking on the special features of The Lion King remake Blu-ray, composer of for both versions of the film, Hans Zimmer, revealed that the reason the song "The Circle of Life" ends the way it does, with a simple drum beat, is because he was racing to complete the song before the directors and producer of the original Lion King arrived to hear it.
And it ends with that big drum hitting, ‘boom.’ It’s only now when we’re working on it that I figured out why the big drum. Again, it was because they were coming at 6:00 and I hadn’t finished the arrangement and I just needed to end it somehow. So I just put this big drum hit in the middle of nowhere. And it became an iconic part of it.
It's been 25 years since Hans Zimmer first wrote the music to "Circle of Life," so he apparently had forgotten just why he ended the piece the way he did. It wasn't because he was looking for an epic conclusion to punctuate the song. It certainly feels like it was all intentional, the drum hit comes as the title of the movie is first revealed. It works perfectly, so you might think it was all done intentionally, but the reality is that's far from the case,
But why was Hans Zimmer working right up to his deadline in the first place? There's a reason for that too. The composer also reveals on the new Lion King Blu-ray that his original instructions for the opening of the animated movie was not to create an entire musical introduction, but just a few seconds of music..
My brief originally was it was supposed to be 30 seconds of music, and there was going to be this big dialogue scene. But I had done the whole, Elton, "Circle of Life" thing and tried to make it African.
The fact that Zimmer had taken on much more work that he'd been instructed to do is what led to him having to rush to finish the music. When The Lion King team arrived to hear what Zimmer had done, it changed everything, literally.
And Rob [Minkoff] and Roger [Allers], the directors, came in with [producer] Don Hahn, and I played them the thing and they had this whispered conversation after. And I thought ‘Great, I’m fired,’ because I obviously didn’t stick to the brief. And I said ‘Ok guys, I can go and do what you actually asked me to do.’ And they said, 'No, no, no. We just want to go and redesign the whole opening of the movie.'
It's nearly impossible to imagine The Lion King opening any other way. "Circle of Life" is, as Hans Zimmer himself says, iconic. From the first moments the piece transports you to another place, in this case, Africa, in a way that few other movies do.
I honestly think that "Circle of Life" is one of the greatest film openings ever made, and since the same opening allows you to simply revel at the technological wonder that the remake created, the new version may even be slightly better.
The Lion King remake is now available in Digital HD, and will arrive on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K October 22.